Develop resilience: overcome your fears to make a new start

Black cat hiding under aqua blanket
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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Watching kittens navigate their world is fascinating. You can learn a lot from the way cats face their fears and develop resilience. Their brain is a less complex version of ours. Read how rescue kitten Muffy continues to overcome early trauma to reach health and happiness.

Follow her early struggles to face her fears in the first 10 lessons she taught me. Then continue reading below to learn how she’s developed lasting resilience and made a new start in life. 

11 You can rebuild your confidence

Even now Muffy is unsure around new people or noises. But she’s come a long way from the timid little kitten of two years ago. And most of her fears will disappear over time.

Have you lost confidence?

Perhaps you’ve been sick, unemployed or an at-home carer. Or critical comments from others have pulled you down. If you’ve lost sight of your good qualities, have faith.

You can regain confidence too

Underneath, you’re still the same person you used to be. Rebuild confidence by taking tiny steps one at a time. Master each step, and practise it over and over till it’s easier.

Praise yourself at every sign of progress. Trust in your abilities to carry you through. Every step you take will develop resilience, and will help you overcome your fears and make a fresh start. 

12 See mistakes as opportunities

Muffy doesn’t care if she spills her food or rolls off the lounge. She doesn’t worry about looking silly or others criticising her.

But you may be scared of ridicule if you make mistakes. Or maybe you can’t forgive yourself for not meeting expectations.

All humans make mistakes

Anyone who pretends otherwise is lying. The best strategy is to reframe mistakes as opportunities.

Mistakes are actually helpful

Mistakes can help you with problem-solving. For example: if you’re always:

1 tripping over the rug
2 losing your car keys
3 late for work.

You’ve now got the chance to work out how to:

1 stop yourself tripping over the rug again
2 find a reliable method of storing your keys
3 get up earlier.

Mistakes are opportunities

Rather than seeing mistakes as shameful, view them as tools. Every slip offers you a chance to do some problem-solving. Mistakes tell you where you need to learn new skills, or that your environment or relationships need a makeover.

Be proactive

Notice those mistakes that happen over and over. Be proactive and take control of them. Plan how to deal with one problem, then try out your solution. If it doesn’t work, tweak it or try something else until it does. Then move on to the next issue.

You’ll always make mistakes

You and everyone else on the planet will always make mistakes. So if you’re never going to stop making mistakes, there’s no point in getting annoyed or frustrated by them. Choose to see them as opportunities to learn, and develop lasting resilience in the process.

13 Distinguish real from false threats

Another helpful hint is to learn to distinguish real from false threats.

What seems scary often isn’t. Muffy still bolts at loud sounds, no matter how far away. She can’t tell which ones are a threat, and which ones aren’t. 

In the same way, you may fear events unlikely to harm you. For example, you’re hugely worried about heart disease. However, you’re slim, fit, follow a healthy lifestyle, and have no personal or family history of heart problems. Therefore, you’re highly unlikely to develop heart disease.

But your brain is repeatedly warning you of the danger of heart trouble. So you start drinking a lot of alcohol to lower your anxiety. However, now you’re ignoring the far higher risk of liver disease and various cancers caused by too much alcohol.

Your brain is focussing on the wrong threat. It’s stopping you from recognising the real problem.

Look at the true level of risk

Learn to tell between risks that are or are not likely to happen. Focus on problems that really are likely to happen.

Recognise threats that exist now, and need attention. E.g., rickety stair rails, high blood pressure, or a dishonest partner.

Then take effective action to solve problems one by one.

Ban worrying

But ban yourself from worrying about unlikely risks. In fact, ban yourself from worrying ever again. It’s a completely useless activity.

Forget the saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Instead use the mantra, “Don’t worry, solve problems.”

That way, you’ll gradually learn to overcome your fears that you won’t cope when things go wrong. 

14 Let go of grudges

Muffy is so forgiving. If I don’t play with her during the day, she still cuddles me that evening. Every day is a new start, and our relationship resets itself.

Stop replaying tiffs

Letting go of tiffs, grudges and disappointments is a great skill. 

You probably get caught replaying irritating situations in your head. The problem is that this can make you more angry or upset with those involved. If so, you’re probably fairly agitated by the time you see them again.

Does this help or hinder the way you interact with them? 

All it usually does is make the situation more difficult to deal with, and may even lead to further tension and conflict. 

So think about stopping this habit of replaying hurts over and over. It seems to be working against your wish to develop lasting resilience. 

Change your tactics

Notice when you’re stewing over perceived slights. Tell yourself to stop going over old ground in your head. Find another way to clear the air between the two of you.

Maybe it’s time to tactfully make plain how you feel. Or maybe weigh up if you’re jumping to unfair conclusions. Either way, carefully check out the situation with the other person. Find out how they see the situation, and if they want your mutual relationship to improve.

15 Be upfront with others

Muffy is skilled at letting me know what she wants. Her behaviour tells me if she wants food, attention or play.

Know your needs and wants

Similarly, it’s important to be able to acknowledge your needs and wants. Looking after yourself can improve satisfaction and fulfilment in life, and help develop lasting resilience.

Level with others

And being straightforward and assertive with others can help as well. Everyone can learn to stand up for themselves assertively. This means stating your needs and wants clearly, without anger.

Tactfully but clearly tell others what you’d like to do, or what you want. And do it before you explode with frustration. If you hide your true needs from others, they can’t even start to help you. Overcome your fears of telling others how you feel about what’s happening. 

If you can do this in a neutral manner, it will be more effective than either staying silent, or being overcome with rage. 

16 Don’t take it personally

Cats are generally not into linguistics. So I‘m not offended when Muffy ignores my French conversation practice.

But what if someone important ignores your interests? It’s easy to assume they’re being deliberately dismissive or rude. Perhaps if they never show any support, that may be partly true.

However, most people don’t mean to cause offence.

We’re all different

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and we vary in our ability to be sensitive to others.

Many people find it hard to see different viewpoints. They may not pick up emotional cues, and rigid thinking patterns can stop them responding appropriately. Or their mental space may be taken up with their own issues. Alternatively, they may not feel well, and so are acting out of character

None of these reasons mean they’re deliberately being mean. They just may not be able to engage with you at this moment.

Think of three reasons

So if you’re angry at someone’s lack of sensitivity, slow down. Think of at least three reasons to explain their behaviour.

These ideas may or may not be true: it doesn’t matter. Chances are you’ll never know the real reasons unless you ask. But is it helpful to assume they’re targeting you deliberately? If you have no evidence either way, why choose the one reason guaranteed to make you unhappy?

Choose to develop lasting resilience by doing what’s sensible.

17 Busy cats need downtime

Muffy dozes for over 16 hours a day. She’s building energy reserves to stalk falling leaves. And she needs to de-stress after exploring outside.

Many people also need downtime from their surroundings, especially if they’re stressed or are an introvert. It’s hard to think straight with too many stimuli blitzing you. In addition, dealing with difficult or unfamiliar people can be tiring.

Alone time

A short retreat, even of a few minutes each day, allows you to unwind and relax. It can stop you feeling as if you’re spinning out of control, and will help restore your ability to manage thoughts and emotions.

So how can you fit more alone time into your life? Could you:

Teach family to give you 10 minutes peace when you’re in your quiet place?
Lock away your phone or computer for an hour or so?
Work from home a few hours a week?
Team up with a friend to free you both for a few hours a week?

Brainstorm ideas that would give you more alone time.

Then try one and put it into action. See how it goes, and experiment to make it more effective. Then try another idea, and so on. 

18 Move your food bowl

Cats are creatures of habit. They don’t like changing established routines. But you can teach them flexibility by getting them used to small changes.

Learn to adapt to change

In the same way, you can boost your brain’s ability to adapt to change.

So decide consciously to make small changes to your daily routines. For example:

drive a different route each week
watch a different movie genre
read a different newspaper
shop in a different district or chain
talk to different people at work
learn one new thing every day
notice details that you haven’t seen before
try a new exercise
cook a new dish…………….

The list of possible changes is endless.

Choose to keep your brain in good shape. Overcome your fears of doing something slightly different, or of making a new start. Embrace flexibility and develop lasting resilience.

19 Don’t reward bad behaviour

Animals and little children get up to all sorts of tricks. They look so cute when they’re being naughty. So it’s tempting to laugh or give attention at those times.

But think ahead

Take note of the alarm bells ringing! Some of these behaviours can become headaches later on. For example, barking and jumping in animals, or yelling, biting, hitting and pushing in children.

So be careful before rewarding a child or animal for “cute” behaviours.

Do you want them to behave like this when they’re older? Or will this be a habit you won’t be able to get rid of?

Reward good behaviour

The answer is to reward only good behaviour, not behaviour you want to get rid of. 

Animals and children crave attention, any attention. Therefore, pay more attention to them when they’re behaving OK. Pay less attention to them when they’re not. Don’t reward them for behaviour you want them to stop.

In the long-run, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and annoyance. The calmer you can make life, the more in control you’ll feel. 

20 Are you/they hungry or tired?

When Muffy’s tired at the end of the day, she goes nuts. So at the first hint of craziness, I bundle her off to bed. But if I leave her, she gets worse and worse.

Catch it early

So catch the warning signs early. Young children signal when they’re tired, hungry, ill or want attention.

Ignore them at your peril. Take action as soon as you see these warning signs. The longer you leave it, the more they’ll whinge for whatever they want at that moment.

Whatever you do, don’t let them whinge and then give in after 5 minutes. If you do this, you’ve taught them whingeing for at least 5 minutes gets results. So next time, they’ll whinge longer and louder.

So be strategic. Think of the end-game and your sanity.

Let them know you understand what they want or need. If it’s appropriate, give it to them as soon as you can.

But if you know you’re going to give in, give in immediately. It’s less damaging than letting them whinge for ages, and then giving in. You’re making a rod for your back if you do.

So accept reality. Deal with their needs quickly.

Prioritise your self-care

In the same way, deal with your own hunger, fatigue and illness immediately. Don’t leave it until you’re so run down, that you’re near collapse.

That’s not effective, or helpful to you or anyone else. Be proactive and take steps to care for yourself.

Again, take the long view. You need to nourish your body to to have the capacity to develop lasting resilience.

If a kitten can develop resilience, you can too

Muffy had a rough start in life, but she’s pulling through. 

You may have had a rough start too, or are struggling now. Never lose faith that life can improve. Refuse to lie down and be steamrollered by circumstances, no matter how grim.

Take inspiration from Muffy

You can overcome your fears and develop lasting resilience. You can make a new start, and learn to be happy or contented again. Let the lessons my kitten taught me inspire you.

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