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Resilience is the key to long-term financial success

You don't have a say in setting gas prices. Instead, TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky advises that you get a grip on your spending and come to terms with the fact that resilience is the key to long-term financial success.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

You don't have a say in setting gas prices. You can't force the real estate market to bounce back, and you certainly can't control a flagging stock market.

So what can you do? Should you just dig in your heels and deal with it? Or should you sit tight and ride it out? My preferred strategy: Get a grip on your spending, your debt load and your income, and come to terms with the fact that the other things will take care of themselves in time.

This is called resilience. It's not a new word, by any means, but it does seem to have been reinvigorated lately by both the media and academics.

Luckily, it's not something you have to be born with, says Dr. Karen Reivich, co-author of "The Resilience Factor," and co-director of Penn Resiliency Program at the University of Pennsylvania. "Some people are more naturally resilient, it's true, but what our research shows is that almost anyone can increase their resilience by learning a set of skills."

Here are some tips that can help you can get a grip during these trying economic times.

Emphasize the positive
We all know someone who just dwells, dwells and dwells some more on everything negative in their life. Heck, we've probably all been there at one point or another; we're hardwired to pay more attention to the bad things in our lives than the good. But part of being resilient is being optimistic, so it's important to find ways to put positive emotions in your day, says Reivich. That means illuminating the good stuff that happens to you each day. Write it down, if that helps.

"What we find is that with people who make this a habit, who put it into their daily routine, it increases their positive emotions and that improves resilience," explains Reivich.

Be realistic
A big part of being resilient, says Dr. Al Siebert, author of "The Resiliency Advantage," is to ask yourself: Do I really need to be concerned about this? If you have your money in the market through a 401(k) or an IRA, and every time you check your balance it's a little bit lower and a little bit lower, it's easy to get worked up, I know. And sure, you could pull out, but then you risk missing out on some great returns once the market bounces back.

Where your money is concerned, you are not always going to win, so you have to be able to stomach the ups and downs of the market. Turn off CNBC, take a walk, stop reading the business section of the paper or see a movie. Do whatever it takes to get your mind off your money for a while.

Start listening
"People who have this very harsh internal radio station that plays nothing but negativity over and over again find it very difficult to reach their goals, succeed at work and build strong relationships," says Reivich.

You might expect her to advise you to tune it out, but that's not the best way to deal. Instead, you need to turn the volume up so you can hear the negative thoughts loud enough that you can challenge them with evidence that shoots them down. It's still important to acknowledge when you make a mistake, but what you don't want to do is dwell on it. So, for example, if you're beating yourself up for spending too much at the mall yesterday, recognize that you screwed up, but then move on to solving the problem — take something back or reduce your spending next week.

Shift your focusIf you're feeling anxious because of your money, one way to counteract it is by taking action.

"Perhaps get another job, or find another source of income if you're coming up short. But it also means cutting back on your lifestyle," says Siebert. "The key element of being resilient is being adaptable to a new situation."

Start by sitting down and taking a look at your balance sheet. Where are you coming up short? Are there cuts that you can make to your budget that will bridge the difference?

Often, it's eliminating that one meal you eat out a week, or calling up the cable company to see if you can bundle your television, Internet and phone into one cheaper package. If you still can't make ends meet, talk to your boss about taking on some overtime hours or, as Siebert suggests, get a Saturday job for a while until you catch up. This market is not forever, so any major changes you have to make are likely temporary. But by the same token, you'll probably learn some good survival skills that will stay with you even after things bounce back.

With reporting by Arielle McGowen.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money Magazine and serves as AOL’s official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC’s TODAY Show and is also a columnist for Life Magazine. She is the author of four books, including 2004’s “Pay it Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day” (Portfolio). To find out more, visit her Web site, .