See How Resilience Can Change Your Life

by Didier Bernard

Resilience (or resiliency) is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward.

According to the research of leading psychologist, Susan Kobasa, there are three elements that are essential to resilience:

  1. Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. They don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
  2. Commitment – Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Commitment isn’t just restricted to their work – they commit to their relationships, their friendships, the causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  3. Personal Control – Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless, and powerless to take action.

Another leading psychologist (Positive Psychology), Martin Seligman, says the way that we explain setbacks to ourselves is also important. He talks in terms of optimism and pessimism rather than resilience, however, the effect is essentially the same. This “explanatory style” is made up of three main elements:

  • Permanence – People who are optimistic (and therefore have more resilience) see the effects of bad events as temporary rather than permanent. For instance, they might say “My boss didn’t like the work I did on that project” rather than “My boss never likes my work.”
  • Pervasiveness – Resilient people don’t let setbacks or bad events affect other unrelated areas of their lives. For instance, they would say “I’m not very good at this” rather than “I’m no good at anything.”
  • Personalization – People who have resilience don’t blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they see other people, or the circumstances, as the cause. For instance, they might say “I didn’t get the support I needed to finish that project successfully,” rather than “I messed that project up because I can’t do my job.”

Dr. Crow (the co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Learning Connections) identified several further attributes that are common in resilient people:

  • Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead.
  • Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals.
  • Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure.
  • Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over.

Developing Resilience

The good news is that even if you’re not a naturally resilient person, you can learn to develop a resilient mindset and attitude. To do so, incorporate the following into your daily life:

  • Get enough sleep and exercise, and learn to manage stress. When you take care of your mind and body, you’re better able to cope effectively with challenges in your life.
  • Practice thought awareness. Resilient people don’t let negative thoughts derail their efforts. Instead, they consistently practice positive thinking. Also, “listen” to how you talk to yourself when something goes wrong – if you find yourself making statements that are permanent, pervasive or personalized, correct these thoughts in your mind.
  • Practice Cognitive Restructuring to change the way that you think about negative situations and bad events.
  • Learn from your mistakes and failures. Every mistake has the power to teach you something important; so don’t stop searching until you’ve found the lesson in every situation. Also, make sure that you understand the idea of ”post-traumatic growth – there can be real truth in the saying that “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
  • Choose your response. Remember, we all experience bad days and we all go through our share of crises. But we have a choice in how we respond; we can choose to react negatively or in a panic, or we can choose to remain calm and logical to find a solution. Your reaction is always up to you.
  • Maintain perspective. Resilient people understand that, although a situation or crisis may seem overwhelming in the moment, it may not make that much of an impact over the long-term. Try to avoid blowing events out of proportion.
  • If you don’t already, learn how to set SMART, effective personal goals – it’s incredibly important to set and achieve goals, and to learn from your experiences.
  • Build your self confidence. Remember, resilient people are confident that they’re going to succeed eventually, despite the setbacks or stresses that they might be facing. This belief in themselves also enables them to take risks: when you develop confidence and a strong sense of self, you have the strength to keep moving forward, and to take the risks you need to get ahead.
  • Develop strong relationships with your colleagues. People who have strong connections at work are more resistant to stress, and they’re happier in their role. This also goes for your personal life: the more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be, because you have a strong support network to fall back on. (Remember that treating people with compassion and empathy is very important here.)

Focus on being flexible. Resilient people understand that things change, and that carefully-made plans may, occasionally, need to be amended or scrapped.