Building Resilience: Turning Challenges Into Success


Our attitude drives our behavior. This is the foundation for resilience; the way we view the world. Six ways to build a resilient attitude include:

  1. Be Optimistic: The first key driver is the capacity for optimism. It is the outlook that a person chooses in order to keep adversity in perspective. If you believe that your troubles are temporary, then there is always a solution. This enables you to move forward and not feel stuck in place. Martin Seligman, PhD in his book Learned Optimism notes “Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.”
  2. Nurture Social Connections: Cultivating and nurturing relationships with others is the second key driver. We are not alone. The quality of our relationships with other people influences how emotionally resilient we can be in the face of a crisis. In a study of Vietnam Veterans after returning from war, Lynda King, PhD noted that high levels of social support were associated with significantly lower levels of PTSD among. Biologically, social ties stimulate the release of oxytocin, a hormone that has been linked with the reduction of fear and anxiety, in part by limiting the cortisol response to stress.
  3. Welcome Change: There is a need to think flexibly and embrace change as an opportunity for growth. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) also known as the Holmes-Rahe Scale of Life Stress identifies life changes, both positive and negative, with stress. Learn to view the challenge of change as a routine part of life.
  4. Use Humor: Learning to laugh along the way and not take ourselves so seriously is a useful outlook. Humor can help people get through even the worst of times, as we learn from Victor Frankl in his account of surviving the concentration camps in Man’s Search for Meaning.
  5. Cultivating Gratitude: Being grateful for the things that go right and the people that help out along the way is another component of optimism. Results from study examining the benefits of gratitude (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits of feelings of happiness and well-being.
  6. Accept Help: This can be seeking out experts when there is a problem that we are not equipped to solve or seeking emotional support, when needed. Work/Life Connections-EAP provides psychological support to the Vanderbilt faculty and staff through coaching and counseling services.

Additional Resources:

Cope Better, Stress Less

Emmons, Robert and McCullough (2003) Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experiemental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life Journal of Personality snd Social Psychology, Vol. 84,No 2 377-389.

King, Lynda (1998) Resilience-Recovery Factors in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Female and Male Vietnam Veterans: Hardiness Postwar Social Support, and Additional Stressful Life Events Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 74, No 2, pages 420-434.

Mills, Harry and Domeck, Mark (2005) Resilience: Relationships.

Seligman, Martin (1998) Learned Optimism. New York, NY: Pocket Books. 1998