Building Resilience: Turning Challenges Into Success

The American Psychological Association in their Road to Resilience Initiative defines resilience as the process of good coping and adaptation in the face of a challenge, trauma or significant sources of stress.   

Each of us faces challenges and unexpected events in our lives.  Some are invigorating; some are devastating. The key is how well we are able to cope with life's surprises. Resilience is our capacity to adjust to changes and challenges in our life, as well as the ability to "spring back" emotionally after dealing with a difficult and stressful time.

The American Psychological Association's Road to Resilience Initiative identifies 10 ways to build resilience:

  1. Make Connections
  2. Avoid seeing crisis as insurmountable problems
  3. Accept that change is a part of living
  4. Move toward your goals
  5. Take decisive actions
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself
  8. Keep things in perspective
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook
  10. Take care of yourself

Resilience is a relatively new focus area in research. The initial studies of resilience came from surveying individuals following traumatic events and measuring the presence of emotional distress. Some trauma researchers have shifted focus to examine how people cope with trauma and which traits buffer them against forming posttraumatic stress symptoms. Researchers at the University of North Carolina have coined another term for resilience, "post traumatic growth", to describe the factors associated with how human beings can be positively changed and even flourish resulting from their encounters following a traumatic event.

As the research community began focusing more on strengths, the concept of resilience have gained more attention.  At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr Martin Seligman, Director of the Center and a Professor of Psychology is known for his work on optimism, learned helplessness, and resilience. This group seeks to identify which traits and skill sets allow people to cope more effectively with a range of difficult traumatic life events not just psychological obstacles.

People can be resilient when facing life transitions, unexpected changes, or unfortunate circumstances.  A person does not have to face a trauma or dramatic event to experience stress or to possess resilience. Resilience can buffer the stress of new procedures at work to dealing with the stress of chronic illness.

By developing strong personal resilience skills, people can equip themselves to respond to the pressures they may find in their personal lives and in the workplace.

Research in the area of resilience by the American Psychological Association, the Penn Resilience Program, and the Posttraumatic Growth Research Group at the University of North Carolina, suggests a number of traits that combine to help an individual exhibit growth and strength following life changes, crises or traumatic events. There are a number of characteristics that have been linked with being resilient.  These characteristics for building resilience can be divided into three major themes:

  1. Attitude:  Providing the outlook, focus, and psychological support that can lead to personal growth.
  2. Resilience Skill Development: Identify and practice various tools for problem solving - changing perspective, empathic listening, and the ability to effectively communicate with others.
  3. Healthy Lifestyle: Supporting the physical and emotional energy needed to recharge

We don't have control over the bumps and turns that we encounter along life's journey.  Building resilience can help us navigate those bumps and turns so we keep moving forward.

For more reading on Resilience: There are a number of venues (classes, self-help books and coaching opportunities) that can help someone develop these skills.  It takes practice but resilience is a learnable skill.

Learn more about Attitude

Learn more about Resilience Skill Development

Learn more about Healthy Lifestyle

Here are additional resources:

  • Bradberry, Greaves (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. San Diego: TalentSmart
  • Brooks, Robert and Goldstein, Sam (2004.) The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. McGraw-Hill, New York.
  • Goleman, Daniel. (1995) Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books: New York.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J., (1990). Full Catastrophe Living. Delta Publishing, New York.
  • Loehr, J and T Schwartz (2003) The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Free Press
  • Reivich, Karen and Shatte, Andrew (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles. Three Rivers Press, New York.
  • Seligman, Martin. (1998)  Learned Optimism. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
  • Southwick, Steven and Charney, Dennis (2012). Resilience; The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges-10 key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge
  • Southwick, Steven and Charney, Dennis (2013). Ready for Anything Scientific American Mind July/August 2013 p 32- 41
  • Sotile, Wayne and Sotile, Mary (2002).  The Resilient Physician: Effective Emotional Management for Doctors and Their Medical Organizations American Medical Association Press.
  • Tan, Chade-Meng  (2012) Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success. Harper Collins Publishers, New York.
  • Tedeschi, RG and Calhoun, LG (2004) Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence. Psychological Inquiry 2004 Vol 15 No 1, 1-18.​