The subject of resilience in positive psychology deals with the ability to cope with whatever life throws at you. Some people can be knocked down by life and return as a stronger person than ever before. These people are called resilient.
A resilient person works through challenges by using personal resources, strengths and other positive capacities of psychological capital such as hope, optimism, and self-efficacy. Overcoming a crisis by resiliency is often described as “bouncing back” to a normal state of functioning. Being resilient is also positively associated with happiness.
“If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”
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Let’s Start at the Beginning
Relationships play a vital role in building the resilience of an individual. This starts at a young age when we are heavily influenced by our parents. The most resilient children are those who have been raised with an authoritative parenting style, rather than authoritarian or passive parenting styles.
The authoritative parenting style displays the qualities of warmth and affection that also provide structure and support to the child. Baumrinds’ (1971, 2013) theory of parenting styles has shown that authoritative parenting is the ideal approach to raising a well rounded, independent, self-reliant, and self-controlled individual.
Opposing this is the authoritarian parenting style, that often results in rebellious or dependent children who experience more distrust and tend to be withdrawn.
Lopez and Snyder (2009) present the protective factors for psychological resilience, concluding that parenting style is just one of many factors affecting resilience. They also consider parental educational level, socio-economic status and home environment (organized vs. disorganized) as strong influences in the development of a child’s psychological resilience.
Many researchers have developed similar conclusions using Baumrinds’ categorization of parenting styles. The type of relationship, as well as the type of person in the relationship, play big roles in the development of resilience.
These positive relationships, where well-adjusted and rule abiding behaviours are valued, have strong positive effects on the resilience levels of those involved.
The most salient individual characteristics include cognitive skills and personality differences related to effective problem solving, self-regulation, and adaptability to stress.
Through early relationships and supportive environments, children can learn a variety of personal resources which directly contribute to the development of their psychological resilience over time. Lopez and Snyder mention these key protective individual factors as:
- Positive self-image
- Problem-solving skills
- Faith / understanding the meaning and one’s purpose
- Positive outlook
- Skills and talents that are valued by self and community
- General acceptance by others
Environments for Growth
Environments which provide structure and safety have effects on the development of individual psychological resiliency.
Factors such as good public safety and availability to health care impact the development of a community’s resilience. Namely, the greater the social care, the more positive is each individual’s perceived value of their place in the world.
Education is another major factor to consider when building resilience as it provides structure and opportunities for individuals to learn and develop skills and talents. This can also be encouraged through prosocial organizations such as sports teams or clubs. These environments enable individuals to develop a positive self-image and feel the purpose by contributing to the world.
A core part of the positive education movement is creating prosocial organisations and effective schools but, additionally, there is a focus on specific school programs, teaching methods, and engaging family relationships in order to develop resilience directly and in a supportive environment. An example of such a program is the Penn Resiliency Program.
How do I Become More Resilient?
Even if the environment you grew up wasn’t ideal for the development of resilience: it’s never too late. Being resilient is not a personality trait, but more a dynamic learning process. The individual doesn’t perceive moments of crisis as an unsolvable state, but rather as a learning experience and a chance for personal development and growth.
A major point in learning resilience is to be able to take a perspective on things. In moments of stress, it might be useful to place your individual situation into a bigger context to get a grasp on its real severity, or the lack thereof.
People that are resilient often show a positive attitude. They don’t label failure as something negative, instead they see it as helpful feedback and motivation to work more and get better. Getting in touch with other people, helping them, and overall establishing positivity in life are important steps in the process of learning resilience. In Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504 course, professor Tal Ben-Shahar goes in-depth on the subject of resilience in positive psychology.
Developing a Mindset That Fosters Success
Whether these goals stem from desires for fitness, entrepreneurship or some other domain, they all have one thing in common: a road paved with uncertainty, sacrifice, and setbacks. As such, it is key that you learn to foster a sense of resilience within yourself to ensure you overcome these setbacks to aid your rise to greatness.
Fortunately, given the abundance of empirical evidence, the methods for doing so have never been clearer.
Detailed below are a series of tools designed to help you cultivate resilience and in doing so prepare you for the road ahead.
Identify and Leverage Your Strengths
Using your character strengths is a good way for yourself to experience your competence. However, a lot of people don’t know what their strengths are. Something that you are good at comes easily to you, which is why you often take it for granted and don’t recognize it as a major strength.
Learn more about character strengths and take the VIA test for instance to find your strengths. It can also be helpful to ask people who know you well what they think you are good at. While you are at it, ask yourself as well!
Several strengths are associated with happiness, which in turn is a helpful state of mind to become more resilient. Science shows that consciously embracing moments of daily life and being fully present (mindfulness) leads to increased happiness.
“The good life is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.”
– Martin Seligman
When times are tough, it’s easy to lose hope and optimism. But by staying acutely aware of your strengths, you are ensuring you have the best possible chance for survival. Research demonstrates the value in doing so, including greater vitality and motivation, a clearer sense of direction, higher self-confidence, productivity and even probability of goal attainment (Clifton & Anderson, 2001-2; Hodges & Clifton, 2004; Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
However, many of you might not be aware of what your strengths actually are. To find them, you could ask a close friend or family member to observe you closely for a day or two to determine exactly when you are most engaged and energized. Why?
Because when you engage in an activity that you’re truly exceptional at, your excitement is clearly visible to those around you. And it, therefore, becomes very clear to others that you feel alive and motivated whenever you perform that particular activity. You might also like to try noticing what you do differently from other people.
Catching yourself in a random situation where your behavior might stand out will highlight your strengths. So once you find your strengths, make a conscious effort to remember them. They will serve you well in times of darkness.
Learn to Perceive Obstacles as Challenges Rather Than Hindrances
“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
– Joshua J. Marine
According to the challenge-hindrance stressor framework formed by Cavenaugh et al. (2000), you’d be better served to employ this type of approach. When confronted with a problem, most people look at it as an attack on them. As something that prevents them from moving forward. Something that has happened to them rather than for them.
This victim mentality hinders their progress, and thus weakens their sense of resilience. For example, upon receiving criticism by their boss, a victim may talk back to their boss in anger, attempt to deny or excuse the outcome of their work or perhaps even complain about it to their colleagues.
Embodying this type of mindset simply sets you up for failure. You continue to receive curveballs like this and rather than face them head on, you crumble. Instead, you should learn to perceive such obstacles as challenges.
People with a challenge perspective strive to view the problem as an opportunity for growth; as a chance to better themselves. In contrast to a hindrance perspective, a challenge perspective allows you to see your problem as something that has happened for you rather than to you.
This victor mentality encourages growth, thereby boosting your resilience. Referring to the above example once again, a victor may attempt to understand why the quality of work was not acceptable, request further feedback on how to improve or maybe even seek advice from colleagues. By acknowledging the obstacles and identifying the areas for improvement, you are positioning yourself for success.
Focus on Progress, not Goals
“Progress is not inevitable. It’s up to us to create it.”
– Michael Bloomberg
Most people do the reverse. But according to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015, monitoring goal progress is crucial in ensuring that your goals are translated into action.
It further states that you’re more likely to reach success if you report your progress publicly or even physically record it. You see, the digital advancements of our age have provided us with the ability to share our journeys at scale. But that ability has simply fostered a dangerous mentality of comparing our current state to that of those we idolize.
By focusing on your goals and the gap between your current circumstances and your preferred circumstances, you’ll quickly become discouraged and doubtful. At that point, all it takes is a minor setback to send you plummeting back to square one.
However, by consistently acknowledging your progress, no matter how small, you are sending dollops of dopamine to your brain and thus rewarding yourself for your actions. This simply reinforces further action and if any setbacks arise, you are much more likely to move past them. Your sense of resilience thrives on progress and by reminding yourself of the strides you’ve made, you are setting yourself up for success.
“I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”
– George S. Patton Jr.
Practice Your ABC’s
Briefly described by Seligman and addressed in detail in Reivich and Shatté, the ABCDE model is often used in different resilience programs and is particularly useful in breaking down a given adversity and seeing how it’s our beliefs about what happened that are causing us to feel a certain way, not the event itself.
This allows for a greater level of awareness about our own reactions and subsequently a more adjusted and healthy response to adversity. The model is composed of 5 steps:
These steps offer the keys to building resilience which involves recognizing any unfavorable thought patterns, finding the true reason behind the emotions, recognising the negative impact of these emotions, learning to challenge them with varied ideas and thus begin choosing new more effective courses of action.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
– Dr. Steve Maraboli
About the Authors
Yezen Nwiran is a positive psychology researcher, writer and aspiring practitioner. Having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Psychological Science, Yezen now conducts academic research in the field, currently exploring the cultivation of resilience. He is also the founder and host of The Yez To Life Podcast, a podcast dedicated to improving the lives of others through applications of positive psychology. Find out more at www.yeztolife.com.
Seph Fontane Pennock is always attempting the absurd through his writings, thoughts and impulsive acts that appear to lack any kind of motive. He comes armed to the teeth with an optimistic and pragmatic attitude. Get to know our whole team!
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