We all know resilience is an important trait. It is the hallmark of successful people and successful companies, and it is what allows people to come back from disappointment and failure stronger and more determined than ever.
What you may not have known is that resilience is not a permanent trait, one that you are either lucky enough to be born with or unlucky enough to be lacking. Resilience can be developed in people of all ages, and luckily there are many methods that can be applied to do it.
First, let’s start with a definition of resilience.
This article contains:
- What is Resilience? A Definition
- Essential Teachings for Any Resilience Training
- Resilience Exercises & Activities for Children
- Real-Life Examples of Resilience
- Building Resilience in the Workplace
- Developing Resilience Through Leadership
- Resilience Coaching
- 10 Best Books on Resilience
- Inspiring Ted Talks on Resilience
- A Take Home Message
What is Resilience? A Definition
Resilience is the quality of recovering quickly from failure and adversity, and not only returning to the status quo but actually using the opportunity to grow and further your personal development.
When you think of resilience, you might think of people who seem to have it all figured out. The word “resilience” may bring to mind people who are always calm when faced with adversity, who don’t break a sweat when they come up against a particularly difficult challenge. However, these people are not good representations of resilience. Resilience is not the absence of stress or trauma—in fact, it requires stress or trauma.
Resilience is the remarkable ability of humans to adapt when faced with adversity. We have all shown incredible resilience, simply by surviving as long as we have! Resilience is a learned ability, one that can be learned and built and developed by anyone.
Resilient people not only survive and bounce back after a setback, they come back stronger and wiser. People who are highly resilient are excellent at finding the silver lining in any situation, and they excel in finding the lesson each negative experience has taught them and applying it in their future endeavors.
Essential Teachings for Any Resilience Training
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most important exercise for improving your resilience is to train your attention and awareness. Becoming more intentional and purposeful will decrease your negative thoughts and draw your attention to what is most meaningful around you. Along with increased resilience, training focused on this exercise can also decrease your stress and anxiety and boost your quality of life (Mayo Clinic, 2018).
Thrive Programme consultant and experienced coach James Woodworth agrees with this assessment, and adds that there are many other worthwhile areas to focus on. To make an impact on resilience, there are several things any effective resilience training may encourage:
- Developing an internal locus of control: believing that you are in control of your life
- Developing a good sense of self-esteem: believing that you have value and are worthy
- Developing a good sense of self-efficacy: believing that you can do what you set your mind to
- Developing self-awareness and emotion regulation/management: understanding and managing your own emotions
- Developing optimism and hope: engaging in life and looking forward to the challenges it brings
- Developing positivity and positive emotions: cultivating a sense of positivity, well-being, and meaning in life
- Developing gratitude and appreciation: being appreciative of what you have and practicing gratitude on a regular basis
- Developing SMART goals: setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound
- Developing a flexible and adaptable attitude: keeping your thinking from becoming rigid or inflexible
- Developing a positive, optimistic explanatory style: choosing to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty (Woodworth, 2016)
Enhancing any of these characteristics is a great way to improve resilience—and of course, focusing on them all is sure to bring about a boost in resilience!
The Penn Resiliency Program is one such program that provides training in multiple important areas and skills to enhance resilience, including:
- Perspective taking
- Decision making
- Coping and emotion regulation
- Cognitive restructuring (Cutuli et al., 2013)
And that’s only the Penn Resiliency Program for children! The program for adults, which has been administered to people and organizations all around the world as well as thousands in the United States Army and Pennsylvania State Police, focuses on improving 18 skills in six competency areas:
- Self-Awareness – the ability to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and psychological reactions.
- Self-Regulation – the ability to change one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physiology in the service of a desired outcome.
- Mental Agility – the ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to think creatively and flexibly.
- Strengths of Character – the ability to use one’s top strengths to engage authentically, overcome challenges, and create a life aligned with one’s values.
- Connection – the ability to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships.
- Optimism – the ability to notice and expect the positive, to focus on what you can control, and to take purposeful action (Positive Psychology Center, n.d.).
To learn more about resilience training from Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology and developer of the Penn Resiliency Program, you can read his article from the Harvard Business Review here.
Resilience Exercises & Activities for Children
Aside from focusing on the characteristics and competencies noted above, there are many more specific exercises, activities, and worksheets that are designed to build resilience in children. A few of the most popular and effective resources are described below.
Mandala Session – Exploring Feelings through Color
This worksheet is intended for children to help them build resilience, although it can be adapted for adult use as well.
The exercise is drawn from page 25 of South Lakes Federation’s Emotional Resilience PDF that provides suggestions and methods for boosting resilience in children. Helping a child complete this exercise is a great way to get them to explore and share their feelings, a necessary step for developing enhanced resilience.
The Mandala is a design made up of a circle/oval, a diamond, and a flowery shape, all drawn with thin lines and left empty of color inside. With two straight lines down the middle and across the design, it can be split into four sections representing the major areas of life for children:
Provide the child or children with a copy of the Mandala and tell them to color in each section in a way that represents how they feel about that area of their life. They can use one color, two or three colors, or a wide variety of colors to put their feelings onto paper.
Once they have completed their design, discuss the color(s) with them. Encourage them to talk about why they colored each section the way they did, and what the colors represent.
You can use this worksheet to help your child or client identify how they feel about the different areas of their life and encourage them to express their feelings and discuss what changes they could make to further healthy development.
This worksheet from John Liptak and Ester Leutenberg’s Teen Resiliency-Building Workbook can help adolescents and adults alike to build up their reserves of hope and resilience. Through completing this worksheet, you or your client will conduct a thought exercise on determining what hope is, identify your perspective on hope, consider your experiences with hope, and think about how to develop greater hope in your life.
This worksheet poses several questions to walk the individual through this thought exercise, including:
- What does this quote by Emily Dickinson mean to you? – “Hope is the thing with feathers.”
- What happened in your life that caused you to stop hoping?
- Where do you believe your sources of hope, or lack of hope, come from?
- How has your environment affected the amount of hope you currently have?
- Where do you look for hope in your life?
- What are three things you hope for?
- How have your hopes changed as you have grown up?
- How has hope, or a lack of hope, affected decisions you have made?
- What needs to happen before you have more hope in your life?
You can find the Hope worksheet on page 13 of the workbook.
Reviewing My Work
This exercise from the same PDF is also intended for children and adolescents, although it can easily apply to adults as well.
This worksheet can help the child to think realistically about his or her performance and identify where there is room for improvement. This exercise contributes to developing resilience by encouraging the individual to evaluate their own work, learn from their past mistakes, and set goals for future development.
First, the child should think of a recent time in which they completed a big project (or failed to complete a big project!). For a child, this is probably a paper or other assignment from school. For an adult, this will likely be a project at work, although it could also be a personal project.
This worksheet presents nine pairs of statements, one on each side of a spectrum, with a scale in between them. The instructions are rate or indicate which statement is more accurate.
These nine pairs of statements are:
- I achieved better than I expected – I didn’t achieve as well as I hoped
- I took a risk in developing a new approach – I did it safely, knowing it was within my comfort zone.
- I worked hard and applied myself – I could have put in more effort
- I amended the project as I progressed through it – I stuck to the plan
- It was all my own idea – I used other resources to help me
- I took note of the feedback from my teacher – I carried on regardless
- I understood what I was expected to do – I wasn’t clear about the task
- I had a limited amount of time to complete – It was an ongoing project
- I am pleased with the final outcome – I am not pleased with the final outcome
If you are using this worksheet with a child or adolescent, discuss their responses with them to help them discover where they are satisfied with their work and where they could do better If they feel they have failed themselves or their teacher/parent(s), tell them that failure is an inevitable part of life and that they shouldn’t let failure discourage them from trying again.
Click here and navigate to page 39 to view or download this worksheet.
Three-Part Emotional Resilience Exercise
This exercise from Licensed Professional Counselor Kim Morgan (2017) is divided into three parts, and each part will help you to develop or enhance your resilience.
First, you will identify your strengths.
Answer the following seven questions with a focus on the objective truth. Don’t employ any false modesty here! You are the only one that will see your answers, so you have nothing to fear from being totally honest about the best things you do and the best traits you have.
The questions are:
- What is the best thing about you?
- What do you like most about yourself?
- What are you like when you are at your best?
- What, or who, brings out the best in you?
- What is your most significant achievement?
- How have your strengths helped you in the past?
- How can your strengths help you in the future?
Once you have a good grasp on your strengths, commit to using them in a new way at least once a week.
Next, you’ll work on developing a resilient perspective.
It can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of a situation, but it is generally not a healthy way to approach life. Instead, work on developing a perspective that considers both the good and bad equally. Find the upsides and downsides of a situation, instead of zeroing in on only the bad (or only the good—being too positive can be a bad thing, too!).
When you find yourself focusing on the negative, write down your thoughts and see if you can turn them around or balance them out.
Kim Morgan’s example is “I made a fool of myself by crying in front of my team.”
A good rephrasing might be: “I am only human, and at least the team knows that I care and am comfortable with my emotions.”
Finally, cultivate a sense of adventure and be courageous! Doing things that scare us is an excellent way to not only neutralize our fears, but also build our self-confidence and resilience.
If you find it difficult to get started, try writing out a list of the bravest things you have ever done. The list doesn’t need to include things like walking a tightrope at 300 feet; it can be things that were personally terrifying or anxiety-inducing, like going to dinner by yourself or starting up a new hobby or interest with no prior experience.
Making this list will remind you that you can be brave, and encourage you to believe in yourself and push your own boundaries in a healthy, life-enhancing way.
Click here to read more about this exercise.
Real-Life Examples of Resilience
There are examples of people being extraordinarily resilient all around us, if we just open our eyes and look.
For example, there is the story of Char and Scott Frewing and their sons Kurt and Peter.
When Kurt was three, he was diagnosed with Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Soon after, the family learned that their younger son Peter had the same disease. They were told that this is a disease with no treatment, no cure, and an expected life span of no more than 30 years.
At a time when many of us would fall apart, Char and Scott decided to focus on making a positive impact instead; they started a foundation (Kurt+Peter Foundation) to fund research for a cure. Their efforts have already paid off—they found an expert in the area of muscular dystrophy who was willing to experiment on a new treatment, and the results were promising.
With no staff, the family has still managed to raise over $1 million to offer in grants for research. Although they note that there are some days when it is extremely challenging to be optimistic and resilient, they are doing their best to embrace life.
Char and Scott write:
“Having two kids with muscular dystrophy has changed how we view the future. We seize every chance to enjoy the time we have. We travel as much as possible. We spend hours reading aloud every day. We maximize our family time.
We feel so grateful for every moment with our sons. We’re very positive people, and we try to instill that quality in our kids, too. We tell them that, yes, muscular dystrophy stinks. But we have to live the life we’ve got.
We’re going to live it as best we can, enjoy each moment, and try to leave the world a better place than we found it.”
You can read more about the Frewings’ story and learn about the Kurt+Peter Foundation here.
If that story didn’t satisfy your craving for stories of resilience, check out the other stories from Option B, an organization dedicated to building resilience based on the work of Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.
To come up with your own personally impactful stories on resilience, try this method of crafting a tale that inspires and motivates you. Positive News columnist Christ Johnstone (2015) outlines the four parts of a good resilience story, and provides a sentence completion prompt to help you get started:
- This is a story about…
o This is where you identify the central character of your story (could be real or fictional).
- The adversity faced is…
o Identify the difficult situation or trauma your character faced.
- What helps here is…
o Note the strengths and resources your character drew on to help them recover and bounce back.
- And that leads to…
o Write about the positive outcomes that would not have occurred without resilience.
Using this formula, you will come up with personally meaningful stories about resilience that you can draw upon whenever you need a boost.
Building Resilience in the Workplace
Resilience is a vital characteristic to focus on in the workplace. It’s simply a fact of life that even the most competent and intelligent employees will fail at some point in their career. This is where resilience can help; it can aid employees in recognizing where they have failed or where they are weak, identify what they need to work on, come up with a plan for improvement, and bounce back, ready to tackle the challenge in a new way.
However, there is one thing to note about this fact of life; when we think about resilience, we almost always focus on being resilient when facing adversity, trauma, or tragedy, when we actually need resilience to deal with positive changes as well. In the workplace, promotions are certainly positive events, but the increased responsibility (and likely increased stress) can require just as much resilience as dealing with a disappointing setback (Youssef & Luthans, 2007).
Whether you expect positive or negative changes, it’s a good idea to build up your resilience to prepare for adapting to them. Without resilience, you may not be able to effectively manage transitions, your competence may slip, or you may even be more vulnerable to illness and absenteeism. If you are struggling to meet the requirements of your job, it is unlikely that you have the time or energy to put into building your skills and developing your abilities as a professional.
A lack of resilience can have a significant impact on your motivation, your performance, your engagement in your work, your job satisfaction, and your well-being over all.
Considering these adverse outcomes of low resilience, putting some effort into building one’s resilience is clearly a worthwhile use of time and energy!
Developing Resilience Through Leadership
In addition to building one’s own resilience in the workplace, leaders can have a significant impact on the resilience of their followers. It may seem a daunting task at first, but there are actually many things leaders can do to enhance the resilience of their employees.
We know that highly resilient employees excel in these areas:
- Developing high-quality connections
- Managing their stress and avoiding burnout
- Presenting themselves authentically
- Developing grit (the passion and perseverance to pursue long-term goals)
- Staying inspired and finding meaning in their work
- Staying flexible and mentally tough
- Actively managing change and setbacks (Davis-Laack, 2014)
Ask any leader, and he or she will likely agree that these seven characteristics make for an effective and productive employee—just the kind they like to lead! Employees high in these traits are often the superstars, producing produce top-notch work, coming up with big and bold ideas, and acting as a source of positivity and encouragement to their coworkers.
To encourage these characteristics in one’s direct reports, the most important first step is to become a resilient leader. After all, leading by example is a powerful way to influence your employees!
To become a more resilient leader, commit to the following actions:
- Communicate powerfully; be effective in communicating your intentions to others, and ensure that your employees and peers leave the conversation with an understanding of your expectations and their roles.
- Be willing to be coached; you should be open to feedback and eager to use it to enhance your effectiveness and improve your skills and abilities.
- Build positive and trusting relationships; these relationships are excellent sources of resilience and contribute to a strong and cohesive team.
- Take bold risks; don’t be afraid to try new ideas or implement bold strategies.
- Develop others; you should be just as interested in the development of your direct reports as you are in your own development.
- Champion change; always be willing to change when necessary, and be willing to provide the leadership your followers need to implement organization-wide change.
- Be decisive; decision-making is a difficult but vital part of organizational success, so don’t be afraid to make decisions (Folkman, 2017).
Once you have developed your own store of resilience, you can begin to encourage the development of resilience in others in the organization.
To lead your organization (or at least your division/unit/team) towards enhanced resilience, follow these 15 guidelines:
- Develop a focused sense of urgency and anticipate change.
- See beyond what other leaders/organizations see as limitations, and develop an “anything is possible” mindset.
- Incorporate a strong culture of accountability, starting with the top and working your way down.
- Delegate leadership responsibility and authority down the chain of command.
- Don’t waste time on activities that can’t be measured; eliminate areas where your organization/employees are weak.
- Cultivate a mindset of transformation and set new goals frequently.
- Once you have a solid vision and well-developed mission, stick to them.
- Use a people-first approach: people, then customers, then shareholders.
- Attract, empower, and retain courageous people who will make bold moves.
- Tackle challenges head-on.
- Think and act horizontally, and break down silos in the organization/division.
- Keep an eye out for areas where you need to self-correct, and do it quickly.
- Encourage transparent feedback and use it to constantly improve.
- Do not reward mediocrity; set clear performance expectations and reward behavior that is above-and-beyond.
- Define excellence as the constant pursuit of perfection; never be satisfied with the status quo (Gleeson, 2017).
Implementing each of these suggestions and staying committed to building and enhancing resilience will have ripple effects throughout the organization. Even if you only manage a small team of employees, you will likely be surprised at the positive impact you can have on your organization as a whole through your team.
If you’re interested in learning more about building your personal resilience, resilience coaching may be right for you.
Resilience coaches help their clients build resilience by:
- Focusing on what they have done right as well as what they have done wrong
- Offering the right kind of praise (i.e., “process praise” that focuses on the client’s engagement, perseverance, and problem-solving strategy)
- Building their confidence
- Keeping them focused on the process of achievement
- Enhance their motivation and encourage them towards higher achievement (Breazeale, 2011).
On the other hand, if this sounds like something you would like to learn how to do, you may want to check out the Institute for Life Coach Training. They offer a training course in resilience coaching that will prepare you to guide your clients through enhancing their resilience. The course consists of ten 2-hour weekly teleconference classes and two to three hours of weekly reading, individual and peer group reflections, and assignments.
The course objectives are for participants to:
- Learn about the four distinct yet inter-related dimensions of personal resilience: (1) Big Picture Vision; (2) Triage and Discernment; (3) Resources and Reserves; and (4) Life Skillset.
- Gain a new framework based on the four-dimensional model of personal resilience, to help improve and enhance life purpose and satisfaction, life accomplishments and success, and the ability to face change and challenges positively.
- Expand knowledge about personal resilience components; how to share and apply this knowledge for more effective coaching sessions and sustainable results.
- Help clients achieve their goals by developing new awareness, exploring potential change and developing better practices. Learn about common self-limitations and cultural stereotypes, and how to best apply resilience and self-leadership skillset to real life.
- Learn how to best coach clients dealing with demanding, stressful, challenging life and work expectations and situations, and to help themselves propel forward towards a satisfying, sustainable future.
6. Help clients develop an empowered, resilient approach to life and work demands and challenges, using coaching to enhance a holistic approach to a life with meaning, purpose, motivation, health, and fulfillment.
- Acquire a practical skillset. Develop and broaden effective coaching techniques, skills and tools needed to integrate effective resilience competencies into coaching sessions and how to use them in their own life, to build a thriving, resilient coaching business and personal life.
- Make resilience coaching more successful, understanding how personal resilience is affected by distinct internal and external factors, such as personality, energy available and personal decisions; by context, circumstances and cultural beliefs (Institute for Life Coach Training, n.d.).
This course is offered for a tuition fee of $1,045, and requires participants to have at least 20 hours of coaching training or be currently enrolled in a foundational coaching training course. You can read more about this course here.
10 Best Books on Resilience
If you’re looking for a more in-depth dive into resilience, you’re in luck! There are tons of books on resilience out there.
For a leadership perspective on resilience, this Inc. article from Successful Culture founder and CEO Marissa Levin identifies four of her favorite recent books on resilience:
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown
- The Five Levels of Attachment by Don Miguel Ruiz
For a mindful perspective on the best resilience books, check out this piece from the staff at Mindful.org. They recommend these six books:
- The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World by Nancy Colier
- Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience by Christopher Willard
- Drawing Your Own Path: 33 Practices at the Crossroads of Art and Meditation by John F. Simon, Jr.
- Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life by Anna Brones
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
- The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution: Proven Strategies to End Overeating, Satisfy Your Hunger, and Savor Your Life by Lynn Rossy
Inspiring TED Talks on Resilience
If you’re more of an auditory learner, you might find these TED talks on resilience to be more impactful.
Check out Sam Goldstein’s TED Talk on the Power of Resilience here:
Goldstein discusses how to build and enhance our children’s sense of resilience through fostering strength, hope, and optimism.
The TEDxRush U Talk from Dr. Gregg Steinberg is another excellent talk on resilience. Dr. Steinberg outlines how you can use the adversity you face as your own personal superpower!
Charles Hunt’s powerful TEDxCharlotte talk is on the importance of resilience, the impacts it can have on our lives, and how it can be learned and enhanced.
Finally, watch this inspiring talk on grit from legendary author and researcher Angela Lee Duckworth. Grit is a cousin to resilience, a construct of passion, stamina, and perseverance towards one’s long-term goals.
A Take Home Message
I hope this piece has given you an interesting and informative look at the idea of resilience, but most importantly of all, I hope you got the sense that resilience is not something you either have or lack. It’s not something that you are born with and that’s it—resilience can be improved, enhanced, and developed, in both children and adults.
This piece is full of good information and suggestions if you’d like to build your own resilience or encourage the development of resilience in your clients, your children, or your students. If you’re unsure about your own level of resilience, give some of these techniques and exercises a try!
Have you participated in any resilience training? Do you have any other suggestions or resources to help people boost their resilience? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and happy training!
- Breazeale, R. (2011, August 22). Coaching others to be resilient. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-face-adversity/201108/coaching-others-be-resilient
- Cutuli, J. J., Gillham, J. E., Chaplin, T. M., Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E. P., Gallop, R. J., Abenavoli, R. M., & Freres, D. R. (2013). Preventing adolescents’ externalizing and internalizing symptoms: Effects of the Penn Resiliency Program. The International Journal of Emotional Education, 5, 67-79.
- Davis-Laack, P. (2014, October 2). Seven things resilient employees do differently. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pressure-proof/201410/seven-things-resilient-employees-do-differently
- Folkman, J. (2017, April 6). New research: 7 ways to become a more resilient leader. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joefolkman/2017/04/06/new-research-7-ways-to-become-a-more-resilient-leader/#192ed23e7a0c
- Gleeson, B. (2017, August 17). How leaders build the resilient organizations of tomorrow: A Navy SEAL’s perspective. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/08/17/how-leaders-build-the-resilient-organizations-of-tomorrow-a-navy-seals-perspective/#766f0ff61ba8
- Johnstone, C. (2015, February 16). Inspiring stories of resilience. Positive News. Retrieved from https://www.positive.news/2015/perspective/blogs/positive-psychology-blogs/17141/inspiring-stories-resilience/
- Mayo Clinic. (2018, January 17). Resilience training. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/about/pac-20394943
- Morgan, K. (2017, September 19). Exercises to develop emotional resilience. Psychologies. Retrieved from https://www.psychologies.co.uk/exercises-develop-emotional-resilience
- Positive Psychology Center. (n.d.). Resilience skill set. Penn State Positive Psychology Center. Retrieved from https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resilience-programs/resilience-skill-set
- Woodworth, J. (2016, October 28). 10 characteristics of resilient people and how to develop them. PsychReg. Retrieved from https://www.psychreg.org/10-characteristics-resilient-people-develop/
- Youssef, C. M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management 33, 774-800. doi:10.1177/0149206307305562