Developing Personal Resilience

To accept that damage is not total destruction; a good experience does not mean heaven forever; it’s loss is not the end of the world, but a real manageable grief mitigated by hope for good experiences in the future.

resilience 3This article arose from a period of 2-3 weeks, when a lot of difficult things things happened seemingly all together. We were burgled and lost a number of valuables as well as the emotional upset of someone being in the house. Less than a week later, our internet (an absolute lifeline for the business) went on the blink completely and we had the run around from various companies telling us it was someone else’s issue. There were a couple of things that came up with the kids, and we had gone from the balance of busy but fulfilling lives, into a sense of stress and apprehension. There is also something of wider zeitgeist, as its autumn, and the Governments austerity measures have just been announced; deep cuts, tightening of belts, and tough times ahead…..

It got me to thinking as I reached the haven of a weekend; is it personal resilience to deal with problems in our lives that defines us more than our successes?

What is personal resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and adversity.  Resilient people stay committed and increase their efforts when the going gets tough, and have a well developed “bounce back facility”. Resilience in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease).

More recently, there has also been evidence that resilience can indicate a capacity to resist a sharp decline in functioning even though a person temporarily appears to get worse Resilience has been shown to be more than just the capacity of individuals to cope well under adversity. Resilience is better understood as both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided and experienced in culturally meaningful ways.Studies of demobilized child soldiers, high school drop-outs, urban poor, immigrant youth, and other populations at risk are showing these patterns It used to be thought that people were born with resilient attributes, but more modern thinking suggests that even if we aren’t blessed with huge reservoirs of personal resilience, we can develop ourselves, and are often stronger than we think.

Resilience theories and models

The “grief curve”:  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ grief curve is a useful model in this context, and has been taken out of its original model of bereavement, to reflect  a wider context of dealing with any difficulty or change that happens to us all. The 5 stages of denial, anger, despondency, evaluation and integration can work well in recognising that the current situation won’t last for ever. Click here to view the model.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions, behaviours and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic procedure. One particularly helpful model is the “ABCDE” model that helps create perspective in difficult situations, and supports individuals to avoid “catastrophising” : click here to view the the ABCDE exercise 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a controversial approach to individual development and organizational change based on “a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them” and “a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour”. Anchoring technique practical tool

Locus of control: Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events result primarily from their own behavior and actions. Those with a low internal locus of control believe that powerful others, fate, or chance primarily determine events.

Resilience mechanisms

These are a few of the typical resilience mechanisms people use to recover from adversity or a setback:

Using external support

  • Being able to talk things through in professional or personal networks, through supervision, or through Coaching if people have a Coach. Co Coaching using Coaching principles with a trusted colleague on a regular basis also works well
  • Emotional and physical support through loved ones, and friends
  • In some cases, when people are struggling, practical help and advice through experts can help unlock issues, whether immediate, or longer standing

Keeping connected to your strength

This is where approaches like NLP Anchoring can help. NLP Anchoring basically encourages you to:

  • Identify a time you felt very resilient
  • Create that that state in this moment very vividly
  • Connect it with a physical movement or “anchor” you can easily do
  • Repeat the process so that you can call it up quickly in times of challenge

Creating an inner sense of peace

Mindfulness and creating an inner sense of calm are things we would all aspire to in ourselves. It’s not necessarily 2 hours of meditative practice a day that helps achieve this

  • A sense of room, quiet and calm inside yourself, in your body as well as your head
  • This can be achieved by relaxation, mindfulness or meditation
  • It can be done for a minute or an hour through some very basic approaches to relaxation
  • Approaches to relaxation, but can include reading, having a bath, crosswords, watching a favourite programme; things that feel like a “treat” and time out from the everyday hussle

Mindset and beliefs

Our mindsets and beliefs differentiate us greatly in our reactions to things that befall us. Somebody’s rage in a traffic jam is someone else’s chance to have 10 minutes out, and listen to music. There are approaches (like CBT) that encourage us to think about things productively, and keep them in perspective:

  • The circle of influence approach encourages us to identify what we have control over and what we don’t, and to work on the former, not on the latter
  • What is our growth orientation? Do we have a positive attitude to problems in learning from them?
  • Holding onto a sense of compassion (for ourselves and others)
  • Maintaining hope and perspective (not catastrophising)
  • Look for opportunities
  • Appreciate the wisdom in insecurity (some people find stories or poems that help them with this)

Physical exercise

We all know this, perhaps in varying degrees about the benefits.

  • There is strong evidence about the benefits of regular physical exercise in relation to managing stress, sleeping well, feeling positive and healthy
  • Most habits take a while to form, and people who have formed strong habitual patterns around exercise have it scheduled at regular activities throughout the week, and contingencies if the regular slots get interrupted through other commitments

Personal reflections

Half marathonEach of us will develop a personal collection of approaches, and worth all of us reflecting on how we harness the “bounce back” facility when things go wrong.

For me, the key things are:

  • Regular exercise to relieve stress, at least every other day
  • A few minutes meditation at the start of every day
  • Holding onto a sense of humour, and being able to laugh at myself and life!
  • Talking things through with good friends helps perspective


A free basic self resilience questionairre

An abbreviated version of the  Nicholson McBride Resilience
Questionnaire (NMRQ):  Resilience questionnaire PDF

A Mind tools article on developing resilience