Resilience is the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals.
Psychologists have identified some of the factors that appear to make a person more resilient, such as a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.
Optimism, for instance, has been shown to help blunt the impact of stress on the mind and body in the wake of disturbing experiences. That gives people access to their own cognitive resources, enabling cool-headed analysis of what might have gone wrong and consideration of behavioural paths that might be more productive.
Other aspects of resilience’s roots remain under study. There does appear to be a genetic predisposition for resilience, for instance; but early environments and life circumstances play a role in how resilient genes are ultimately expressed.
Not necessarily; people who have undergone trauma can be – and often are – highly resilient. In some cases, however, traumatised individuals may develop maladaptive coping skills, such as substance use, that negatively impact them and may reduce their ability to cope with future challenges.
Many factors that determine resilience – such as genetics, early life experiences, and luck – can’t be modified. But specific resilience-building skills can be learned. These include breaking out of negative thought cycles, pushing back against catastrophising, and looking for upsides when faced with setbacks.
Getting through pain and disappointment without letting them become overwhelming isn’t necessarily easy for anyone. But researchers have begun to uncover what more resilient people do to emotionally and mentally carry on after the death of a loved one, a job loss, chronic or acute illness, or another setback. What they’ve learned may help others become more resilient themselves.
For instance, do you attribute personal and professional setbacks solely to your own inadequacy – or are you able to identify contributing factors that are specific and temporary? Do you demand a perfect streak – or are you able to accept that life is a mix of losses and wins? In each case, the latter quality has been tied to greater levels of resilience.
Healthy habits – getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising – can reduce stress, which may, in turn, boost resilience. Similarly, being sure to nurture close relationships can help an individual find support when trouble arises. Regularly thinking about morals and actively living according to one’s values have been linked to higher resilience.
Any crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, can test resilience. Looking to loved ones for emotional support, increasing self-care, and focusing on the aspects of the situation that are under your control can help you weather almost any storm. Start by asking yourself informed questions.
What is a locus of control?
Is it possible to change an external locus of control?
How can I get over my difficult childhood?
To fail is deeply human; everyone, no matter their background, skillset, or life story, will fail spectacularly at least once in their life. Its commonplace nature, however, doesn’t mean that experiencing a major loss or setback is easy or fun—or that it’s widely accepted in a winner-takes-all culture that prioritizes success at all costs.
But learning to be okay with making mistakes, big or small, is a critical skill—one tied not only to resilience but also, perhaps, to future success. One recent study, for example, found that young scientists who experienced a significant setback early in their career actually went on to greater success than scientists who had seen early wins.
What does this tell you? Push! Embrace opportunities but always bear in mind that if you want perfection and something done quickly you are probably on a road. And that road is one you really need to turn off. You then need to use a different map to explore not the most direct or even the least treacherous road – but the one that helps you grow as you go through the process of becoming.