The ingredients of resilience


Resilience is a big topic and has become an area of psychology in its own right. People who are resilient tend to have a more positive outlook on life and cope better with stress.

So what is resilience and is it something we can learn? 


A definition of resilience

Most of us think of resilience as ‘bouncing back’. However, as the body of research grows, psychologists see real resilience as more about adapting well when we face problems (such as trauma, threats, significant stress). So not only bouncing back but learning and growing from challenges. Becoming more resilient not only helps us get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers us to grow and even improve our lives along the way. 


Can we learn how to become resilient?

The theory behind resilience dates back to the 1970’s with developmental psychologist Emmy Werner’s work. Studying children growing up in high risk environments, she showed that a proportion developed well, despite the problems they faced in their poor upbringing. What was it that set these resilient children apart?  

The wealth of data gained over her study has helped psychologists understand the ingredients we need to build and maintain resilience. The good news is that these ingredients involve behaviours, thoughts and actions that we can all learn and develop. 


The ingredients of resilience

There are a number of skills that contribute to resilience. The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Centre have grouped these skills into six main ingredients, or core competencies.  They are: 

  • Self-awareness – this means paying attention to your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. In particular, being aware of your personal traits and feelings, known as emotional intelligence. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophise (see Unhelpful Thinking) and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern
  • Self-regulation – requires self-awareness and is being able to manage and change your feelings and impulses in a healthy manner. Reframing negative thoughts, positive self-talk and mindfulness are some of the tools that can help
  • Mental agility –  is about being able to look at things accurately and productively, may be from a different perspective. Also having the ability to embrace change and developing problem solving skills. This involves the ability to challenge how you think about things (see unhelpful thinking) and nurturing positive rather than negative emotions (see the power of positive emotions
  • Optimism – it’s difficult to be positive when you are faced with a problem, however focus on what you can control. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Both unhelpful thinking and negative emotions can get in the way of optimism
  • Self-efficacy – is about believing in yourself and having confidence.  It’s important as it plays a role in how we perceive situations and respond to different events. There are a number of ways you can build self-efficacy including recognising when you have achieved something and seeking positive feedback rather than negative
  • Connection – to be able to develop a strong social network and build and maintain positive relationships is an important part of building resilience.  Finding a connection with empathetic and understanding people can help validate your feelings and support your resilience skills. In addition, joining groups or organisations can help foster positive emotions and a sense of purpose. 


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