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The Process of Learning Resilience


Life is an exercise in managing stress. Every day we are faced with barriers, some small and some large. In the work R3 Continuum does, I am routinely in awe of how often people succeed in the face of seemingly insurmountable stressors.

Resilience is a commonly used term, mostly as a thing — as in, “Sarah is so resilient.” I am guilty of sometimes thinking of it as an innate trait—something that people either have or don’t have. In reality, it is not an innate trait, but rather something that is learned, practiced, and applied. Certainly, biological factors may affect some when it comes to building resilience (such as a predisposition to a major mental illness or a chronic medical condition), but nothing prevents us from developing resilience.

Resilience can be oversimplified by the language used to describe what it means. For example, bouncing back may be part of what we think of as resilience, but does not capture the complexity and true nature of what it means to be resilient. After all, there is no work involved in the ball returning after hitting the ground; it just happens as a matter of physics. Similarly, getting back up on the horse is not a matter of just falling off and getting back on in some robotic and predetermined way. Humans feel pain, both physical and emotional; they are complex in how they process information and are influenced and motivated by internal and external factors. Getting back up on the horse is a rather complex process; it is not immediate, easy, or without consequence. Realizing this, how do we become more resilient?

The American Psychological Association has some great information in The Road to Resilience. The primary factor in developing resilience is the existence of supporting and caring relationships. Other traits of resilient people include:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Having skills in communication and problem-solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

What can we do to become more resilient? Some of these suggestions may seem obvious but are harder to accomplish in times of stress. The APA suggests the following:

  • Make connections.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
  • Accept that change is a part of living.
  • Move toward your goals.
  • Take decisive actions.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  • Take care of yourself.

Next time you talk to someone who is managing a major stressor well, spend some time thinking about how they developed their resilience skills. Chances are, you will learn something that will be useful down the road.

American Psychological Association (n.d.). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

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