When life throws you unexpected difficulties, how do you respond? Do you wallow and let things keep you down, or do you get up and continue on with your life?

Resilience is thought of as our ability to bounce back from disappointment, defeat, failure or constant change. Masten and Reed (2002) suggest that resilience can be seen as “a pattern of positive adaption in the face of significant adversity or risk.”

Resilience is an important and great trait to have given “60% of adults have been exposed or witness to traumatic stressors”, and dealing with adversity and challenges is a normal part of life (ABS, 2008; NTCS, 2011; Greve & Staudinger, 2006, as cited in Compton & Hoffman, 2012).

“The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.”

Woodrow Wilson

It is thought that those high in resilience are able to overcome stress and adversity more easily, and can learn valuable experiences and even thrive in the face of challenging circumstances. Our level of resilience is dependent on a range of factors including age, gender, culture, context, and the thinking habit or explanatory style we adopt in relation to our failures.

What is an explanatory style?

According to Martin Seligman (1990), who has studied resilience for over 30 years, if you have an optimistic explanatory style, you will view bad events as temporary challenges to overcome, that you can quickly bounce back from. On the other hand, if you have a pessimistic explanatory style, you see bad events as permanent and catastrophic, and you are more prone to restlessness and to give up (Seligman, 1990).

Our explanatory style comes into play when we think about why bad things happen and what impact they will have on us. And they are not necessarily accurate assessments of the situation. Depending on which thinking habit we adopt, this can either help or hinder our ability to respond resiliently to bumps in the road.

The good news

We all have the power to build our resilience, and the following options highlight how this can be done:

  • Develop your internal resources such as your strengths
  • Be aware of your capacity to choose your own thoughts
  • Understand the opportunity of post-traumatic growth (this topic will be covered in a future post)
  • Increase your experience of positive emotions (as negative emotions can decrease your ability to cope) or infuse positive meaning into any negative events
  • Be mindful of the stories you tell yourself and challenge your explanatory style (as outlined above).

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Although negative and challenging events are awful to go through, these could be a source of change, learning and growth for you in the long run. What’s more, you may come away more able to cope with stress and manage feelings effectively to further build your resilience in preparation for the future.

To find out how resilient you are, you can take this quiz. For more information on resilience, you can read the American Psychological Association’s article on building resilience or watch this TedTalk on Super- Resilience – How to FALL UP  featuring Dr. Gregg Steinberg. Or you can look back at previous posts that cover similar topics including growth mindset and grit.