Introduction

Did you set a New Year’s resolution for this year? Resolutions for healthier habits have become quite cliché, but let’s face it, most of us don’t follow through on them. It’s easy to make promises to ourselves when life is calm and predictable. But when unexpected challenges arise, if we are not resilient, we don’t have the capacity to bounce back quickly, and it’s difficult to stay on track. 

At the start of a new year, we get excited about the possibility of becoming a better version of ourselves. However, despite believing that we will make it this time, life happens! With competing priorities and distractions, we soon forget about our New Year’s resolutions. It’s not until we experience a lack of productivity, low energy levels, or a sense of disconnection from loved ones that we wish we had kept our resolutions for healthier habits. Sometimes, it takes a health diagnosis or the loss of someone to a chronic disease to remind us of the importance of caring for ourselves.

But what if I told you ...

that you don’t need to become a better version of yourself because you are already enough as you are? You may not have the resilience to cope with all the challenges that keep you stuck in unhelpful behaviours and mindsets, and you don’t need to wait until life gives you a kick to remind you of the importance of taking care of your health. You need to proactively build resilience so that you can stay true to your intentions and act in alignment with your values, even when you are facing distractions and challenges.

If you are resilient in any situation and circumstance, you are more likely to engage in self-care, which in turn leads to sustained energy levels, higher productivity, and more meaningful relationships. Building resilience is an act of love for the future you, so that you can follow through on your intentions to make lasting, healthy changes.

Why Focus on Resilience?

  1. Resilience means having strong mental and emotional strength. This can help you effectively manage stress, regulate your emotions, and maintain a positive outlook. By prioritising your mental and emotional well-being, you’ll be better equipped to sustain healthy habits over time, even when you feel like giving up.
  2. Resilience can help you overcome obstacles. Building sustainable habits requires perseverance and the ability to overcome challenges that may arise along the way. With resilience, you’ll be more willing to face challenges head-on and find creative solutions. This enables you to navigate obstacles and stay committed to your goals.
  3. Resilience promotes self-efficacy, which is the belief in your ability to execute behaviours needed to reach your goals successfully. When you have faith in your capacity to overcome challenges and stick to your habits, you’re more likely to persevere and achieve sustainable results.
  4. Resilience can help you manage setbacks. Setbacks are a natural part of any habit formation process. Resilience helps you bounce back from setbacks, learn from them, and adjust your approach accordingly. By viewing setbacks as learning opportunities rather than failures, you can stay motivated and continue making progress.
  5. Resilience helps you adapt to changes. Sustainable habits often require adapting to changing circumstances and environments. With resilience, you’ll be better equipped to embrace change, adjust your behaviours as needed, and stay focused on your long-term aims. It helps you navigate transitions and uncertainties without losing sight of what’s important.

Disclaimer

This article is mainly based on what I’ve learned from my training with PositivePsychology.com

It is intended for education only and it does not replace medical or psychological professional help.

It does not contain affiliate links.

Understanding Resilience

People react to life events in various ways. Some may feel overwhelmed by everyday struggles, while others find positivity and grow even in the most challenging experiences. Many studies of resilience aimed to understand why some individuals can withstand – or even thrive on difficult life events- so all of us can learn to become more resilient.

Resilience is like a superpower that lets someone bounce back quickly from adversity and adapt positively to new circumstances instead of falling off track. It’s like being able to turn setbacks into opportunities for growth. Resilience can be seen as both a personality trait and a dynamic process that changes over time. The latter is state resilience. Some people naturally have a better ability to handle tough times; they have the trait of resilience, while others may develop resilience as they face life’s challenges (state resilience).

Interestingly, resilience is not only built through effectively handling negative events; it can also result from the intentional use of positive moments. For example, research suggests that savouring positive experiences can help cope with work and family demands. Those uplifting emotions from savouring can counterbalance the impact of negative emotions during stressful times.

So, whether it’s facing challenges or savouring the good times, resilience plays a vital role in how we navigate life, are able to make positive life changes and thrive.

The Essence of Resilience

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from adversity quickly and positively adapt to the new demands of the situation we find ourselves in.

The following metaphor, I believe, expresses best how resilience can help you maintain your well-being and achieve what you want:

Imagine your life as a sailboat. Your resilience is the water level that keeps the sailboat floating and sailing. The rocks on the bottom of the water are life challenges. If you keep your water level high enough during calm times, your boat is less likely to get off-track and be crushed into the rocks when it gets rough. 

Sailboat floating on calm waters. High water level keeps the boat afloat like resilience keeps a person thriving.
Image credit: Sean JOHNSTON from Pexels

Resilient People Focus on What They Can Control

We cannot stop negative events from happening. We cannot control the support that is available to us, even if we can proactively build our relationships. We did not control our upbringing, and maybe lacked resilient role models in our childhood. We cannot control our genetics, even though, according to epigenetics, we might be able to influence gene expression. These are the factors that determine trait resilience, which is not fully understood. But for the rest of us who do not possess that trait, we can still boost resilience by focusing on what we can control.

A diagram showing aspect of life we can or we cannot control.

Resilient people know what they can control and focus on that:

  1. Attention – Choosing what they pay attention to, 
  2. Thoughts – Choosing helpful thoughts and beliefs,
  3. Actions – Choosing helpful strategies to cope with life stressors and events,
  4. Motivation – Understand what motivates them to do what they do and to respond to life events the way they do.

And you can learn to do the same. Keep reading to find out how resilient people use their attention, thoughts, actions and motivations to thrive despite adversity.

Practice it!

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act As a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.

Let's see how they do it!

1. Attention: What do resilient people pay attention to?

“Your destiny is to fulfil those things upon which you focus most intently. So, choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving toward something.” – Ralph Marston

Although we often have little control over the occurrence of positive and negative events in life, we can control how much attention we give to these events. Each of us is different in the extent to which we focus on positive and negative events, and this affects our experience of these events. How much attention we pay to positive and negative events affects our well-being.

There is a general tendency that humans are biased to pay more attention to negative information. For example, you might remember better negative behaviours and events, notice your negative emotions faster than the positive ones, and you might listen to negative feedback about yourself for longer compared to positive feedback. The more you pay attention to negative information, the more negative you feel, making you pay even more attention to negative information. So, that’s how we enter a vicious cycle of negativity, like in the picture below, and forget to pay attention to the good things in life.

diagram showing how negative bias makes you feel negative and in turn, being more negatively biased -a vicious cycle

The negativity bias is thought to be a result of evolution.  To survive, it is more important to pay attention to negative information as it often poses a greater threat than missing out on positive information. Neglecting negative information can have severe consequences on your health and life. However, paying too much attention to negative information can cause us to miss out on the good things in life. Studies on depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical threats suggest that excessive focus on negative information can lead to decreased overall well-being.

Experts have been looking into the negativity bias, wondering if it’s unchangeable or if it can be flexible, depending on the situation. Some argue that this bias might not be so helpful or might even be a disadvantage in particular situations, and people should be able to adapt their negativity to the circumstances.

From an evolutionary perspective, in a safe environment where there’s no real danger, it might be better to focus on the positive stuff. Like, imagine a dating scenario. Paying attention to the positive aspects could help you charm a potential partner and pass on your genes. The benefits of always being negative might not be as strong as the benefits of being positive in this case.

This negativity bias thing may not be a one-size-fits-all deal and we don’t have to stay stuck in it. Organisms, including people, can adjust their attention to negative and positive information based on what the environment demands.  But everywhere you look, we are being bombarded with negative messages about all that is wrong with the world. So, we forget to shift to a positivity bias when appropriate.

How can we learn to be more positively biased?

We can actually change this tendency to focus on the negative. One way is by deliberately acknowledging the positive things in life, e.g., recognising good events, savouring the good moments, acknowledging what makes us feel good and accepting that we have the right to feel good.

Mindfulness also plays a role in reducing the negativity bias. Being mindful can help us steer away from all that negativity and bring a more positive outlook to our lives. 

Optimism plays a part too! Optimists tend to pay more attention to the positive things around them, while pessimists lean towards the negative. 

The good news is that optimism can be trained and boosted, which could lessen our negative bias. We have the power to change the way we see things! 

Focusing on the positive side of stressful situations can actually make a big difference. It helps us find meaning and growth in those tough times. When we acknowledge the good stuff, it becomes part of how we understand the situation, leading to a more positive perspective.

On the flip side, pessimists tend to lean more towards the negative aspects of life events and may even try to avoid them. Studies show that to cope with stress, pessimists rely more on avoiding thoughts about stressful events compared to optimists. 

Practice it!

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act As a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.

2. Thoughts - How do resilient people think?

“We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.” – Epictetus (stoic philosopher, c. 55–135)

According to the Cognitive Appraisal Theory, it’s not just events themselves that cause our feelings – it’s all about how we interpret those events.  So, when something happens, we automatically start, subconsciously, to analyse what it means to us.

Two people can have totally different emotions when faced with the exact same event. Why? Because they appraise it differently! Let’s take the end of a romantic relationship as an example. One person might see it as a huge loss, which brings on feelings of deep sadness, while another person could feel guilty, taking the blame for the breakup. At the same time, a third person might feel relieved and see the break-up as a chance to explore new relationships.

diagram showing different people interpret the same situation differently.

In addition, if we see different situations in the same way, they’re likely to trigger the same emotion. For example, whether it’s getting fired, not being invited to a party, or missing that promotion at work, if we feel they’re all unfair, they’ll all probably make us angry!

Diagram showing that different situations can spark the same emotion.

See, it’s not the event itself that triggers emotions – it’s all about how we see it. Our thoughts shape our emotional response.

So, next time something happens, remember that how you interpret the situation determines your feelings.  

 
 

Practice it!​

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act Like a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.

Based on the Cognitive Appraisal Theory, people have different appraisal styles, or they interpret the same things in different ways. This is particularly relevant in the context of resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from adversity. The ability to re-appraise or change your interpretation of stressful experiences as less threatening is essential to deal with such experiences in a resilient way.  We might not be aware of our tendencies to use unhelpful appraisal styles. Nevertheless, mindfulness can help us become aware and intentionally adopt appraisal styles that promote resilience. In other words, we can intentionally change the way we interpret things so that we get more positive feelings and better outcomes. 

Challenge appraisal vs threat appraisal

“In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better. Those words are my North Star.” – Caryn Sullivan

When someone sees an event as a threat, they feel like the danger is way bigger than their ability to handle it. It’s like they believe they can’t manage what’s coming their way. On the other hand, when events are seen as challenges, they feel like they’ve got what it takes to handle the situation, and they see opportunities for growth from these experiences.

So, it’s all about how we see things – either as a big scary threat we can’t handle or as an exciting challenge we can overcome.

Consider, for instance, wanting to give up a 9-5 job and start your own online business. Person A appraises this event as a threat. She believes that starting her own business is hard, that most new businesses fail, and that she may fail at this new role. Person B perceives the new role as the CEO of her new business as a challenge. This person appraises the new role as an opportunity to learn new skills and grow as a person.

Research studies showed that more resilient participants appraised a stressful task as less threatening compared to less resilient participants. However, when those less resilient were taught to use challenge appraisal, their recovery from stress was faster. This highlights the impact of one’s perception on the effects of stressful events and suggests the possibility of changing the effects by changing the perception.

 
 

Practice it!​

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act Like a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.

Benefit finding

“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always always sings.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Benefit finding is another appraisal style used by resilient people, and it minimises victimisation by focusing on the beneficial qualities of the situation. This appraisal style involves interpreting a past stressful event in terms of the positive effects that resulted from that event, for example, lessons learned about life or self. Using benefit finding, people can restore views about themselves as worthy and safe and about their world as predictable, meaningful, and friendly. It is important to note that benefit-finding does not mean having exclusively positive views of the stressful event. It means that one is able to see both the positive and the negative outcomes of that event. 

In general, there is evidence of positive long-term effects of seeing benefits in adverse circumstances. For instance, some research participants reported a new appreciation of their own strength and resilience, an enhanced sense of purpose, greater spirituality, closer relationships, and changes in life priorities. 

3. Actions – What do resilient people do to cope with different life situations

You probably use the word “coping” in your daily conversations, but what does it mean? Coping is usually defined as managing the demands of a stressful event. It’s what you do to lessen the negative effects of a situation on your well-being and be able to get on with your life. With an effective coping strategy, you could master, minimise or tolerate the stress and conflict resulting from the event. However, some experts suggest that positive events and situations are opportunities for coping as well. How we deal with positive events can increase our well-being or not. 

And, as we’ve seen before, the effects of both positive and negative events depend largely on how we deal with these events and the meaning we attach to them. Let’s explore what resilient people do and don’t do to cope with negative and positive situations.

Coping with negative events

We are all different when dealing with challenging life events and situations. Some people give up and fall into depression, while others keep going and approach the biggest challenges with hope and resilience. People with low resilience have a difficult time coping with negative experiences and are unable to recover from them. They still use coping strategies to make them feel better but in the long run, these strategies make things worse. 

Resilient people don’t

… use coping styles that are counterproductive, such as overcontrol, which involves exerting excessive control over situations or emotions, or undercontrol, when they put no effort whatsoever into doing something about the situation.

    • Overcontrol can lead to increased stress and anxiety as it often involves setting unrealistic standards or trying to manage every aspect of a situation.
    • Undercontrol, on the other hand, can result in chaos and a lack of direction, as it involves a failure to assert sufficient control or effort in managing life’s challenges.

Resilient people do

… engage in helpful coping styles that promote adaptation to new circumstances and growth, such as:

    • Active Coping, where they take direct action to address the source of their stress.
    • Surrender, which is not about giving up but about accepting things that cannot be changed and focusing energy on what can be changed.

Coping with Positive Events

In addition to coping with negative events, resilient individuals also have strategies to make the most of the good things in life. If you have ever played games displaying a player’s life or stamina bar, you may know that it increases with power-ups and decreases with missed challenges.  Resilient people use positive situations as power-ups to increase their stamina bar so that when they face adversity, they can continue the game. Examples of such power-ups are:

Gratitude – they often practice gratitude, acknowledging and appreciating positive aspects of their life.

Self-congratulation – they recognise and celebrate personal achievements and successes.

Memory Building – they engage in creating and cherishing positive memories, which serve as a resource during challenging times.

Each of these strategies boosts their resilience, enabling them to navigate both the highs and lows of life with greater ease and effectiveness.

 
 

Practice it!​

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act Like a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.

4. The Motivation for Coping Strategies

There is a difference between resilient and non-resilient people’s motivation to use coping strategies. Understanding this difference is a valuable starting point for developing more effective coping styles promoting resilience.

Motivation for unhelpful coping

 Resilient individuals are aware of the motivations that lead to unhelpful coping strategies, such as a desire for immediate relief or avoidance of discomfort. They recognise that while these motivations might offer short-term relief, they often lead to long-term challenges.

Motivation for helpful coping

Resilient people’s motivation to engage in effective coping strategies stems from a desire for genuine problem resolution, personal development, and sustainable health. Resilient people are motivated by the understanding that facing challenges head-on, although difficult, leads to greater strength and capability over time.

Recognising and adjusting one’s motivations to align with more constructive coping strategies is a crucial part of building resilience.

Conclusion

As you know by now, resilience is a multifaceted and dynamic quality essential for navigating the complexities of life. This article has highlighted that resilience is not merely an inborn trait but a skill that can be cultivated through deliberate practice. By understanding that we need to focus on controllable aspects, such as where we direct our attention, how to use effective ways of thinking, coping strategies, and understanding the motivations behind our actions, we can significantly enhance our ability to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity. In other words, we increase our resilience. Building and maintaining our resilience is a process and requires conscious effort, but the rewards are immeasurable, leading to a more fulfilling, balanced, and resilient life. When we are resilient, we can make lifestyle and behaviour changes with ease because we can easily adapt to changes. To learn more about boosting resilience and practice the habits of resilient people until you become one, pre-order my new self-study course.

 
 

Practice it!​

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pre-order my self-study course: Think and Act Like a Resilient Person for Lasting Positive Change to access tools and exercises that will help you measure your resilience, understand what you can control, and practice to use attention, thoughts, actions and motivation like a resilient person.