What is Resilience, Why is it Important, and How Can We Build It?


Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Resilience is usually referred to as our ability to bounce back from adverse events, tragedies, losses and mistakes. We all experience these. Following are some examples:

  • Loss of a job
  • Debilitating injury or illness
  • Making a serious mistake
  • Traumatic violence
  • Divorce
  • Family and Relationship Problems
  • Workplace or Financial Stressors

Resilience involves moving past self-limiting thinking and going to the outer reaches of our potential to find and take a path forward. It is a mental reservoir of strength that we can call upon from within ourselves in the hardest of times. It enables us to adapt. It’s more than bouncing back; Deloitte refers to resilience as our ability to bounce up.

We know that resilience is an inborn human capability that can be developed and strengthened in anyone. Everyone has the ability to build the requisite skills and attitudes. Building these capabilities is a journey, one that takes time and concerted effort. It’s like building muscle to get physically fit. While some of us have stronger resilience than others, we can all grow stronger. But, developing and strengthening our resilience muscles requires focus, self-awareness and self-discipline. Let’s look at what this will involve.

There are Three Domains of Resilience:

  1. Mental Resources, the first domain, includes an individual’s style of thinking, feeling and reacting, which is the framework shaping one’s response to events. This domain also involves several high level skills in communication, problem-solving, and behavioral and emotional self-regulation. In addition, Mental Resources include feelings and beliefs such as hope and positive self-worth as well as a mindset for adapting.
  2. Relationship Mastery is the second domain, centered on development and maintenance of close, supportive personal relationships; this includes emotional intelligence and other interpersonal skills.
  3. Environmental Conditions form the third domain. Organizational and/or an individual’s cultural values and norms slice through the other two domains, like a boat’s wake across water, therefore influencing both of them. Cultural values and norms help shape an individual’s core values, beliefs, and social circles as well as affecting relationships formed, determining what skills are valued and impacting problem-solving approaches.

Developing Your Mental Resources Domain

This domain is the foundation for resilience. It is not the hardships that shape our future success or happiness but, rather, it is the way we think, feel and respond to those hardships.

To assess the support available through your current mental resources, take time to reflect. Try asking yourself some questions:

  • How often do you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, and focus on envisioning the worst that could happen? How much time do spend in that thought pattern? Minutes? Hours? Days? Longer? You may not be able to change an event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.
  • How often do you resist change? Do you tell yourself or others, ‘I don’t like change.’ or ‘I’m not good with change’? Human beings are no strangers to change. It’s a part of life. Accepting that you cannot prevent or undo certain changes will free you to focus your attention on what you can do.
  • When someone hurts your feelings, how do you react? Do you keep it to yourself and hurt for days? Do you become angry and cut off the relationship? Do you feel hurt and calmly and pleasantly talk about it to fully understand and discuss the matter? Might you assume it was a mix-up and let it go? Do you hurt but let time heal? Which reaction would serve you and the relationship best in the long run?
  • When you make a mistake, do you tend to beat yourself up? Have you told yourself and/or others, ‘I’m such a screw-up! I never do anything right.’ Or ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was (someone else’s). What else are you telling yourself about this event? How will this reaction help you to move forward? What would be a better reaction?
  • One way to strengthen your Mental Resources is to participate in courses/training to help you develop and implement an action plan to build your self-esteem, improve your impulse control, regulate your emotions and emotional reactions, and adapt to changes. Consider trying on-line neuroscience training or if you prefer personalized, face-to-face learning process, find a coach.
  • Reflect on your past experience. Your past is often a source of learning and discovery for us. What are some examples of times you’ve successfully responded to difficult events? How did you move through these events? What went well? What did you learn?
  • Self-talk can be good for us or can hold us down. What we tell ourselves about an event has significant impact on our reaction. One way we can turn this in our favor is to practice the skill of Realistic Optimism. Realistic Optimism is looking beyond the negative aspects of a situation to find the opportunities it presents. It takes courage to look for positive things instead of being blocked by the negative.

I observed a good example of this recently:

About a year ago, in the height of the pandemic, several friends discussed the negative effects of the COVID-19 situation on their private and work lives. In the course of the discussion someone began to mention some positive aspects. For example, working from home enabled this individual to put herself first in managing her time. As a result, she was able to start eating healthfully and to develop a daily exercise routine. She had taken off considerable weight and gone down several sizes in clothing. The discussion gained momentum among them and their attitudes and motivation were transformed. By focusing on the positive opportunities, their resilience tools came into play, and they developed strategies reap some benefit while getting through the pandemic.

Developing Your Relationship Mastery Domain

Do your current relationships provide you with a feeling of strong connection, acceptance and supportiveness? It’s these strong relationships we most often find among family, significant others, and close friends that can infuse the caring, empathy and understanding that can remind you that you’re not alone and support you in leveraging your resilience.

  • Sometimes we experience periods in life where we lack enough of these relationships. Consider building new friendships and connections. For example, joining new social groups can help you to find new one-on-one relationships as well as groups with shared interests and beliefs, that can become strong connections for mutual support.
  • Communication is a critical aspect of all relationships. We all can improve on our communication skills to develop more mutually satisfying connections with people. We recommend leveraging training resources, especially in-person learning opportunities, to build emotional intelligence skills as well as interpersonal communication skills such as asking for, giving and accepting feedback constructively and resolving conflicts or disagreements.

Knowing we are not alone and being strong enough to ask for help from close friends, family and colleagues, or from a professional, can make the difference between experiencing a long period of struggle and firing up your resilience skills earlier to help you move forward.

Developing Your Environmental Conditions Domain

Fully understanding the cultural values, norms, and beliefs that impact your situation is essential. Cultural influences may come from your workplace or your personal life. They influence both your Mental Resources and your Relationship Mastery — and, therefore, they affect your resilience. To strengthen your skills in this domain, we suggest the following.

  • Review the cultures that impact your values and beliefs and that, therefore, will impact your handling of difficult events.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Spend some time in meditation, reflecting on the positive aspects of your life.
  • Take care of yourself. Maintain a healthy diet, weight and fitness level. You’ll feel happier and you’ll be better equipped both physically and mentally to deal with stress.
  • Find a sense of purpose. This should be something about which you feel excited or passionate. It should be something you love doing, so that you’ll find joy in doing it rather than stressing about achieving it quickly. Then set goals and move forward to implement an action plan over time.
  • Initiate a process of problem-solving and prevention in your life. Reflect on your current situation to see if you can anticipate potential issues. One by one, take actions to deal with them proactively.
  • Help other people.
  • Avoid negative stress outlets such as alcohol or other substances, and eating unhealthfully. Instead, give your body what it needs to stay strong, and find positive activities that will help you to de-stress.
  • Build a network of people for social activities or for support.


People who are resilient are not free of adversity. They suffer losses and tragedies and feel all of the sadness, grief and pain associated with those events. Resilience does not change that. What resilience does is to enable people to marshal their resources to adapt well to adversity, loss, tragedy and other significant changes we encounter in life and at work.

We all have resilience capability, and we can all learn to build and strengthen our resilience by focusing on strengthening the associated skills and mindset. We can find training and development resources by reading quality material on-line, taking courses in person or on-line, and/or by hiring a coach.

It takes time and practice, but if we work at it on a day-by-day basis, we’ll learn and grow and become better at adapting. In the process, we’ll find new feelings of self-confidence, fulfillment, and success in our work and private lives. An outcome of strong resilience may well be a higher quality of life.

Let us know what you think.

Recommended Reading:

Copyright August 20, 2021 by Rosanna M. Nadeau

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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