Bouncing Back: Myths and Characteristics of Resilience


Tennis ballI have taught resilience to business execs and Army sergeants.  And the same myths come up every time when I ask about their definition of resilience.

  1. Resilient people are almost always positive & upbeat.
  2. Resilient people know how to go it alone.
  3. Resilient people almost never give up.
  4. Resilient people tend to be perfectionists.

The reality is that resilient people experience most of the problems that non-resilient people experience. The major difference between a resilient and a non-resilient person is how quickly resilient people recover from failures and setbacks in their life.

If physical fitness is the speed with which you can recover from physical stress, resilience is the speed with which you can bounce back from psychological stress.

Resilient and truly happy people understand the meaning of “good enough”. They know when to stop and enjoy what they have achieved without being disappointed about how they can improve something even better. They use mindfulness as one of their strength to help them enjoy life as it is rather than be disappointed by the ideas that life can be even better sometime in the future.

One research study of POVs from Vietnam who were held captive for over 5 years (who did not develop PTSD) has listed the following 10 critical psychological elements and characteristics of resilience:

  1. Optimism.  Those who are extremely optimistic tend to show greater resilience, which has implications for cognitive therapies that enhance a patient’s positive view of his or her options, thereby increasing optimism.
  2. Altruism. Those who were resilient often found that helping others was one way to handle extreme stress, which can also be used therapeutically as a recovery tool.
  3. Having a moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered.
  4. Faith and spirituality. For some POWs, prayer was a daily ritual, although others were not at all involved or interested in religion.
  5. Humor. Know how to reframe situations and experiences. Be able to laugh at your own self.
  6. Having a role model. Many people with role models draw strength from this. for treatment, using a role model, role modeling, or helping someone discover a role model can be beneficial.
  7. Social supports. Having contact with others who can be trusted, either family or friend, with whom one can share most difficult thoughts was important in recovery.
  8. Facing fear (or leaving one’s comfort zone).
  9. Having a mission or meaning in life.
  10. Training. One can train to become a resilient person or to develop resilience by experience in meeting and overcoming challenges.  (Or in actual resilience training i.e. the Army training mentioned above.)

Update: Although not on the list, physical exercise can also help you develop psychological resilience. Physical exercise helps you improve your health, improve your brain functions, and develop the needed discipline to keep pushing forward when it hurts.

How many of these factors help YOU when going through a stressful time?  We’d love to hear your thoughts…

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