Resilience: Definition & ways to strengthen it

June 9, 2023

Resilient people have the ability to overcome crises, setbacks or losses without letting them get them down permanently. But why are some people more resilient than others? And what exactly does it mean to be resilient?

Likeminded Editorial Team

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Resilience – mental strength can be learned

Many of us have already experienced crises that have thrown us off course. At the same time, we probably all know people who seem to be much less affected by trauma than we are – people who feel the pain just as we do but seem to return to unclouded optimism and positive drive more easily. Psychology calls them “resilient”. But what does that mean? What makes a person resilient? And is resilience innate? Or can it perhaps even be learned? You’ll find answers to these questions and more in the following article.

What does resilience mean?

The term “resilience” is derived from the Latin word “resilire,” which means “to bounce back”. The first science to use the term was physics. It used “resilience” to describe the ability of a material to bounce back to ist original shape even after extreme external impacts.

In the 1970s, the meaning of the term was first applied to humans in psychology. It was at this time that the first researchers began to look at the subject and try to answer the fundamental questions about it: What is resilience? How can it be measured? What makes it tick?

Today, the Duden dictionary describes “resilience” as “psychological resistance; the ability to survive difficult life situations without lasting impairment”.

In addition, there are countless other definitions for the term “resilience”, from which a variety of resilience models are derived. They all attempt to explain why resilient people recover more quickly than others after life crises, traumatic experiences, and other stresses.

Why are some people more resilient than others?

Researchers have been working on this question for decades. However different their answers might be, they all agree that a person’s resilience depends on several factors. And it is crucial how the respective factors interact.

One explanation of how resilience develops is provided by what is known as the “resilience framework model.” It traces the path from the stressors, i.e. the crisis, through environmental factors and personal resources to the person’s accomplished adaptation:

In the figure, we already find a few of the factors that can play a role in this adaptation process. Basically, we distinguish between the external factors that our environment provides and the internal factors that each person contributes based on his or her personality. Both external and internal factors can increase or weaken our resilience. Accordingly, we talk about either protective factors or risk factors.

In an overview, it looks like this:

External (environment)

1. Examples of protective factors

  • Secure circle of friends
  • Family support
  • Cohesion in the team

2. Examples of risk factors

  • Poverty
  • Lack of social ties
  • Work pressure and overtime

Internal (personality)

1. Examples of protective factors

  • High self-esteem
  • Solution and goal orientation
  • Acceptance and tolerance

2. Examples of risk factors

  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of making mistakes
  • Excessive demands

From all these factors, researchers have repeatedly derived resilience factors that are supposed to determine whether and how resilient we are.

Resilience factors: What makes a person resilient?

As mentioned, the list of resilience models is long, and each model defines its own resilience factors. One of the reasons for this is that the topic of resilience is neither uniform nor clearly delineated. Therefore, most models have their merits, and their application depends on the target group and context, among other factors.

One of the most basic models comes from Ursula Nuber, a German psychologist and former editor-in-chief of the magazine Psychologie Heute. She defined the following “7 pillars of resilience”:

1) Optimism

People who are resilient are basically optimistic about life. After all, even difficult times eventually come to an end and there are always things you can do yourself.

2) Acceptance

Resilient people manage to accept that they cannot (yet) change some things. They also accept their own weaknesses, mistakes, and limitations.

3) Ability to act

Resilient people do not see themselves as victims but actively shape their lives. This does not mean they never feel helpless, but in such situations, they quickly become active again.

4) Taking responsibility

Resilient people have a good sense of what they can and cannot influence themselves. They do not take responsibility for events outside their scope of action.

5) Solution orientation

Those who are resilient do not focus on the problem, but on the solution. The focus is on how to get there.

6) Networking

Our relationships with others are important for our health. Those who actively cultivate their network gain emotional strength. Resilient people are thus more likely to have support, share their problems and know that they are not alone in them.

7) Planning for the future

We live in an extremely volatile world where we can easily get the feeling of being at the mercy. Nevertheless, those who plan and set goals have more positive emotions and confidence.

Other models also include factors such as self-efficacy, realism, creativity, self-care, willingness to learn, improvisational skills, empathy, or impulse control. However, the above seven pillars are found in one form or another in almost all models. They are therefore often considered the basis in resilience research.

Benefits of resilience: Why it pays off to be resilient

Resilience is considered one of the keys to success, especially in a professional context. After all, it helps us deal with challenges more calmly. Three advantages stand out in particular:

1. You can handle change well

Many claim that in today’s working world, the only constant is change. And in many cases, they are not wrong. As a person who is not easily unsettled by change, you have a clear advantage.

2. In stressful situations, you lend a hand

Resilient people are usually spared headlong panic. A mountain of work probably also has a devastating effect on them at first, but they quickly move on the solution and think about what they can do to make the mountain smaller as quickly as possible.

3. After work you relax more easily

Switching off is a challenge for many in this day and age. Far too often, the carousel of thoughts continues to spin merrily after hours. Resilient people, however, manage to switch off even in stressful times in order to recover and recharge their batteries.

All this helps you to protect your psyche and prevent exhaustion and even burnout. Resilience can therefore help you to find a work-life balance, to make and maintain friendships more easily, and to go through life more openly.

How to strengthen resilience – 8 tips for more mental strength

After 50 years of resilience research, there are a number of recommendations to help us become more resilient. They all aim to promote all those protective factors that we can influence ourselves. Below are a few tips you can quickly implement and try.

1) Look for new challenges

Expand your horizons by learning something new. For example, a new language can open up a whole new culture to you, and the small successes along the way will strengthen your belief in yourself. This in turn makes you more resilient when things don’t go so well again.

2) Turn to the people in your life who are good for you

A good friend, family member, or a particular sympathetic teacher: any relationship with someone who makes you feel good is worth nurturing. In addition, don’t hesitate to let others help you when you need it.

3) Focus more on the solution thatn the problem

Rather than mentally dissecting a problem into all its parts and looking for culprits, think about how you can solve a problem. Make the possible solution a goal you can work toward.

4) Stay confident even when things go wrong

Life is not a pony farm, goes the German saying. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we imagine. Only when we learn to accept defeats as part of life and as an opportunity to learn, they can become new opportunities.

5) Keep a diary

Putting thoughts on paper helps a lot of people to let go. When we write down what’s on our mind, we often understand what’s actually going on inside us and can better deal with thoughts and feelings. Studies have shown that this is good for our general mood.

6) Be aware of what you have already achieved

Everyone has been through crises: a failed exam at school, the last relationship breakdown, or the loss of a loved one. If you look back from time to time and remind yourself of what you’ve overcome, you can increase your self-confidence and be more confident that you’ll overcome future crises.

7) Invest time in planning and prioritizing

Especially in stressful times, we tend to work frantically to get as much done as quickly as possible. However, if you take the time to plan your day well and consider which tasks have priority, you will get the really important things done even in hectic phases. In this way, we allow ourselves the feeling of having accomplished something again and again, despite the long list. This motivates and reassures at the same time.

8) Let your imagination run wild

Allow yourself some crazy daydreams. Think about what you could do tomorrow that would be fun for you. Even if it seems utopian, the important thing ist hat you create positive thoughts. Because positive images create positive feelings.

In a world where everything is changing as fast as it is today, resilience is becoming more and more important. The good news is that resilience can be learned. Even if there are certain favorable abilities and characteristics that are innate, in the end, everyone can do something to go through life mentally stronger. This not only helps with stress at work, but also makes everyday life easier.

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