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Resilience: Defined and How to Boost it

What does ‘resilience’ mean to you? If you asked ten people to define it, you’re likely to get ten different responses. That’s because our personal, family, community and cultural experiences over the course of our lives inform our definition of what it means to be resilient.

The Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania defines resilience as:


the ability to bounce back from adversity and grow from challenges. 


Resilience can be broken down resilience into five segments:


In essence, when you’re faced with challenges, do you expect a positive outcome? An optimist has the tendency to believe that when something bad happens steps can be taken to remedy it and it’s not going to impact other areas of their life. Pragmatic non-negative thinking is the character trait of an optimist.

Freedom from stress and anxiety

It’s a known fact that some stress can be good for us. It spurs us into action and can enhance performance and concentration. This type of stress is known as ‘eustress’ – it can motivate and inspire us. The challenge arises when this eustress builds too much and starts having a negative impact on our performance and health – this is when we enter ‘distress’. In times of distress, a resilient person will have a healthy sense of perspective, knowing this time will not last forever, whilst maintaining a curiosity about the events causing unmanageable levels of stress.

Individual accountability

Our actions have consequences. A person with low resilience tends to blame others when things go wrong whilst a resilient person will do the opposite. They’re more likely to acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake and take remedial steps to fix a situation.

Openness and flexibility

How often do you keep doing the same thing hoping for different results each time? Even when things clearly aren’t working out, some people tend to keep pressing the repeat button often safe in the knowledge that it’s not serving them. A resilient person accepts change is sometimes necessary and new approaches are inevitable.

Problem orientation

Do you face a problem head-on, knowing there’s always a solution or do you freeze, overwhelmed about consequences that may not even happen? A resilient person will create opportunity out of a problem and instead of being a victim of circumstance, take steps to create a ‘win-win’ for all.

How can you boost resilience?

Hit the brakes: By building enough downtime into your week, even just an hour a day, you’ll recharge your energy levels enabling you to spring forward when it counts. Remember we’re all human and can’t keep going without ever stopping. Try reading your favourite novel, listening to music or talking with friends and family. These energy restoring activities are essential to enhance your resilience over time.
Remind yourselves of your strengths: Often we’re our own worst critics. Instead of being too hard on yourselves, write a list of all the things you’re good at and feel positive about. This will help combat feelings of low self-esteem and be a timely reminder you’re worth more than you think. Over time you’ll notice a much stronger belief in your ability to do what needs to be done to get where you want to go.

Manage your stressful situations: Distractions are the quickest and easiest way to reduce stress. If it’s work you find particularly stressful, by taking yourself away from your desk or phone you’ll give yourself a fresh perspective and find stress levels decline. Exercise is an obvious example, but you may want to consider talking with friends or family, meditating or expressing gratitude for the things around you. You could also try this simple technique:


  1. List the worst-case scenario (this is where you get to catastrophise: what could go wrong?).

  2. List the best-case scenario that could arise out of this stressful situation.

  3. Consider what is probably going to happen. You’ll likely realise it’s not as bad as the worst-case outcome.

  4. Based on what’s probably going to happen, what one thing can you do to make your situation a little easier?


I’d encourage you to try it –it's highly effective.

Ask for help: This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how few people actually do this. You may assume that by being resilient, you don’t need support from others. However, resilient individuals know better: they ask for help and understand the importance of their network. When they need help with something, they think about who is best placed to assist, then they reach out to them. They also make it clear that if anybody ever needed their assistance, all you have to do is ask.
Be yourself: How often do you feel you can simply be yourself? For many, there’s a gulf between how they want to be and how they believe others expect them to be. The larger the gap, the greater the stress you’re likely to feel. By aiming to be more authentic you’ll move away from the fear of what others may think and focus on what’s most important to you. Your resilience can’t help but increase as a result.


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