Resilience is the ‘rubber ball’ factor: the ability to bounce back in the event of adversity.
Put simply, resilience is the ability to cope with and rise to the inevitable challenges, problems
and set-backs you meet in the course of your life, and come back stronger from them.
Resilience relies on different skills and draws on various sources of help, including rational
thinking skills, physical and mental health, and your relationships with those around you.
Resilience is not necessarily about overcoming huge challenges; each of us faces plenty of
challenges on a daily basis for which we must draw on our reserves of resilience.
Four Ingredients of Resilience
There are four basic ingredients to resilience:
Awareness – noticing what is going on around you and inside your head;
Thinking – being able to interpret the events that are going on in a rational way;
Reaching out – how we call upon others to help us meet the challenges that we face, because
resilience is also about knowing when to ask for help; and
Fitness – our mental and physical ability to cope with the challenges without becoming ill.
The Link Between Thought and Emotion
Our page on Recognising and Managing Emotions talks about the importance of applying
reason to emotion to support your decision-making. But how you think can be affected by your
emotional response to the situation, and part of being aware is understanding this and
recognising it when it happens.
Psychologist Albert Ellis created a simple model for this, which he called A-B-C for Adversity
– Beliefs – Consequences. This model sets out a process:
As our page on Managing Emotions makes clear, sometimes an emotion is so visceral that there
is no time to go through this process rationally: you simply react immediately to the situation
by running away, screaming, or similar. But your brain has almost certainly gone through the
It is also important to recognise that certain thoughts lead to certain emotions.
The benefit of understanding that these thoughts lead to these particular emotions is that by
identifying the emotion we feel, we can understand what our subconscious thought processes
may be. This may not be obvious otherwise, and it will help us to take the right action to
address the problem.
So-called ‘thinking traps’ are traps into which we can fall in our thinking, usually at the ‘B’
stage of the A-B-C model above.
Thinking traps are effectively assumptions about ourselves or the situation, made without
examining the evidence, and are usually unhelpful.
The signs that you are falling into one of the thinking traps include the use of phrases like
‘never’, ‘always’, and ‘I…they…’, for example:
“I just can’t do maths”
“I’ve never been able to do things like that”
“They’ve taken it away from me”
If you’re thinking that this language sounds very childish, you’re right. Take a look at our page
on Transactional Analysis to understand more.
You need to be alert to falling into one or more of these thinking traps when you are developing
your beliefs about a situation because it could prevent you from acting effectively: in other
words, thinking traps can prevent you from acting with resilience.
Improving Resilience Through Thinking
Having considered the elements of resilience, and the process of responding to situations, it
may now be helpful to talk about what we can do to help develop resilience.
There are quite a number of useful techniques here, including:
1. Gathering More Information
You want to engage the rational part of your brain in your decision-making about the situation.
One of the best ways to do so is to actively gather more information on which to base your
decision. (See our pages on Decision Making for more general tips and advice).
Suppose that you see a snake by the side of the path. Your immediate reaction might be fear:
“A snake! It must be poisonous! I’d better run away!” [A-B-C]
But pause for a moment and gather more information. It might be dead. It might not be
poisonous. It might be cold, and therefore only capable of moving very slowly.
There are all kinds of reasons why you might not need to run away.
A crucial aspect of gathering more information is to think about alternative explanations for the
Your brain, based on your experience and your belief system, will present you with what it
considers to be the most obvious explanation.
But it may not be correct!
Thinking about alternatives, and then checking those against reality, perhaps by asking
questions of others or looking something up, will help to ensure that you react appropriately to
We’re all prone to imagining the worst.
Your boss asks to speak to you, and you immediately imagine that you’re about to be fired. You
get ready to defend your recent performance…
…but when you enter her office, it turns out that she wants you to know that she’s pregnant and
you’re in line to take over her responsibilities while she’s on maternity leave, with a consequent
Your child’s teacher asks for a quick word after school. You immediately assume that the child
is in trouble …
…but no, they just fell and cut a knee at lunchtime. No harm done, but the school has to let you
Imagining the worst is also called catastrophizing, and it is surprisingly common.
There is a very easy way to deal with it, which involves generating alternative scenarios in your
Imagine the worst – let your imagination run riot. What could have gone wrong? What might
Now think about the best possible outcomes. How good could it get?
Finally, think about the most likely outcomes – probably somewhere between the two. Make a
plan for how you will respond to that.
These two strategies, gathering more information and looking for alternative scenarios, will
help you to develop your resilience.
You will become more aware of what is going on around you, and inside your head
(awareness). They will also help you to apply rational thinking to the situation, climbing out of
any thinking traps into which you have fallen, and understanding and rationalising your
emotional response to a situation.
Improving Resilience Through Reaching Out
No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…
John Donne (English Poet)
There is no shame in asking for help. We all need help now and again, and many of us function
much better when we are working with others.
A good part of resilience is knowing when and how to ask others for help, reaching out to those
with whom we have relationships to resolve the problems with support.
Take a look at our page on Transactional Analysis to explore how you can ask for help as an
adult, rather than feeling that you are returning to ‘child’ status by doing so.
Improving Fitness and Health
The final element of resilience is physical and mental health.
Have a look at our other personal skills pages to explore more about how you can improve your
health, for example, by understanding the links between diet and stress, and recognising the
importance of sleep and exercise.
Resilience is a multi-faceted capability.
To face challenges and respond appropriately can require us to draw on all our resources, both
internal and external, including our personal relationships.
The good news is that improving our resources can help to develop resilience, and there are
many ways in which we can do that.
The Seven C’s of Resilience
We cannot prevent adversity, but adversity can make us more resilient. I’ve adapted the Seven
C’s of resilience as described by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. in his book, A Parent’s Guide to
Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings (2011,
American Academy of Pediatrics), for young people facing health challenges. Here are some
ideas for building resilience in kids and teens, whether your own children, or those you are
Provide opportunities which lend a sense of control. Being sick can make a young person feel
terribly out of control. Help a child or teen feel more in control by offering choices, letting him
make decisions when appropriate, or help him realize that he can take an active role in his
emotional health (Hint: Digging Deep can certainly help with that!)
Help a young person feel more competent by helping her identify how she is handling her
challenges and already coping. Encouraging a child to ask questions, participate in managing
their treatment regimes, or learn as much as possible about their disease or treatment if
appropriate are all ways of fostering competence.
Respect a young person’s coping style, whatever it is: distraction, withdrawal, denial, positive
reframing, etc. There are many ways to cope, and remember, coping is a healthy way of getting
through a situation. At the same time, offer ideas for additional or perhaps healthier coping
strategies, such as journal writing, emotional expression, art, or pet therapy.
Help build confidence by praising the young person for overcoming obstacles and by attributing
this to something the child has done, versus attributing it to good luck or chance. Provide
opportunities to build confidence one step at a time, but help the young person recognize one
success before moving on to the next challenge.
Give a child a strong sense of emotional security by encouraging him to express all of his
feelings, and accept and support him, whatever emotions are expressed. Feeling heard helps
strengthen emotional bonds.
Strengthen a child’s sense of character by helping her explore who she is, what her values are,
and what wisdom and gifts she has that she can share with others.
Help a child or teen acknowledge that although he may be in a position of receiving more than
he is able to give, the world is a better place because he is in it. Explore situations where the
young person can truly feel he is contributing, and find ways to bring those situations into his