In this article we’ll share what you need know about resilience to bulletproof your mental health, overcome depression and lead a wildly successful life.
“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Wait a second… Did this guy just say “transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge”? Don’t we call it adversity because it’s exactly NOT that – enjoyable. Other words for adversity, according to the Oxford Dictionary, are “misfortune, ill luck, trouble, difficulty, hardship and distress”. None of which are synonymous with enjoyable. So, what is this guy, whose name most of us cannot pronounce, going on about here?
When I was 21 I was in the deepest pit of depression without any hope of finding my way out. I’d just graduated from, at the time, the world’s number one advertising college, AAA School of Advertising. And at the graduating ceremony all I could think about was, “Is this it? Finish school. Go to college. Get a degree. Try secure a career in a highly competitive, fast-changing world that will be obsolete in 10 years time. Retire if you’re lucky. Die. Is this really all there is to life?” Well, when you put it like that…
The thought terrified me. I felt trapped in a life that was not mine. And it left me disconnected from myself, lonely and desperate to break free.
“There has to be more to life!”
Everybody else seemed so sure about themselves. After all, aren’t you supposed to know what you’re doing with your life by the time you’re 13? Latest 18? “If you don’t know what you’re doing by then, good luck!” is what my teachers and friends parents used to drill into me as I was growing up.
It’s only in my recent years spending more time with the “grown-ups” that I realized many people actually have no clue what they want to do with their lives. I tell you what though… Some of them deserve Oscars for the convincing ‘I’ve got this shit all figured out’ performance they put on. Especially for a very wet behind the ears 21 year old who had nothing figured out for himself.
I was convinced there had to be something wrong with me because everyone else seemed so happy and certain. And I wasn’t. For the first time in my life, I felt hopelessly lost and directionless. If you’ve been there, you’ll know how slow time becomes and how long the rest of your life seems. Exhausting!
Fast forward 10 years…
So I can tell you that if I had read Mr Csikszentmihalyi’s quote back then my immediate response would’ve been to want to punch him right in the mouth. Kind of like when you’re having one of those days where it feels like your world is falling apart around you and someone tells you to cheer up. Not helpful.
Fast forward 10 years and I have, thankfully, recognized the wisdom in this line. As a result, my life has completely transformed (and continues to). I’ve gone from barely surviving life, losing all hope of a good future and wanting to end it all to someone who’s life is alive with adventure, meaning, purpose and excitement for the future regardless of what it may bring. And instead of wanting to send an unsuspecting professor flying off his feet, I’d consider it an honour to be able to shake his hand and thank him for his incredible contribution to the field of wellbeing!
If you also want to optimize your experience of life, to really squeeze every drop of goodness from it, you’re going to need the golden key to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge. Because with this key you’ll be able to turn your life from a never-ending struggle to an epic adventure. Success, happiness, beautiful relationships, fulfillment, purpose and vitality all become easier to attain and experience. It is…
Definition of resilience
The American Psychological Association describes Resilience as:
“The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
Resilience reflects our ability to:
- Bounce back
- Beat the odds
- Transform our emotional and physical pain into something “positive”
- Maintain a relatively stable trajectory of healthy functioning across time
- Move from being a victim to being a “survivor” and even to becoming a “thriver”
- Be “stress hardy” adapting to whatever life sends. And for some, even showing “post- traumatic growth” as opposed to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It gives people the psychological strength to not only cope with stress and hardship but to bounce back stronger and even thrive in the face of adversity. What may surprise you though, is that it’s not something exclusive to the extraordinary among us. It’s actually something we all possess in varying degrees. How we use it and how well are what separates the survivors from the thrivers. Furthermore, they’re key determinants to our overall well-being. So it’s a pretty big deal.
However, this is not why we’re excited about resilience.
It’s because it’s a quality that can be developed. This is huge and when I first learnt about this, it rocked my life. I just thought it was something you were born with or not. Regardless of our current capacity to withstand the “load of life”, we can develop that capacity so as to withstand an even heavier load making the once unbearable load relatively comfortable. And dare I say it, even enjoyable.
We can learn to utilize our resources, skills and strengths to better overcome and recover from setbacks. And we can even leverage them for the growth opportunities inherent in them. This may seem obvious. But if you’ve ever been depressed, lost someone you’ve loved, experienced extreme violence or suffered any other form adversity, this “wonderful growth opportunity” isn’t always so easy to see. Never mind to act on. (Shout out to everyone fighting their battles!)
What is a resilient person?
Glenn Schiraldi, a resilience expert and author, provides several examples, characteristics, strengths, traits and coping mechanisms that are highly correlated with resilience:
- Sense of autonomy. Having appropriate separation or independence from family dysfunction, being self-sufficient, being determined to be different. Perhaps leaving an abusive home; being self-protecting; having goals to build a better life.
- Calm and equanimous under pressure
- The ability to regulate stress levels
- Rational thought process
- Emotional intelligence
- Meaning and purpose
- Learned helpfulness (altruism), love, and compassion
- Integrity and moral strength
- Balanced lifestyle e.g. engagement in a wide range of activities, such as hobbies, educational pursuits, jobs, social and cultural pastimes.
- Sociability and social competence (getting along, using bonding skills, being willing to seek out and commit to relationships, enjoying interdependence)
- Adaptability (having persistence, confidence, and flexibility; accepting what can’t be controlled; using creative problem-solving skills and active coping strategies)
- Intrinsic religious faith
- A long view of suffering
- Good health habits (getting sufficient sleep, nutrition, and exercise; not using alcohol or other substances immoderately; not using tobacco at all; maintaining good personal appearance and hygiene).
With the embodiment of all these traits and characteristics, there’d be very little holding us back from living the life of our dreams.
Why is being resilient important?
Think of it like this…
Having a low score in resilience is comparable to driving along life’s bumpy and unpredictable roads without any shock absorbers. It’s going to make what could be a joyful journey stressful and unbearably painful. Whereas with greater resilience, it’s like driving with the best shock absorbers and padded seats money could buy. Luxurious! You are no longer easily rattled by every little bump and turn in the road. As a result, you are now better equipped to make the journey an unforgettable adventure.
Bumps and turns are an inevitable part of life.
It could be as minor as missing the train or having to have a difficult conversation with a partner. Or something major such as losing your job or being caught in a natural disaster. How well we deal with these events can dramatically influence their outcomes and ultimately determine the quality of our life.
“It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.”Dieter F. Uchtdorf
It must be said though, possessing resilience doesn’t mean you see life through rose-colored lenses. Resilient people understand that setbacks happen and that sometimes life is hard and painful. So they still experience the emotional pain, grief, and sense of loss that comes after a tragedy. But their mental outlook allows them to work through such feelings and recover well from them. They’re able to tap into their strengths and support systems to accept, assess and adapt to the situation, tackle their problems head-on and continue moving forward.
For me, this is the ultimate superpower!
People who lack resilience and are typically psychologically fragile. They may feel helpless and powerless to situations. As a result, they’re more likely to feel overwhelmed in the face of adversity. One study showed that patients who’d attempted suicide had significantly lower resilience scores than patients who’d never attempted suicide.
Instead of focusing on finding solutions they may dwell on their problems. This causes them to fall into despair and engage in unhealthy, even destructive, coping strategies to deal with these problems. For example, drinking too much alcohol or relying on other methods of self-medication, spending too much time on social media, isolating from friends and family and eating too much or too little. These individuals are, as a result, slower to recover from adversity and setbacks and may experience more psychological distress.
I know this to be true firsthand
I was a master of avoidance.
But no matter how fast I ran or how creative I got with my methods of escape, whatever I was avoiding would eventually catch up with me. Instead of addressing the issue head-on when it arose such as learning how to manage anxiety and overcome depression, going to therapy after a traumatic experience, beating social anxiety, understanding why I hated myself so much and what I could do about it, I’d engage in a fantastic game of hide-and-seek. Because of this, I always ended up prolonging the issue and amplifying the suffering it caused.
Let’s not forget the high cost of unwanted consequences that faithfully accompanies any method of avoidance like a loyal dog. The more elaborate the escape, the greater the consequences. If we wish to bounce back quickly from setbacks and recover from stress, the short term pain or discomfort of having to address issues as soon as they arise is often a laughable price to pay in comparison to the avoidance game and the karmic bill you’ll eventually receive for it. I’m still footing mine!
Benefits of resilience
If this hasn’t got you nodding and thinking “how do I get more of this resilience stuff in my life?” this next section will certainly do it for you. Research conducted by Meetu Khosla, a psychology professor, suggests that resilience leads or contributes to many different positive health outcomes. These include:
- The experience of more positive emotions and better regulation of negative emotions
- Less depressive symptoms
- Greater resistance to stress
- Better coping with stress, through enhanced problem-solving, a positive orientation, and re-evaluation of stressors
- Successful aging and improved sense of well-being despite age-related challenges
- Better recovery after a spinal cord injury
- Better management of PTSD symptoms.
Furthermore, therapist and counselor, Joshua Miles, lists additional benefits associated with resilience:
- Greater resilience leads to improved learning and academic achievement.
- Resilience is related to lower absences from work or school due to sickness.
- It contributes to reduced risk-taking behaviors including excessive drinking, smoking, and use of drugs.
- Those with greater resilience tend to be more involved in the community and/or family activities.
- Having more resilience is related to a lower rate of mortality and increased physical health.
How to build resilience and become mentally strong
There may be a genetic component to a person’s base-level resilience. But the good news is that it’s not a “you either have it or not” trait. As mentioned before, this is the part we’re most excited about. In addition to genetics, it is also a learned pattern of feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Resilience can therefore be improved, developed and nurtured. And it’s done so by enhancing the resources and protective factors within the individual that contribute not only to coping with adversity but also leading a thriving life.
There are two ways to build resilience
- Being aware of the opportunities for self-development in adversity and having the courage to take advantage of them;
- Resilience training
These skills can be acquired at any time in life and in both scenarios; the key is deliberate practice and tackling issues head-on combined with self-awareness. When we are aware of how we think, feel and act, we can better adapt to change and flourish. Regardless of what that change brings.
In option 1, there is an immense amount of growth that comes from this. And it’s often during crisis that we discover we’re infinitely stronger than we realize. BUT… and there is a big but… You first have to wait for disaster to strike and then learn how to wade through it. That can be painful with no guarantee as to how well we’ll make it to the other side.
This is why we’re all about Option 2 because we cannot predict life’s storms but we can prepare for them. And I’m a big believer in that if we want more certainty in life, we need to create. What better way to achieve that than developing your internal resources and protective factors? As a result, if you find yourself in your worst-case scenario or high-pressure situations, you know you can 100% rely on yourself to find a solution to it and get yourself through it.
Building resilience sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth the effort?
The short answer? YES! The Global Resilience Diagnostic Report analysed the resilience ratio difference in over 26,000 individuals who received resilience training. The results were clear.
The intentional development of resilience has a particularly strong effect on:
- Reducing depression
- Improving physical wellbeing
- Improving cognitive functioning
- Reducing the effects of stress
My personal answer?
An unequivocal YES! It’s a gift to yourself and an investment that will pay you in dividends. I’m alive and well today because of it. It doesn’t matter how you frame it, fragility sucks. Feeling weak and powerless sucks. Being depressed, easily shaken by stress, fear-ridden and hopelessly lost really sucks. The worst part? Not knowing you can do something about it or not knowing how to do something about it.
Building resilience is the key
With it, we have more freedom and confidence to approach life fearlessly and creatively. Instead of it being a thing we all need to survive, it can become a thriving adventure. You can explore the depths of your potential and what it means to be human. And there is no greater or more thrilling adventure!
These are a few things I’ve noticed as my resilience improves:
- Instead of being exhausted all the time you are brimming with energy
- You’re more immune to stress and disease
- You have more control over your thoughts and feelings instead of being held back by them
- You’re capable taking on bigger, more fulfilling goals instead of always playing it safe
- You can live a more authentic, purpose-driven life that’s aligned with what’s meaningful to you
- Instead of suffering your life, you experience greater joy, love, deeper connection and inner peace
- You have the courage to do the difficult things that need to be done for you to live a great life
- Instead of being knocked to your knees by even the slightest challenge, you persevere and grow from them
The six pillars of resilience
When developing our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual resilience there are six pillars we need to be aware of. Enhancing and bolstering these pillars will improve our ability to weather life’s storms and skillfully navigate through stressful times:
- Self-awareness. With increased self-awareness, we are able to literally enhance every area of our lives and experience of life. Greater knowledge and awareness leads to more masterful action. This leads to better outcomes e.g. deliberately working through negative emotions instead of being carried away by them.
- Purpose and meaning. Clear sense of purpose and direction brings fresh vitality, focus and deep pools of strength we can tap into during challenging times. This is my number 1 go-to to bulletproof me against distractions.
- Energy management. In order to endure and persevere when times get tough and in order to create the life you most desire and make a difference in the world, you need energy. Lots of it! And you need your health.
- Inner drive – learning how to stay motivated and fired-up during adversity and persevering even when we don’t want to.
- Flexible thinking and adaptability. The ability to view situations from multiple perspectives and adapt skillfully to change gives us a greater sense of control. This leads to greater sense of psychological wellbeing.
- Positive relationships. One of the greatest predictors of a person’s wellbeing is the strength and quality of the relationships in their life. In addition, a massive predictor of a person’s ability to cope during challenging times is the amount of social support they have.
Accelerating the process of building resilience
Had I of known about these pillars before I set off from my playing-it-safe, comfortable, predictable life all those years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of time and a lot of struggle. I’m still a strong advocate for pushing your personal limits and spending extended periods of time in isolation in the wilderness. But if the goal is just to become more resilient and mentally strong, there are other ways to do so. You don’t have to take off 5 years to swim with icebergs, walk through deserts, climb mountains or starve yourself.
However, if you’re willing to make the time to do these things – do it! You’ll never regret it and you will learn an unimaginable amount about yourself and life. But if going to sleep wet and alone in an icy tent for weeks at a time and not knowing when your next warm shower will be, sounds a bit too much for you, we have created something special for you. You can achieve similar results without having to completely let go of everything familiar and dear to you.
Flourish and Thrive’s Ultimate Resilience Program
Based on our experiences growing up and some of the traumas we’ve faced, what we’ve learnt by deliberately and repeatedly putting ourselves in challenging situations on our adventures and from the most relevant research on the topic in neuroscience, Emotional Intelligence and psychology, we have created a power program – Ultimate Resilience. It’s designed to build resilience and empower you to flourish into the best version of yourself.
It takes you on a transformative 3-month journey through the Six Pillars using practical strategies and evidence-based tools and techniques. There’s one core intention. Upon completion, you will be able to face life with the courage, strength and wisdom needed for you to become the person you’re proudest of and create an epic life you’d want to live a million times over.
This program is for you if:
- You’d like to better understand yourself, your signature character strengths and your unique winning formula.
- You want to build your confidence, self worth and self esteem. Ultimately you want to feel comfortable in your own skin and experience more inner peace.
- You want more energy and motivation to do the things you love, enjoy life and create the life you most desire.
- You’d like to better understand your purpose in life and find direction that is meaningful to you.
- You want to have control over your thoughts, emotions and reactions.
- You’d like to be able to connect better with the people in your life and/or discover and build meaningful friendships.
- You’d like to open your heart to life, let go of fear and experience real freedom and adventure.
- You’re ready to take control of your life, learn how to best navigate through its unavoidable storms and still create a lifetime of fulfillment.
In the meantime, we’ve prepared a free gift for you
This powerful 4-Step process helped us break free from an unfulfilling life we felt stuck in to travel the world and completely turn our lives around into ones we’re excited to wake up to every morning. Now, we want you to have it! It’ll help you step out of your comfort zone, smash through fear and begin creating the life of your design. It’s free!
6 Practical Tips to Improve Resilience
If you’d like to become more resistant to stress, adapt easily to change, grow from trauma and adversity, maintain high levels of vitality and create a lifetime of fulfillment, consider implementing these tips:
- Get connected. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in good and bad times. Establish other important connections by volunteering or joining a faith or spiritual community.
- Make every day meaningful. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
- Learn from experience. Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through difficult times. You might even write about past experiences in a journal. It’ll help you identify positive and negative behavior patterns — and guide your future behavior.
- Remain hopeful. You can’t change the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
- Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer. Two particular techniques that have helped me tremendously with stress, anxiety and anger are the Body Scan Meditation and Mindful Breathing.
- Be proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, know that your situation can improve if you work at it.
Powerful Talks to Inspire Resilience in You
Cultivate Resilience | Dr Greg Eells
How to Master Mental Toughness | James Lawrence
11 resilience quotes to keep you moving forward
Below are some of my favourite quotes on resilience. They’ve brought me inspiration or an extra dose of strength to keep going when the going gets tough.
“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”— Elizabeth Edwards, author
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”— Nelson Mandela
“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and the responsibility to pick yourself up.”— Mary Holloway, resilience coach
“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo — far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”— Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
“On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.”— Gregory S. Williams, author
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”― Maya Angelou
“You must bear losses like a soldier, the voice told me, bravely and without complaint, and just when the day seems lost, grab your shield for another stand, another thrust forward. That is the juncture that separates heroes from the merely strong.”― Margaret George, The Memoirs of Cleopatra
“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.”― Jaeda Dewalt
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.”― Catherine DeVrye, The Gift of Nature
“No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.”― Eric Greitens, Resilience
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.”― J.K. Rowling
A word from Flourish & Thrive
To conclude, becoming more resilient is possible! It’s also infinitely worth it. With guidance and the right systems and strategies in place, you can improve your resiliency and mental well-being. And absolutely create a thriving life. But it takes time and consistent practice. That’s why it’s vital to partner with someone who’s gone down that road already to keep you focused and accountable.
So if you feel stuck and like you’re not making progress — or you don’t know where to start — connect with us. We’d love to hear from you! And remember, you’re not alone on this journey!
Wishing you strength as you go forward.
- APA Help Center. (2018). Resilience guide for parents & teachers. American Psychological Association Help Center. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx
- Hook, B. (2017). The Benefits of Learning Resilience. The Resilience Institute. https://resiliencei.com/2017/08/benefits-learning-resilience/
- Khosla, M. Resilience and Health: Implications for Interventions and Policy Making. Psychol Stud 62, 233–240 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12646-017-0415-9
- Miles, J. (2015). The importance of building resilience. Counselling Directory. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/the-importance-of-building-resilience
- Schiraldi, G. (2017). What do resilient people look like? New Harbinger Publications. https://www.newharbinger.com/blog/what-do-resilient-people-look