5 Characteristics Of Resilient People And How To Develop Them
It's through disruption and adversity that our resilience is truly tested. Resilience is about getting and using the resources we need to bring our strongest self out and be able to cope.
There is resilience in each of us and research has shown that the more we work that muscle, the more we get resilient. And the more we preserve and work our on mental health, the more confident we tend to be in our resilience. Resilient people know how to manage stress effectively, so they can focus and work through it. They know what resources help them cope, but most importantly, they also give themselves time to rest and recharge.
Many studies have also shown that resilience can be learned and developed, and there are many ways we can work on improving it. Resilience can be characterised through five key elements:
Good sleep, balanced nutrition and regular exercise together are the foundation of our wellbeing. Sleep, especially, is one of the key factors to manage for greater physical and mental wellness. There is an increased volume of literature about the importance of sleep and many helpful online services and apps are available such as the NHS-approved Sleepio programme.
In addition, making time for activities and hobbies we enjoy and can relax to on a daily basis is also essential, as they thelp us maintain and renew our energy levels. Such moments of calmness, contentment, joy and purpose in our daily lives help us sustain resilience in the short and long term. For example, starting our days with an activity that gives us joy sets us up with a positive boost likely to energise us throughout the day. Trying different things, monitoring what works and mixing things up can help maintain interest and consistency. Reading a novel or poetry, dancing to a favourite song, listening to a podcast or radio show, writing down what we're grateful for, phoning a loved one, taking time for a bath, ... it's the little things that nourish and energise us.
Being able to identify, accept and regulate emotions are important skills in developing resilience. Emotional intelligence is as much about self-awareness (understanding how our emotions affect our thoughts, judgments, behaviour), as it is about self-regulation (controlling and redirecting disruptive impulses, emotions, and moods for clarity and good purpose).
Reflection and thoughtfulness are two powerful practices boosting emotional intelligence. Pausing helps us shift from reacting to a situation (just doing something for the sake of its distraction, acting by impulse without thinking) to responding (mindfully reflecting to gain clarity, assess options and understand what is most helpful before acting, so we can be more strategic). Self-compassion is also a quality found in people demonstrating high emotional intelligence and resilience levels: striving to treat and speak to ourselves in the same compassionate and encouraging way we would to a friend or a child (even more so when we feel we made a mistake or didn't meet our expectations) helps us cultivate a growth mindset.
It's natural to feel confused, scared, frustrated and all sorts of other negative emotions in times of change. Even if our situation could be worst, there is no shame in feeling what we feel and no benefit in comparing ourselves to others. It's OK and can even be helpful to name what we feel.
Emotions are not permanent and once processed, more fruitful reflection can then take place to offer greater perspective. Focus can shift towards finding hope, positivity, opportunity or even a nascent belief that something good can come out of the situation. Self-reflection on what we can be grateful for, what we have learned, what is under our control and what is most helpful to focus our energy on for example can help us gain perspective. It can also help us recognise when we’re sliding into negative thinking patterns - such as catastrophising - and help us break away from these thanks to tools such as mindfulness or counter-argument.
Reflection can also help us shift our focus away from ourselves to find positive inspiration, connection, and relief in those around us and in our community.
Meaning and purpose can be found in what motivates and energises us. Research has shown that we tend to live more meaningful lives when we know our signature strengths and use them in something productive and creative. Knowing who we are (what our values, strengths and long-term goals are) equips us with a compass that helps us stay true to ourselves, gain perspective and respond in a way that is right for us - especially in uncertain times.
Shifting focus towards others and putting our time and strengths in service of someone else or something can provide a strong sense of purpose. However, seeking and achieving smaller goals in our daily lives also helps us draw satisfaction and meaning. Growing flowers in our garden, reconnecting with a friend, trying a new recipe, re-decorating our room and family activities, for example, can all have an impact. Establishing a daily routine can also be a helpful tool, as it splits our day into manageable chunks and can help us feel a sense of achievement.
Humans are social beings. Working together and organising ourselves in groups has helped our species stand the test of time. Today is no different. Friends, family, community give us more strength, meaning and support.
It does remain our responsibility to stay engaged and connected though. This needs initiative and regularity but the simpler acts - such as phoning someone you owe a thank you or checking in with a loved one over a text - do have a lasting impact. Community Bridges also offers resources to help you connect with your community, participate in local initiatives and get access to local support. Our aim is to make it easy for people to participate in local activities, get to know their neighbours and access helpful resources that work for them.
Looking at resilience through these five key capabilities is just a way of gaining awareness of it. It's also important to note they are not mutually exclusives. By focusing on improving one of them, we are likely to see positive benefits in other areas: for example, having a good night sleep is likely to help us manage our emotions better and achieve greater perspective. Similarly, connecting with others is likely to help us gain perspective, feel energised and access options for solving problems.
While the smallest actions can have a lasting impact, intent and consistency are important. For example, intentional living author Neil Pasricha suggests starting our day with a two-minute reflection on three key questions:
what will I let go of today? (which has the power to free us from regrets, grudges, etc),
what am I are grateful for today? (which brings an appreciation of new happenings, gestures, joys, etc that have enriched us in last day or so), and
what do I want to focus on today? (which provides context towards what is actually important and helpful).
Living each day with intent by grounding and reflecting, and with the help of a routine, can be powerful in building resilience - alongside physical, mental and emotional self-care.
References and further reading:
Dan Lucy, Meysam Poorkavoos and Arun Thompson. Building resilience: five key capabilities, 2014.
Michele M. Tugade, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Vassar College. Positive Psychology Strategies for Keeping Stress at Bay Through the Ongoing COVID-19 Crisis, 2020.
Neil Pasricha, author, entrepreneur and public speaker. The Book of Awesome, The Happiness Equation, 3 Books podcast.