Building resilience | discover what resilience is and how to build resilience into your own psychology

‘Building resilience is a term that is often heard in the corridors of the business community’ said Peter. He went on to say ‘I always thought of myself as a strong man, you know – capable, a well liked manager, a good husband and Father but when I started not sleeping and loosing my rag with the kids I knew something was wrong but never put it down to stress. It wasn’t until my wife said that I ought think about going to the doctors that the realization of how anxious I had become dawned on me. I had started to tumble down a black hole when I had to make a couple of my staff redundant, I took on more and more, worked really long hours and began to worry that I might be axed too. If only I had known what I do now about keeping well when the going gets tough, I might have spared myself and my family this miserable time.’

Peter is one of many people who attended one of our courses on building resilience. The knowledge and skills helped him bounce back and stay well in the same situation that had previously defeated him. By sharing the same information in this blog we hope it will help others from going down the same slippery slope. So lets start with understanding what we mean by ‘resilience.’

What is ‘resilience?’

Starting with the dictionary definition we see it is ‘the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.’ And where people are concerned it’s ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.’ So human resilience is when a person can go through challenging times and remain well or recover quickly.

Because of our changing economic climate and the pressure that brings, more and more people are suffering and are not able to bounce back after a knock. However, what is interesting is that there are lots of people who are experiencing the same tough times and yet are able to remain well or bounce back to well being quickly.

Face new challenges, seize new opportunities, test your resources against the unknown and in the process, discover your own unique potential.’ 

John Amatt

When trouble strikes why are some people ok and others not?

So lets take two fictitious characters John and Andrew. Both managers in the same company that has seen a downturn in customers, revenue and profitability. At a meeting they are told by their CEO how difficult the situation is and a programme of cuts and redundancies is inevitable. They both are shocked by the unexpected news and for several days feel below par and worried. However, John goes back to his team and explains the situation, motivates them with a heartfelt inspiring chat about pulling together to do the best they can. He goes through his feelings and thoughts with his partner, and after a chat with some business colleagues he comes up with a strategy for his department, which he plans to share with his CEO in the morning. On the way in he calls in at the gym as usual and also decides to makes plans to brush up his CV – just in case.

Andrew reacts in a different way; the initial shock doesn’t abate as it is fueled by the worry that he might be made redundant. Unable to get that thought out of his head, his imagination goes into overdrive as he ruminates over the varying dreaded outcomes. He starts to think that he will be picked off first, as he can’t cope with the pressure and feels powerless to effect the outcome. Andrew finds communication with anyone at work or at home strained, he puts on a brave face but he is consumed with feelings of hopelessness.

Andrew and John lay at either end of the continuum of reactions to failure or challenges. As you will be well aware – in business and in private life; loss tragedy and difficulties are an inevitable component of life. From a lost romance to the loss of a job, how you react to it will predict your resilience or lack of it.

It’s not what happens but how you perceive and react to failure and challenge that is the deciding factor in resilience or lack of it

In 1960 The ‘Father’ of ‘positive psychology’ Martin Seligman discovered ‘learned helplessness.’ The term reflected the response of an individual or group who gave up in the face of a difficult task. Seligman said.

We found that dogs, rats, mice, and even cockroaches that experienced mildly painful shock over which they had no control would eventually just accept it with no attempt to escape.’

His team built on this with experiments on humans. They took two separate groups, all individuals were set simple tasks to stop the noise they were listening to. Experiment A was designed to enable the participants to stop the noise after a few simple moves. Whilst experiment B was designed so that the people were unable to stop the noise whatever they did.

An interesting fact that followed was when the same participants were all given new scenarios the next day, group B who had been unsuccessful the previous day gave up much quicker than group A. Even though the experiment had been designed to make it very easy for them to stop the noise. They had ‘learned helplessness,’- and gave up easily.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.’

Winston Churchill

Seligman later discovered that people with these similar reactions in the business world, would often have a sense of hopelessness. They had a tendency to cut themselves off emotionally from family friends and colleagues. Dwell on negative implications, become stressed and depressed more easily.

This is a very different scenario to the person who shows resilient reaction – one who can soon regain a positive outlook, remain engaged with the business, family and friends. Resilient people find a sense of meaning and accomplishment in challenges, and are engaged and motivated by these factors.

Some people are naturally more resilient but the good news is that resilience can be learned –

Resilience isn’t about not experiencing stress, during resilience reactions considerable amounts of emotional can be felt. However, just like a river where the water finds its way around the twists and turns and over the obstacles. A resilient person is a problem solver and looks for solutions to move the situation on rather becoming stagnant. The fact that the USA armed forces, schools and large corporations are investing in training their staff and pupils in the psychological armoury of resilience speaks volumes; on how knowledge and skills can make a difference to maintaing robust emotional and physical health.

‘Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.’

Anthony Robbins

So how do I build resilience? –

  1. Be adaptable in the face of adversity – look for new helpful ways of finding solutions and behaving.
  2. Look for resources – who can help you during this time? How have you coped with tough times in the past? Are there any skills you don’t yet have that you could develop that would help you right now. Think of a person who would be good in the situation you find yourself and ask yourself – what do they know or can do that I could learn?
  3. Believe in yourself – your resources will help you to believe that you can come through this stronger than ever and that what you do does matter and will affect you.
  4. Look after yourself – that means eating well, taking time out and nurturing yourself in what ever way that you can. Spend time with people who care about you and have a positive outlook. Good sleep is essential to build the much-needed sense of restoration and strength to forge on.
  5. Don’t take the tough time personally – even if you have messed up – dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, hold your head high and get going to get back on track.
  6. Have an idea of your goal or purpose as it will feed into your motivation to keep going with an expectation of a positive outcome. If nothing else aim to have a belief that you will grow in facing and working though your struggle.
  7. Manage strong emotions and impulses especially in a work environment. Find ways to communicate your perspective but when you can, deliver it with clarity. There are many simple skills that help to unlock the pattern of stress, look at the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), mindfulness courses and anything that helps you to relax or raise your thought patterns above the place where the trouble started.
  8. Connect, connect and connect. Shall we mention that again? Spending time with close colleagues family and friends helps to put perspective on tough times. Isolation and listening to negative inner chat all of the time is a sure route to feeling stressed.
  9. Eat well and be careful of drowning your sorrows – Or your sorrows will drown you. Avoid lots of sugary foods that your body may crave during times of stress – lots of protein and keep hydrated for sustained energy.
  10. Retain a positive outlook and expect the best– easy to say but finding any way to maintain positivity will effect the way that you feel and subsequently behave. If you ruminate about negative aspects about yourself, what you could have done or what will be done to you, its all too much etc. You will feel rubbish! It’s a simple equation; so changing your thoughts is the key to resilience. Ask yourself how can I view this situation so that it appears differently?

‘The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.’ 

Mahatma Gandhi 

Work with all of the above but if you can’t seem to pull yourself through it – talk to someone and consider seeking professional support. You might be surprised at how little is needed to help you turn your outlook and situation around. Take a look below at some of the main signs of stress – if you have a few of these do start to make some changes to stop them getting any worse.

A helpful reminder of the signs of stress – spot them before they get a grip on you

Here are some of the emotional and physical symptoms;


  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Unable to think straight or focus
  • Lack of meaning and motivation
  • Tearful
  • Roller coaster emotions
  • Low mood
  • Worry that you may not be ‘good enough’
  • Locked in a spiral of negative thoughts


  • Raised heart beat
  • No energy – Feeling exhausted, particularly in the mornings
  • Disrupted appetite and digestion
  • Disrupted sleep pattern and no refreshment from sleep
  • Poor immune system activity – which can lead to a host of ailments
  • Avoidance of situation that cause panic or high anxiety when you think about them or have to confront them



Jill Wootton (47 Posts)

About Jill Wootton