What is Resilience?

you-got-this Many of us want to learn how to build resilience during these tough times. Don’t worry…you got this!

But first, we need to define what we are talking about? What is resilience?

Resilience goes by many names. We’ve been researching it for decades. It doesn’t matter whether you call it cognitive hardiness, mental toughness, personality hardiness, or resilience.

Resilient people remain healthy under stress because they have strength in reserve.

We’re all going to need to dig deep to find the grit and fortitude to carry us through the rest of 2020 without falling apart. Resilient people are able to manage uncertainty and adversity. They can also bounce back and rebuild their lives after daunting setbacks.

We all need a certain baseline resilience just to deal with the setbacks and losses that are an inevitable part of ordinary life.
Resilience is the ability to manage uncertainty, resist and overcome fear while transcending obstacles that may appear to be preventing you from succeeding.

Fortunately, we know a lot about resilience; what it is, and how it works.

We’re going to need to know how to build resilience in the months ahead. This post is going to take a deep look at the research on resilience and mental toughness and offer you some valuable resources.

The History of Resilience Research

Dr. Salvatore Maddi

The research on resilience began at the University of Chicago in the late 1970s with two utterly badass researchers; Suzanne C. Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi. 

It was Suzanne Kobasa who started this line of research. I could not find a picture of her online, but she deserves the credit for initiating this vitally important research.

Dr. Kobasa did this by studying a group of Bell Telephone company executives who were under massive amounts of stress due to the fact that their entire industry was being restructured.

What once was a boring, predictable, industry was now completely in chaos. She learned that specific personality traits protected the mental health and well-being of these managers.

This was a longitudinal study. Kobasa studied these executives for over eight years, Dr. Kobasa found 3 personality traits in the executives who remained the healthiest as Bell Telephone underwent enormous change.

Personality Traits that are Protective

Kobasa reported that these traits protected these managers from the toxic physiological impact of stress. She measured their levels of depression, anxiety, anger, and frustration, as well as their overall emotional responses.

Dr. Kobasa also measured their loss of confidence, levels of despair, distrust, anxiety, wishful thinking, inactivity, impatience, and emotional withdrawal.

In her foundational paper entitled Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1979, Dr. Kobasa introduced the concept of psychological hardiness.

Kobasa posited that hardiness is the mitigating factor between stressful life events and illness. She and Dr. Maddi went on to write a popular book about their research, The Hardy Executive.

According to her research, tough-minded resilient people are buffered against stressful situations in life because they regularly display specific emotional, mental, and behavioral responses. Kobasa’s initial understanding of psychological hardiness or resilience was that it had three distinct elements, which she called the 3C’s.

How To Build Resilience…Master the 3 C’s and You Got This!

  • Commitment – Resilient people are utterly committed to what they intend to accomplish. Their goals give them a compelling meaning to their lives. But their sense of commitment isn’t just in one particular aspect of their lives. Their existence is one big, overarching commitment– they commit to their marriage, their kids, their friends, their faith, and their values.
  • Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty like a coronavirus not as a paralyzing disaster, but as a challenge to overcome. This is the essential reframe of mental toughness and resilience. They see any mistakes or failures as meaningful suffering, as opportunities to grow, learn, and improve. They don’t view failure as an emblem of their inadequacy.
  • Personal ControlWhat do I have control over? And how can I use it to my best advantage? Resilient people only invest their time and energy on situations that they can influence. They put their intention where they can have the most impact. They go through life feeling confident and powerful. They don’t waste time focusing on things over which they have no control.

you got this

Kobasa’s groundbreaking research described these elements in detail. Salvatore R. Maddi, added to her research, as did S. Kahn, Paul T. Bartone, and W. D. Gentry.

These researchers were the original wrecking crew of mental toughness.

Much research followed afterward, and throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, researchers continued to be fascinated with mental toughness and how to build hardiness and resilience.

What Resilience is Not…

Resilience isn’t optimism or wishful thinking.

Resilient people embrace the suck. They face difficulty with a mental toughness which allows them to work through challenges and recover. Resilience supplies the determination to face directly into adversity, and even supply emotional support to others in the process.

Hope… is Not a Method. General Gordon R. Sullivan

Resilience is the ability to improvise and bounce back when things don’t go your way. Resilient people don’t feel sorry for themselves. They don’t see their failures as final, and they don’t stay frozen and “hope” things get better.

Hardy, resilient people see the situation for what it is. They are constantly learning and adapting. Resilient people bounce back from their mistakes, and then move relentlessly forward toward their goal.

Resilience and Positive Psychology

Martin Seligman is the dominant thought leader in the field of Positive Psychology. He is the leading thinker on the topics of resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism in the 21st century.

He is also a recognized authority on interventions that build mental strength and resilience.

Dr. Seligman built significantly on Kobasa and Maddi’s earlier work.

Thanks to him, we now know that our self-talk is a major factor in how we build resilience. How we explain setbacks to ourselves is important.

Dr. Seligman shifted the conversation about hardiness and resilience. His focus is on how we explain the events in our lives to ourselves.

Although he languages this discussion in terms of either an optimistic or pessimistic inner dialogue or “explanatory style” It’s clear that he’s still talking about how to build hardiness and resilience.

How To Build Resilience? Watch Your Self Talk and How You Explain the World

This  inner “explanatory style” is made up of the absence of these three toxic mindsets:

  • Permanence – Resilient people have a different sense of time. They see setbacks and difficulties as temporary. Failure is never final. They also frame a negative experience in ways that are neither global or pervasive.
  • Pervasiveness – Mentally tough people also bracket negativity. They never go global. They might say, “I’m not good at cooking, but I can always learn to get better” as opposed to saying “I’m not good at anything.” Sheltering in place will require many of us to get out of our comfort zone and acquire new skills. Resilience can help us to muddle through with grace and confidence.
  • Personalization – Resilient people do not see setbacks as personal. The Covid-19 coronavirus is a vast historical event. The self-talk which says “I should have done their or that in advance” is not a sign of resilience.

Apps That Can Help

You can do something earlier generations pursuing resilience and mental toughness could never do. You can train you brain with awesome technology. The following apps are perfect for developing a calm, centered, and resilient mindset:

Headspace: Two-week free trial for the general public. (Providers with a National Provider Identifier can sign up for free full access.)

Calm: Seven-day free trial. A meditation, sleep, and relaxation app that also provides resources specifically for coping with coronavirus anxiety.

Stop, Breathe & Think: Always free, and great for kids as well.

Insight Timer: This app is always free. It’s actually a great library you can search for various types of meditations by excellent instructors.

10% Happier: Free and paid options available. Health care providers can use redemption code HEALTHCARE to unlock all content.

You Got This! But You’ve Got To Work At It…

Resilient, mentally tough people aren’t fundamentally different…except that they focus on the essential mindsets that promote positivity and avoid those which are disempowering. It’s not about willpower or energy. Research tells us that it takes just as much energy to be a resilient spouse as it does to not be.

The difference is that resilient mindsets lead to feelings of confidence and competence. They have an internal locus of control.  They keep fear and anxiety at bay because they know that it can lead to a victim mindset and the feeling that life is out of control.

We may feel helpless in the face of the coronavirus. This mental state of helplessness erodes our nervous system and leads to depression. Research shows that lab rats showing signs of helplessness and depression had depleted levels of norepinephrine (which is known as the happiness hormone).

you got thisSeek Support From Your Spouse and Talk About Resilience Now! You Got This!

Talk about resilience with your spouse. You’re both going to want to know how to build resilience in the months to come.

Intimate relationships and deep attachments to other human beings are essential for building resilience.

Talking about the stressful difficulties you are coping with doesn’t make them go away, but sharing them with your spouse can make all the difference. This is no time to stuff feelings down or fall back on the guy code.

Coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re resilient or not. You’re going to go through this together as a family. Discuss how to build resilience now, before the coronavirus challenge overwhelms you. You got this!

You Got This!


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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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