Your resilience keeps you going in difficult times and lifts you up to continue after a fall. It is your capacity to respond quickly and constructively to crises. It is your ability to bounce back after a negative emotional challenge; your level of emotional stamina.
How long can you keep going? And how quickly do you recover from setbacks?
When people get stuck in their thinking, they have difficulty identifying and working with new or different strategies to deal with their situation. They need to consider different strategies and follow these through to action to improve the situation. Although this helps the immediate presenting issue, patterns often re-emerge when their solution doesn’t work or they face a similar issue, and their thinking stops in their tracks.
This indicates that people need to develop longer-lasting resources to handle a wide range of situations better when they arise or even to avoid them happening.
Handling difficult times requires attending, nurturing, and keeping one’s whole self healthy. People must gain awareness of their whole person and invest in themselves with strategies to increase their energy in lacking areas, caring for their physical, mental, and social wellbeing.
The balance of positive to negative emotions is directly linked to one’s resilience. We can experience greater positive emotion by focusing on moments of success and resourcefulness and by bringing the strengths demonstrated at those times into the present to tackle current challenges.
We encounter difficult times repeatedly throughout our lives, making resilience a highly significant and important capacity in finding a new balance and a way to wellbeing in the changed situation. Its significance comes from the protective aspects it characterizes, the resources that strengthen our wellbeing and shield our vulnerabilities. We can easily appreciate its importance when considering the different impact adversity has on people and whether one bounces back more quickly when knocked down and suffers less as a result.
Positive emotion and resilience
Handling difficult times and getting up after a disappointment are surely emotional experiences.
Balancing negative emotion with positive emotion is imperative for wellbeing. But people are more likely to dwell on the negative than the positive, so a balance in one’s emotional life requires significantly more positive emotions, with a tipping point at three to one.
While a minimum ratio of 3:1 balances things out, people flourish when the positive to negative exceeds four or five to one. Positive emotions lead to positive outcomes at work and in marriage.
How do positive emotions work? Positive emotions broaden our capacity to think creatively and solve problems while increasing our resilience and building our resourcefulness. The “building” can be approached and engaged strategically to optimize the long-term benefits of positive experiences. Emotions are fleeting states. Mindful attention can turn positive fleeting states into long-lasting states and resources. Building psychological flexibility and strengthening resilience can become an intentional process.
Positive and negative emotions are separate dimensions; people experience both to varying degrees, even simultaneously. Higher resilience does not necessarily reduce negative emotions but the harmful effects of possibly non-adaptive chronic negativity. Positivity enhances resilience, and resilience shines light on one’s experiences opening the door for positivity to enter more easily. Finding ways to experience positive emotion, especially in difficult times, becomes important in reducing harm to one’s wellbeing. We must become aware of potentially harmful patterns and find more positive emotions to counteract the stress.
Being mindful of one’s emotional life and its changes to respond effectively and promptly is a resilience aspect that reduces rumination about the past and the future while supporting the ability to live in the present, mentally opening one to the possibilities afforded in the present.
People can show resilience in some life areas but not in others. A crucial factor is how the person responds to and manages their emotional response to events outside their immediate control. Taking at least some ownership of such situations connects the “unresourceful” person and their non-resilient behavior or thinking to their “resourceful” selves so they can transfer the what and how of concrete successes to the challenge they are facing currently.
The coach does not discount or collude when the client discounts something, such as a strength or resourcefulness they have shown in a similar situation. Instead, by surfacing this perceived disparity, the coach helps the client identify what is missing for them and then identify when it is or has been present at other times.
The client says, “I’m terrified of giving presentations.”
Coach: “Tell me about a time when you have done a good presentation.”
The client thinks and responds, “Well, there was that time when …”
Coach: “Ok, so that was a good presentation, what worked that time?”
Connecting past successes to new and current situations enhances the person’s capacity to tackle their current problem, evoking positive emotions, and tuning in to their resourcefulness to find more effective solutions.
When a client experiences strong negative emotions, a coaching conversation can not proceed effectively on logical terms. The client needs to experience some additional positive emotions to counteract the negative.
Sometimes a simple invitation to see an event as a challenge instead of a threat might suffice. A useful segue is to ask for additional examples: “When else …?”
Alternatively, inviting the client to use a gratitude exercise for a week might heighten awareness of positive resources.
Having established some initial positive emotion, outcome, ownership, and change can become the focus, “What could you do to make an immediate impact on the situation?” or “What is the smallest thing you could do to make the biggest difference right now?”
Talking about times when and how one was at their best and enjoyed one’s work or relational situation is also energizing and invigorating.
Hope involves an expectation that following identified pathways will lead to desired results. Expectations and beliefs in a positive future or outcome of some event or initiative influence how one bounces back from disappointment or puts in more effort to overcome obstacles. Finding ways to marshal one’s effort and fostering enabling beliefs that one’s efforts will lead to a positive result is the agenda for building hope.
A strengths perspective effectively builds and sustains hope by putting effort into strengths-supported action.
To build resourcefulness, one must have the energy to direct toward building it. Often a coach asks a client how much energy they have to work on a particular goal. Finding the energy becomes the initial goal if the energy is not there.
Energy flows or gets blocked in the four personal domains. The person is also embedded in a social-relational environment. Energy can be depleted behaviorally and expanded and renewed through practicing certain behaviors.
The physical domain: Acting on bodily habits.
Sleep, exercise, and eat healthily.
To get started, identify small, relatively easy, quick wins. Identify patterns and routines you find energizing rather than a drudge. Create compelling but doable “toward” goals.
The mental domain: Mind, images, stories, beliefs, memories.
A sign of mental confusion is the difficulty in keeping boundaries between thoughts and holding up priorities long enough to effectively reach closure of separate issues.
Mental clarity is sometimes served by considering failure and its consequences before focusing on the positive and what can be done. “What will happen if you do nothing about this?” “Imagine it’s five years from now, and you have done nothing about this. What is happening?”
When the mind goes round and round about an issue, it uses unfocused energy. To break the pattern, ask, “What are the facts here?” to check facts and assumptions. Insisting that the client clarify the facts and then identify the underlying issue and the goal they wish to work toward can get them going.
The spiritual domain: Transpersonal interconnectedness.
This is the domain of values, purpose, meaning, life philosophy, and beliefs about what one’s life is about. The conflict in this domain is mainly about intrinsic versus extrinsically motivated projects and tasks, whether one operates mainly from self-concordant goals or externally imposed imperatives.
The emotional domain:
Many people block their energy for action through their emotions by avoiding setting a goal, pulling back from committing to action, through fear of a person or the consequences of an action, limiting beliefs about their capability or what is “right,” or self-sabotage.
If the block is emotional, logical discourse, disputing negative thoughts, or arguing yourself into abandoning it is unlikely to shift it, at least initially.
One must uncover emotional blocks and take ownership before resolving them. Otherwise, even if they identify an excellent set of actions, the fear will sabotage them. Goals always have an emotional component that needs exploring and connecting to before deciding and committing to action. Mostly, the issue is not what needs to be done, which people often are very well aware of, but how they stop themselves from doing what they want. First, when people own this block, they can effectively dispute or argue their way into the new behavior or action. For example, they might then consider how to say “no” without fracturing a relationship.
Releasing blocked energy increases resilience and improves one’s capacity to deal with the situation more positively.
Visualizing an event that we are worrying about reduces concern and anxiety and increases confidence without the risk of failing. It provides a flexible, safe, and controlled environment to explore future challenges or situations. While negative pictures damage our confidence, replacing them with positive ones positively impacts our mental state.
Embodied visualizing can be as impactful as a real-world experience when sounds, smells, people, and the environment are vividly imagined.
The following steps are for a future situation visualization. When adapted to a past success experience, you can use visualizing to mine a person’s success to increase self-confidence or efficacy.
What is the event? (For example, an interview, a meeting, or a presentation?)
What does it look like, real or imagined? What does the front of the building look like, the offices and decor? Is it modern and bright, or traditional, with muted lighting?
What are the sounds like? Is it on a busy road? Are the offices open plan, with the background noise of calls and people talking?
Imagine meeting the people. Start to bring the situation to life. Who will you meet? How will you greet them? Imagine feeling comfortable, warm, friendly, and professional.
Imagine the event itself. Play out the event in your mind. For example, a presentation. While you picture the room, and the people, imagine waiting for your turn. Picture the walk to the front, the opening line, and so on.
Imagine success. Picture everything going well. What does it look like, and how does it feel? For example, during a presentation or an interview, the audience or the interviewers are engaged and interested. They ask questions. You look and feel confident and comfortable and enjoy the experience.
Now, take the others’ points of view who are at the event. Imagine them seeing the event. Picture them seeing everything going well and you succeed. Picture them seeing you confident, engaging, and enjoying the experience.
Repeat the process until you feel comfortable or as you wish.
If-Then Planning or Implementation Intentions
Increasing a sense of control reduces anxiety before and during a difficult situation. Implementation intentions help people take or regain control under such challenging situations. Using if-then planning, one visualizes how to handle all that could go wrong in a future situation and reduce cognitive distortion and catastrophizing.
For example, consider an imagined scenario, such as, “I am attending a job interview next week.” What might go wrong (if) and coping mechanisms (then) might sound like the following:
If I am panicking before the beginning of the interview,
then I will take a moment, breathe slowly and deeply, and regain my sense of control; or,
then I will remind myself that I am prepared for the interview and have a wealth of useful experience. I have been successful in my existing and previous roles.
If I am unable to answer a question, and I stumble to give a good answer,
then I will ask the interviewer to repeat or reframe the question until I am comfortable with its meaning; or,
then I will be honest about my experience and provide examples of my ability to learn new skills when needed.
The if-then planning is repeated for each scenario one faces by breaking the situation down into a series of if-then statements that reflect what might go wrong and one’s concerns. By defining a response, one visualizes all that may happen and confirms one’s coping ability.
The “What If?” Bias.
We often get caught up thinking about all the potential bad outcomes of a situation or decision rather than adopting a rational perspective.
To combat the “What if” Bias to regain a balanced perspective and avoid catastrophizing, think of a situation or challenge you would like to tackle.
List positive and negative “What Ifs?” in two columns:
“What If” It’s Negative? E.g., What if I have a panic attack on stage?
“What If” It’s Positive? E.g., What if I give the performance of my life?
Replacing “What If” Statements.
We can change our emotions and behaviors by identifying irrational beliefs and swapping them with more rational ones.
Like Albert Ellis’ ABCDE model, the following process leads to a more positive, beneficial belief system that reduces the anxiety associated with catastrophizing.
The following steps can be worked through individually or in a group with a coach.
Identify and understand the catastrophic consequences, i.e., the “what if”
What are you afraid will happen? (E.g., What if I don’t do well in my job interview?)
What is the worst thing that could happen? (What if I don’t get offered the job?)
Replace “what if” questions with factual statements.
Change the “what if” questions into clear statements. (E.g., I did not do well in the job interview. I did not get the job.)
Use a selection of the following questions to understand and challenge the truth or likelihood of each statement:
Have you been in a similar situation before? What was the result?
What was different, and what was the same?
What are the best and worst outcomes, and what is most likely?
Why am I so sure that it will go wrong?
What evidence is there to confirm this statement, and what evidence is there to refute it?
What would I tell a friend?
Does this thought help me or hurt me?
What would change if I replaced this thought with something more positive?
What balanced thoughts reflect the evidence you discovered in the previous step:
Based on what you have learned in the previous step, how could you make each “what if” question into an accurate statement? (E.g., I am well prepared for the interview. I have the experience and skills they have advertised. I usually receive positive feedback from interviews.)
What are you going to do next?
Based on what you have identified, write a list of actions that may help you be more prepared for the event. (E.g., I will research the company, refresh some of my skills, and talk to others previously interviewed.)
Challenging Catastrophic Thinking
Believing the worst will always happen, and magnifying its likely impact out of proportion, damages an individual’s mental wellbeing. By working through the questions below, one can gain insight into one’s fear and reassurance that the worst outcome is not inevitable. See if you understand that your negative thinking may be out of proportion, and if the worst happens, you have all the skills needed to cope.
You can cognitively restructure when you feel that you are becoming overwhelmed by catastrophic thinking by exploring the reality and facts of a situation rather than letting yourself be carried away by thoughts of “What if…?”
What event are you worried about? Name the event. What are you worried will happen? Specify what you imagine will occur, avoiding “What if?” statements. Instead, rephrase these as precise predictions, e.g., “I won’t get the job.” Rate how awful this will be from 1-10, 10 being unbearable.
What is the likelihood that this will happen? Has something similar happened in the past? Does this happen frequently? If not, what are you basing this on?
Understand the scenarios. What is the best-case scenario? And why? What is the worst-case scenario? And why? Step outside your thought process for a minute and imagine what a friend might say to you about your concerns. How would a friend talk to you about your concern?
If the worst happens, what will you do? If it happened before, how did you cope? Who or what could help you? What could you do to prepare? What skills do you already have that can help you through it? What techniques, strategies, or people could you turn to? What resources could you draw on to deal with the consequences?
What would you say to a friend if they were in this situation? How might you reassure someone in a similar situation? Do you know of anyone who has faced anything similar?
How do you now feel about the event? What are your thoughts, having reviewed the risk and your ability to cope? What is the most reassuring or positive thing you would like to hear? What kind of thing would you like to hear to feel better? What would put your mind at rest, and how would that sound? Rate how terrible you believe it would be out of 100%. Create a narrative about this situation using all the information you have considered.
Cognitive Restructuring of an Event.
Cognitive restructuring can simply proceed by asking yourself,
What was the event?
What are my thoughts about the event?
How can I cognitively restructure those thoughts?
Socratic questioning helps to challenge irrational thoughts. Thoughts are continuing mental narratives. They are fleeting, so we rarely get a chance to challenge them. Follow these steps to capture one or two of these thoughts to analyze them.
Write a specific thought that you suspect is destructive or irrational.
“What I Am Thinking.”
Next, write the supporting facts for and against this thought. What proof is there that this thought is accurate? What proof exists that calls it into question?
“Fact Supporting The Thought.” “Facts Contradicting The Thought.”
Then make a judgment on this thought, specifically whether it is based on evidence or opinion.
“Is this thought based on evidence or opinion?”
Once you have explored the objective support, use the following questions to inquire further.
“What I Am Thinking.”
First, decide whether this thought is truly an either/or situation or whether there are shades of gray. Think about whether you are using all-or-nothing thinking or making things unreasonably simple when they are truly complex.
“Is the situation as black and white as it seems?”
Next, consider whether you could be misinterpreting the evidence or making any unverified assumptions.
“Could I be misinterpreting the facts?”
Then, ask whether other people might have different perspectives on the same situation and what those perspectives might be.
“Could others have different perspectives? Like what?”
Next, ask yourself whether you are looking at all the relevant facts or just those supporting your belief. Be as objective as possible.
“Am I looking at all the facts? Or just “supporting” facts?”
Next, ask whether your thought may be inflating the reality. Some negative thoughts are based on truth but extended past their logical boundaries.
“Could I be overly inflating the facts?”
Next, consider whether you are entertaining this negative thought out of habit or because the facts truly support it.
“Am I entertaining this thought out of habit? Or do the facts truly support it?”
Once you have decided whether the facts support this thought, think about how this thought came to you. Was it passed on from someone else? If so, are they a reliable source of truth?
“How did this thought come to me? Was my source reliable?”
Finally, complete the inquiry by identifying how likely the scenario your thought brings up actually is and whether it is the worst-case scenario.
“How likely is this scenario? Is it a worst-case scenario?”
Doors Closed Doors Open
The end of something is always the beginning of something new. By shifting perspective from focusing on what is not there anymore, one sees the potentials of the future. Optimism is about seeing the doors being opened, holding a favorable view about the future, and turning the closing doors into something beneficial.
Loss can create emotional pain and difficulty that must be acknowledged before moving on to the positive side of a closing door. Too fast a move creates mistrust and breaks rapport.
Think about a time when a door closed in your life and write what the situation was. For example, when someone rejected you, or you missed out on something important, or when a big plan collapsed. What happened afterward; what doors opened? What would have never happened if the first door had closed? Write as many experiences as possible that come to mind.
Now, reflect upon your experiences:
What led to the door closing? What helped you open the new door?
How long did it take you to realize that a new door was open?
Was it easy or hard for you to realize that a new door was open?
What prevented you from seeing the new open door?
What can you do next time to recognize the new opportunity sooner?
What were the effects of the door closing on you? Did it last long?
Did the experience bring anything positive?
Which character strengths did you use in this exercise?
What does a closed door represent to you now?
What did you learn from the door closing?
Is there more room for growth from these types of experiences?
Is there a closed door that you still wish to see open?
Now, think of all the people who have helped you open doors. What did they do to help you? And what could you do to help others?
Wisdom comes from experience, mostly from your struggles. By composing a letter recounting your old and new stories, you can pass on your wisdom and help others who experience similar struggles. Your old story tells how your struggle controlled your life. Your new story is about how you endured those struggles, acquired knowledge, insight, and understanding, and grew as a result.
Sharing your story is kind and compassionate and can also benefit you and the people your story reaches. It helps you express yourself, recognize the skills and strengths that helped you endure tough times, and become the author of your life. Sharing your story also helps others to feel connected and understand that they are not alone, generate ideas and solutions to apply to their problems, recognize that others have been in similar situations and have grown from the experience, and find hope and inspiration. They also learn to reflect upon and gain wisdom from their own experiences.
Conversations are easily forgotten, but writing a wisdom letter has a lasting effect and concrete outcome. Writing also helps sense-making and personal growth. It allows people to recognize their agency and influence on challenging events. It becomes a lasting resource that helps others who face similar challenges.
Your letter will remain anonymous. Write your experience as a success story. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or style; you can later edit as you see fit. The exercise is not concerned with your writing abilities.
Draft your letter. Think about a past struggle or challenging life event that you have overcome. Reflect on your journey following the prompts:
Briefly tell the old story of how your struggles affected your life.
What are the main differences between your old story and your new story?
What specific actions did you take that made these changes possible?
Using the wisdom you have gained, what advice would you give someone facing similar struggles?
Reflection: What was it like to complete this exercise? How does it feel to know your wisdom will benefit others? What did you learn from completing this exercise?
On the receiving end of a wisdom letter, one can read aloud and ask reflective questions to journal insights.
After hearing how the writer overcame struggles similar to your own, how do you feel?
What details of this letter resonate with you most?
What similarities do you see between your experience and that of the writer?
What parts of this story could be applied to your situation? How might you do this?
What details did you find interesting or inspirational?
How has this letter helped you look at your situation from a new perspective?
Using Values to Build Resilience
Reflecting on personal values, clarifying, articulating, and consciously acting on them is a source of strength and buffers physiological and psychological stress responses, attenuates threat perception, and reduces rumination after failure.
Connecting to personal values motivates people to actively engage with challenges, providing purpose and a reason to keep going, even when life events make it hard to go.
Values affirmation builds resilience during stressful life events. It is about managing stress by knowing what you value and helping you get in touch with your personal values.
Unlike goals, which represent what we want to achieve, values are ways of living that can never be obtained like an object and can only be realized from moment to moment. The focus is on what is important to you instead of what you aim to achieve.
Often during stressful times, people focus mostly on dealing with negative things. This exercise helps you to shift from focusing on what is wrong to focusing on what makes life worth living.
Briefly describe the challenging life event that is currently taking place.
Identify reasons to get through the challenge. Why is it worth to you to persevere? List as many reasons as you can.
Identify your values, the things that you consider to be important in life. Think of values that capture the essence of each reason you identified in the previous step. The value should make sense to you personally, and there may be more than one for any of the reasons. Write the values that make persevering through the challenge worthwhile to you.
Stress absorbs so much of our attention that we lose track of what is important to us, making it difficult to stay connected to our values. And yet, values remind us why it is worth it to keep going and take responsibility. Reminders represent values that are important to us. In this step, create a visual reminder of the values you want to honor. Represent your values visually using a piece of paper. Use illustrations, photographs, or words as you wish. Allow yourself to be creative. Let it resonate with you. Put your visual reminder somewhere to see it daily.
Sharing your values reminder with someone is a way of connecting more deeply. It also creates a generative starting point for behavioral change. Use the following questions to discuss for such a conversation:
Looking at your creative values reminder, what are we looking at?
How was it to create your values reminder?
What did you experience while making it?
What did you learn from this exercise?
Building Your Resilience Plan
Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions one can learn and develop. It is not a trait, but a capacity associated with inner strength, competence, optimism, flexibility, and the ability to cope effectively with adversity. How do people overcome challenging life events and experiences? Most people react to such circumstances with a surge of negative affect and uneasiness. Still, over time, they adjust and adapt. People bounce back from adversity because of their inherent resilience: the process, capacity, and outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging circumstances. Resilience is enhanced by minimizing the impact of risk factors and enhancing protective factors, such as optimism, social support, and active coping.
Resilience resources are categorized as supports one can call on, strategies one can use, sagacity (wisdom, discernment, judgment) one can hold onto, and solutions one can find. To develop resilience, one draws on learnings from similar challenges, remembering what one already knows but may have forgotten. What enabled the person to get through a period of difficulty?
Mapping one’s past resilience sources into supports that kept you upright, strategies that kept you moving, sagacity that gave you comfort and hope, and solution-seeking behaviors you showed provides a trusted knowledge of what has worked for you in the past.
Use this map as input to prepare “My Resilience Plan,” for your current “Difficult Situation,” listing the Supports that keep you upright, Strategies that keep you moving, Sagacity that gives you comfort and hope, and Solution-seeking behaviors you can show.
“My Past Sources of Resilience”
Recall a recent resilience example, when you overcame a challenge or setback. Briefly describe this difficulty.
Identify supportive people who kept you standing. Write who you called on for support in the “Supports” area. For example, did you call an old friend, ask a teacher for advice, or perhaps a parent or grandparent gave you a pep talk?
Identify strategies you used to help yourself cope with any negative thoughts and feelings that showed up in response to the difficulty. Write these in the “Strategies” area. For example, did you meditate, write in a gratitude journal, go for a walk, listen to a particular song or type of music, or have a massage to release tension?
Identify the sagacity that helped you bounce back from this difficulty, the wisdom and insight you hold. Write your “Sagacity” and its sources in the appropriate area. It might come from song lyrics, novels, poetry, spiritual writings, quotes from the famous, the sayings of one’s grandparents, or learning from one’s own experience.
Identify solution-seeking behaviors you displayed to help you actively cope with the problem. Write these in the “Solution-seeking” area. For example, did you problem-solve, seek new information, plan, negotiate, speak up and voice your opinion, or ask others for help?
“My Resilience Plan”
Describe a current difficulty or challenge you are facing.
Apply the resilience plan to the current difficulty. Read through your completed “Past Sources of Resilience” and look at how you could use the same or similar resources to help you bounce back from the current difficulty.
Allow some flexibility and tweak these resources according to your current situation, for example, going to a manager for social support instead of a parent to get support in the face of a work-related problem.
Carry out your resilience plan. Put it into action. Consider the order to use your different supports, strategies, sagacity, and solution-seeking behaviors. Which resource is most feasible to start with? Often this is the smallest step you can take, such as calling your partner. On your resilience plan, place the number 1 next to the first resource you will use. Then, continue to number your different resources in the order you would feasibly use them.
Then, work through your resilience plan in order until you have overcome this difficulty.
Evaluate your resilience plan. Discuss the following:
How did you carry out your resilience plan? Did it help you bounce back from this difficulty?
What resources were most helpful to you? Why?
What resources were least helpful to you? Why?
Did you not use any resources, and if so, why?
Is there anything you would like to add to your resilience plan?
In what life areas could you use your resilience plan? How might things improve for you?