How to strengthen resilience?



Our everyday working lives are hectic and stressful. As a result, many people today are suffering from burnout. Some people, though, seem to be immune to stress. No professional challenge or personal crisis throws them off track, no matter how great. According to scientists, such people have resilience. And based on the abundant literature (including the expertise of neuroscientist Raffael Kalisch), people can nurture resilience regardless of their genetic makeup. The only issue is how! How can you strengthen resilience?

What characteristics does a resilient person have?

Before diving into measures that strengthen resilience, it is best to summarize the characteristics of a resilient person. A highly resilient person has a certain mindset. This mindset allows such an individual to evaluate challenges uniquely. In short, a highly resilient individual will exhibit at least six elements, also called the "pillars of resilience" (or the so-called six resilience factors).

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Resilient people accept that problems and crises are part of life. They accept them as challenges that can be overcome.


A healthy optimism helps resilient people in difficult situations. They have no illusions, but assume a positive course of events in situations of uncertainty.


Resilient individuals trust and believe in their abilities and competencies. They are convinced that they can make a difference.

Personal responsibility

Resilient people are aware that they are not responsible for causing everything that happens to them. However, they recognize that they are responsible for how they respond to and deal with situations. Instead of seeing themselves only as "victims of circumstances," they strive to solve problems on their own.

Network orientation

A stable social network provides support in difficult situations. Resilient people cultivate their relationships with friends and family and do not hesitate to ask them for help and support.

Solution orientation

Instead of only seeing the difficulty of a problem, resilient people focus on the fact that there are always possible solutions. They orient themselves to these with the knowledge that once they have implemented them, they will emerge from a crisis stronger.

How to strengthen resilience?

To strengthen resilience, negative associations must be unlearned. Examples of such are statements and thoughts such as "I can't do it.", "I'm not good enough.", "Why always me?" etc.

These negative beliefs are in absolute contrast to those beliefs exhibited by a strongly resilient person. Their mindset would look more like "I can do this.", "I am good enough.", "I can learn this." etc.

In therapy, training, or coaching, the goal of resilience is to not only unlearn negative beliefs but also to relearn positive associations. The following seven techniques can address this unlearning and relearning process and ultimately strengthen resilience.

Seligman's learned optimism

Coping with change becomes more challenging when that change brings Negative Life Events (NLEs). Such events include losing a loved one, rejection, or job loss, often leading to depression. In 2006, Martin E. P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology, published his bestselling book "Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life." Drawing on more than 20 years of clinical research, Seligman provides a blueprint on how to overcome depression, boost your immune system, and make yourself happier. Through many techniques, individuals can break an "I-give-up" attitude in front of adversity.

One of the techniques inspired by Seligman's learned optimism and often used in therapy or coaching is the "Doors Closed, Doors Opened"exercise. The point is that each opportunity lost or missed (Doors Closed) leads to other openings or horizons (Doors Opened). By writing down both aspects of an event, you become aware of what prevents you from seeing the future with optimism, identifying untapped potential, and building resilience for similar "Doors Closed" events.

Reaffirming personal values

The research has shown that tapping into personal values can enhance resilience in dealing with stress. Resilient school leaders have emphasized the significance of privately clarifying, publicly expressing, and consciously acting on core values as a powerful tool to face challenges head-on and emerge stronger than before. Affirmations centered around personal beliefs mitigate perceived threats, minimize overthinking after setbacks and decrease defensive reactions toward threatening information. Connecting with one's innermost convictions can provide an invaluable source of strength during tough times.

According to a conducted by Creswell and his team (2005) , reflecting on personal values can help reduce physiological and psychological stress responses. During the study, participants were given either a value-affirmation or control task before participating in the designated stressful situation. Those who affirmed their values displayed significantly lower cortisol levels than those in the control group. These findings suggest that pondering over personal beliefs could potentially keep low levels of neuroendocrine and psychological reactions toward pressure. Interestingly enough, even brief writing exercises (simply writing one-word values you hold dear) have been shown through research studies to produce long-lasting positive effects with dramatic outcomes for individuals experiencing high-stress environments.

The Four S's

The four S's exercise (or Resilience plan), designed by dr. Lucinda Poole and Dr. Hugo Alberts, helps individuals recall how they coped with past challenges - where they found support, what strategies such individuals used, what sagacity reflected, and what solutions they found. By recalling these four resources, you can discover a proven path to overcoming similar but current challenges.

Variations of the Four S's exercise will emerge in coaching sessions targeting resilience. One of the most remarkable features of this tool is that it builds trust by relying on past successes. Even though some actions may appear odd to outsiders (such as listening to a song on repeat, meditating, playing with a dog), they have worked in the past for a person and can work again. As a result, every resilience plan is customized and holds personal significance and practical value. Trust in personalized methods leads to greater confidence when faced with adversity – making this exercise an invaluable asset!

Reality check

Not all, but many problems are self-made. High expectations of oneself, demand for perfection, and the goal to perform better and better with scarce resources have become the new normal in today's business world. Instead of subjecting yourself to such pressure, talk to employees or superiors and get a realistic assessment of performance expectations. In this way, you can remove or at least minimize self-made problems.


Strengthening resilience does not mean learning to hold out longer, accomplish more in a stressed state, and without relaxing. That does not promote strength. On the contrary, it overloads you! Regular rest is necessary to strengthen resilience. Take a time out every day during which you pursue leisure activities. Not only does this help you "switch off," but it often leads to you coming up with the best ideas and solutions.

Contact friends and family

In our hectic workday, friends and family often get short shrift. Yet a stable and well-functioning social network is crucial to our mental health, resilience, and crisis competence. On the one hand, good friends and family offer us stability and support in difficult times. On the other hand, communicating with them allows us to change our perspective and thus may reveal new ways of solving a problem.

Make pending decisions

For many, the fear of not making the right decision leads to no decision-making. Many avoid making decisions by seeking irrelevant insights or preferring others to decide on their behalf. However, this inevitably leads to stress, builds pressure, and increases anxiety. As long as a decision is still pending, it is constantly on your mind and robs you of valuable time and energy you could use elsewhere. Therefore, make a conscious effort to make decisions that are still pending. After all, in many cases, there is no such thing as "the" right decision; often, making a decision is what matters.


Understanding the importance of resilience and trying to shift your thought process can be incredibly beneficial. Adopting a more optimistic outlook and focusing on the power of positive thinking can change your life in remarkable ways. Resilience is a necessary skill to have to cope with life's challenges, and by working on this trait, you can become increasingly better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you.

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FAQ: How to strengthen resilience?

Why is resilience attractive to recruiters?

Candidates with higher levels of resilience are attractive to recruiters because they likely have great self-awareness, adapt fast, have high emotional intelligence, and have high above-average problem-solving skills.

What are some relevant metaphors for resilience?

Rubber bands, bamboo trees, and seesaws are relevant metaphors for resilience due to their nature of bouncing back.

Does resilience increase with age?

Various studies show that resilience does not decline with age. Considering other factors, such as physical health, older adults are at least as resilient as younger adults. That is quite telling, as it means a generally higher mental resilience across more aged adults.