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.

Focusing on solutions

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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!

4. 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.

Leaders who set realistic expectations have more productive teams and can better manage their workload and lower stress levels. According to research published by the Review of Public Personnel Administration (ROPPA), leaders who set unrealistic expectations for themselves and their employees experienced more stress, which led to decreased productivity. On the other hand, managers who set achievable goals kept their stress levels in check and cultivated a positive work environment.

Optimism is important, but it has to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality.

Konstantin Guericke

Giants in the tech industry, such as Google and Meta Platforms, encourage an attitude or realistic expectations among their managers. Google, for instance, encourages employees to break down their goals into small, achievable tasks. Meanwhile, Meta promotes open communication between managers and employees to ensure everyone is on the same page about performance expectations. These reality check programs have improved employee productivity and reduced stress levels, resulting in a more resilient and capable workforce.

5. Relax

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.

There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.

Alan Cohen

Each minute off-work is precious, so make the most out of it. One way to leverage even brief pauses at a maximum is mindfulness meditation. All you need is a quiet place with a comfortable seat and a focus on breathing. Those who engage in mindfulness meditation can increase their resilience and improve their decision-making abilities. Additionally, this mindfulness technique can help to reduce stress levels and improve overall mental health. Therefore, taking time for relaxation techniques like mindfulness or other coachable relaxation exercises is fundamental to every leader's daily routine.

6. Stay in touch with family and friends

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.

You need to surround yourself with people who are supportive, who challenge you, and who want to see you succeed in your personal and business life.

Karren Brady

Research indicates that family and friends play a significant role in successful people's social networks. They offer stability, support, and perspectives that can make a huge difference in difficult times. Constant communication with your inner circle can generate positive emotions, an outcome directly associated with stronger resilience. Also, social support from family and friends can provide emotional support, practical assistance, and resources that help people navigate stressful situations successfully. It can also help individuals to overcome setbacks faster. Harnessing the positive energy of social networks can also foster a sense of connection and belonging, which can help reduce stress and enhance resilience.

7. Make pending decisions

Making decisions can be challenging for leaders or managers, especially if the decision is crucial and impacts their organization. However, the fear of not making the right decision can lead to analysis paralysis and avoidance, resulting in stress, pressure, and anxiety. Agonizing over a decision that is still pending is a waste of valuable time and energy. Successful leaders know that making any decision is better than not deciding at all. There is rarely a perfect or right decision, so you should decide on issues requiring attention.

By making conscious decisions, managers can take control of their circumstances and create an environment of trust among their team members. Over time, this habit of focused decision-making can increase confidence and build resilience, enabling them to tackle more significant challenges promptly.

A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken a new action. If there's no new action, you haven't truly decided.

Tony Robbins

Making pending decisions requires a balance of rational analysis and intuitive judgment. A Rational analysis provides a framework for identifying options and weighing outcomes. Meanwhile, intuitive judgment can help decision-makers choose the best option based on their experiences, values, and context. The ability to make informed and timely decisions using rational analysis and intuitive judgment is a vital skill leaders must develop to enhance their resilience, build trust, and drive their organizations forward.


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.

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