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The Resilience Mindset: Embracing Challenge, Control, and Commitment

The Resilience Mindset

What is it?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, stresses or difficult challenges. It’s not about avoiding problems, but adapting positively when faced with them, rather than becoming overwhelmed. Resilience involves maintaining self-care, developing coping strategies and finding ways to potentially grow from setbacks.

Many assume that resilient individuals are just naturally hardy or mentally tough. However, the truth is that resilience emerges from a combination of attitudes, skills and habits that can absolutely be learned and developed.

Why is it important?

There are many benefits to becoming a more resilient person:

  • Resilience is linked to better performance, productivity and achieving goals.

  • It helps reduce the negative emotional impact of stress and trauma.

  • Resilience improves overall mental well-being and life satisfaction.

  • It enables quicker adaptation and recovery after major life disruptions.

  • Resilient people tend to have better physical health outcomes.

Those with resilience are better equipped to regulate difficult emotions, maintain motivation and continue functioning effectively despite obstacles or setbacks. In the face of unrelenting stresses, resilient people can adapt their responses flexibly, call upon their coping resources and solve problems creatively.

Conversely, when resilience is underdeveloped, individuals become more vulnerable to negative impacts from stress and adversity. Those with low resilience tend to struggle with regulating intense emotions like anxiety, anger, or despair in difficult situations. This compromises their ability to cope constructively and make wise decisions.

How do you build, grow, learn and develop it? What gets in the way?

Research by psychologist Susan Kobasa identified three key factors - the attitudes of challenge, control, and commitment - as essential for developing psychological hardiness and resilience.

One of the principal strategies for building resilience is to embrace challenges rather than avoid them. People with a resilient mindset approach challenges with an open, flexible attitude - seeing them as temporary obstacles to navigate using their resources and capabilities. This mentality allows resilient individuals to remain engaged and persist through adversity instead of succumbing to helplessness.

Seeking out challenges voluntarily, whether it's pursuing a difficult goal, taking on new responsibilities, or intentionally leaving one's comfort zone, exercises the "resilience muscle". Facing challenges head-on provides practice in developing coping strategies and problem-solving skills.

However, this does not mean accepting or creating unnecessary hardships. The aim is to strike a balance by taking on challenges at a level that feels manageable in stretching to facilitate resilience growth in a healthy, sustainable way.

Susan Kobasa's work emphasises having a sense of control as another key factor in developing resilience. Resilient individuals have an internalised belief that they can influence and exercise control over events in their lives, rather than feeling helpless against external forces. This sense of control provides motivation to take proactive steps and find solutions when faced with adversity. People high in resilience tend to focus on the aspects of a difficult situation that they can directly impact or change through their own efforts and resources. They avoid catastrophising over circumstances entirely beyond their control.

Developing resilience involves honing skills like goal-setting, planning, problem-solving and self-regulation, reinforcing an internal locus of control. As people utilise these skills to manage stressors and achieve objectives, it builds confidence in their ability to shape outcomes.

The third element, commitment, refers to having a sense of purpose, motivation and investment toward values, goals and roles that are meaningful to you. When you are deeply committed to something larger than yourself - whether it's your career, relationships, education, personal growth or core values - you can draw upon greater reserves of persistence and grit to push through obstacles. There is a "why" driving you forward.

Adversity becomes more manageable when framed as a temporary obstacle toward an overarching purpose you're devoted to, rather than feeling rudderless and questioning why you should keep trying.

Alongside resilient attitudes, nurturing physical and emotional well-being through self-care is crucial for replenishing and safeguarding resilience. When we neglect our own needs during stressful periods, it depletes our resilience reserves and makes us more susceptible to burnout, exhaustion, and being overwhelmed.

Engaging in self-care activities helps restore balance by reducing stress levels, regulating emotions, boosting mood and replenishing energy stores. This can include exercising, eating nutritious foods, getting sufficient sleep, practising relaxation techniques like yoga and pursuing hobbies.

I often hear clients say they’re too busy to take breaks, however, taking periodic respites from ongoing stressors is necessary to avoid resilience depletion. Just as muscles need recovery periods after exertion, our resilience requires time free from excessive demands to recuperate. Take brief mental breaks, small holidays, delegate tasks when possible - take any opportunity to temporarily disengage from chronic strain. 

Without these self-care supports and pressure-relieving periods, the unrelenting stress can cause our coping resources to erode. We become imbalanced, with potentially negative impacts on our resilience, decision-making, productivity and overall well-being.

Resilience is an ongoing process of strengthening your inner resources as you navigate through adversity and challenges. To strengthen your resilience reserves, ask yourself thought-provoking questions such as:

  • What limiting beliefs am I holding about my ability to handle difficulties? How can I shift my mindset?

  • What aspects of my current stressors am I able to influence or change through my efforts?

  • What values, goals or purposes am I deeply committed to, no matter the obstacles?

  • How can I set better boundaries or create respites from excessive demands?


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