by Stephanie Shelburne, Ph.D.

The word RESILIENCE has become quite the buzzword in current media and marketing. Terms and concepts related to the idea of being resilient seem to pack quite a bit of value-added to products and services that claim to make you more resilient.

Clearly, as a public, we love the word and we love the idea of being resilient but what does it really mean?

Resilience is much more than just a buzzword. It’s also more than being prepared for adversity, an emergency, or disaster event or situation. Resilience is a lifestyle, a way of living and being.

Resilience is more than a buzzword… it’s a lifestyle.

If you are interested in the subject of resilience you may have noticed there is a wide variety of resilience definitions and discussion. There is Psychological Resilience which is identified as the ability to mentally and emotionally cope with stress and hardship.

There is Physical Resilience, which is, you guessed it, the ability to bounce back from illness or injury or adapt positively to disability.

There is Community Resilience, which is, of course, focused on how aspects of a community can come together to influence their ability to respond to disaster or other adverse situations.

And because it has become such a marketable topic, there are many other aspects of resilience that have been dissected from our daily lives; financial resilience, economic resilience, dietary resilience, and on and on. Basically, they all refer to one’s ability to respond effectively to adversity in any guise that it might present itself.

At LLR we organize this response-ability into the realms of Survival Resilience.

However, situations of adversity aren’t the only times in our life that require resilience for successful navigation. How well we respond and adapt to change is also a type of resilience. At LLR we refer to this as Transformative Resilience.

What does it take to be able to respond to either survival or transformative resilience?

The U.S. governmental initiative, HealthyPeople 2020, discusses quality of life and well-being as a key component to establishing resilient individuals and communities.

Basically, this means, what tools, traits, and characteristics do you have in your tool bag to assist with your response-ability? Your tool bag contains your Response-Ability; which experts identify as your Resilience Quotient… yep, your R.Q.

Some people just seem to have more of the characteristics found in highly resilient people, but that doesn’t mean that the ones who don’t, can’t learn and practice different skills and enhance their own response-abilities. Any activities that help you recognize the biopsychosocial needs of yourself as an individual and create opportunity to deepen and grow internally, externally, and as a community are activities that add to your R.Q.

What are the characteristics of Resilience?

Adaptability – Research demonstrates that both success and failure result from how one responds or copes with complexity. Successful adaptation is tied to the ability to anticipate and recognize risk/threat, and then the ability to manage any adverse conditions that arise as a result of risk. “Failure” results from an absence of adaptability. In the case of resilience, we could identify ‘failure’ as brittleness. If one is unable to adapt, the concurrent brittleness results in breakage.

Internal Locus of Control – An internal locus of control is the result of feeling like no matter what comes your way, you will be able to handle it. It can also be identified as self-agency.  While you may not be able to control what happens in your external world, events or situations that are stressful or uncomfortable, you can control how you will respond internally.

Self-Commitment – Self-commitment is more than self-esteem and, in my opinion, goes hand in hand with integrity. When an individual has a strong sense of self-commitment, they are determined to stand up for themselves, stay true to the things that provide meaning and maintain a sense of self.

Optimism – Are you a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” kind of person? Being on the “glass half full” side of things increases your resilience quotient exponentially. When you are able to be genuinely optimistic, even in the face of adversity, it signals your body, mind, and spirit to keep going and stay strong. Hope, faith, trust, they are all facets of the belief or perception that things can and will get better or turn out okay. This is optimism.

Flexibility – Flexibility tends to travel hand in hand with adaptability. Flexibility is the ability to be malleable, shifting and changing with the best options in any given moment. I think of flexibility in terms of homeodynamics. A homeodynamic quality is that of being able to find balance within an ever-changing environment.

Problem Solving – Problem-solving skills are critical competencies that allow you to use the tools of flexibility, adaptability, self-commitment, and every other characteristic of resilience (and then some) and apply them to the situation at hand for the best possible solution or response. Resilient problem solving requires an open mind as echoed by one of my favorite Einstein quotes: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

Emotional awareness/Intelligence – Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and respond to not just our own emotional state but also that of those around us. It is the main component of Emotional Intelligence. Emotional awareness contributes to resilience by allowing an individual to recognize and move through emotional states that might otherwise impede the ability to adapt and respond to a situation of adversity.

Social Support – Social support is often also recognized as the ability to form secure attachments and foster balanced and nurturing relationships. When we are able to participate in balanced relationships both on an ‘inner circle’ level and a wider community level, it allows us to tap into deeper levels of response to adversity. Social support includes the ability to identify and ask for help when necessary as well as the ability to provide help/support when necessary.

Sense of Humor – Yes, believe it or not, having a good sense of humor is a characteristic of resilience. A sense of humor allows us to ‘lighten up’ in the face of adversity or complexity. From a psychological perspective when we are able to take things lighter, we can loosen the hold that the perception of danger might have on our nervous system. A sense of humor allows us to ‘thrive’ even during adverse situations.

While other characteristics have been identified as positive influences on resilience, these nine seem to be the most consistently identified across the board in a wide variety of psychometric guides and scales.

So, which of these are your strong points? How adaptable are you to change? Or what about your sense of humor?

Remember resilience is like a muscle, it’s something you can build and strengthen, so it’s worth taking time each day to do something that enhances one or more of the identified characteristics. Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how to begin inventory the tools, skills, and assets that make up your R.Q.  and even provide some thoughts on where to expand.