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Building Resilience: Developing Inner Strength to Survive and Thrive.

What is resilience and how do you know if you have it?  First off, resilience is not a diagnosis, and you cannot get a prescription for it.  Resilience is one of life’s qualities that can only be earned.  It is an individual’s ability to respond positively to unexpected hardships, to bounce back from life’s unexpected challenges.  Someone who is resilient develops strengths to adjust to the weather, rather than curse the rain. 


Frequently, when resilience is required, an individual or a group of individuals have suffered

an unanticipated hardship.  This can be an overwhelming medical diagnosis, or maybe a loved one has died unexpectedly.  Perhaps a calamitous weather event or a fire has taken your home from you.  Maybe you lost your job, and your prospects for quick hire are bleak.  Your quantity of resilience is the capacity and speed at which you recover from this tragedy.  Now, resilience does not make the pain go away, and it does not undo your emotions or feelings of loss.  Resilience is your capacity and efficiency at which you respond to the hardship.


While a home may be rebuilt, physical memories may be permanently washed away.  While someone can get a new job, feelings of instability may remain.  The sudden death of a loved one can feel like the permanent removal of a crucial pillar in an individual’s life. How we adjust to hardships and get back on track to refocus on meaningful life goals when we may feel like our own capacity to get out of bed in the morning feels impossible?  This is where resilience is built, and where growth thrives.


In today's fast-paced world of constant news and interminably new information, sometimes it feels impossible to simply sit with any information and just be present.  If we are expected to sit with bad news, that can feel downright impossible. 


Picture you are sitting with a loved one in a medical waiting room.  It does not matter who is waiting for the test results, the wait seems like forever.  Now imagine the facility does not offer wifi and you have spotty internet.  And you have already read all the magazines.  Now you are even more aware of the passing of time.  You were not prepared for this circumstance, and maybe you do not want it.  Not all slow time is bad, right?  Maybe you are not waiting for medical lab results.  Maybe you are in the hospital waiting on the birth of a grandchild or godchild.  Take a second of mindfulness, notice how your brain and emotions shifted over the totality of this paragraph.  Then remember that resilience comes in all forms.


Maybe your resilience is that you are forced to sit and wait to hear about a job you just

interviewed for, and you really want it.  You may be anticipating whether you need to plan to move to a new city, versus doing more job interviews you are dreading.  Here you sit.  And wait.  You cannot rush the results you are eagerly anticipating.  Sitting.  Waiting.  Maybe that is why you are reading this article.  Just waiting, and as soon as the person or thing you are waiting for arrives, you will close this tab.  I would encourage you to have the resilience to come back and read for more tips. 


The ability to cultivate resilience has become increasingly challenging in this life of instantaneous feedback, and that is why it is a skill that is more important than ever.  Overcoming the wait, overcoming the pain, overcoming the setbacks, that is where resilience lives.  Let’s talk about it a little, and ways you may be able to build some for yourself.


Resilience can be recovery; it can also be patience.


Understanding Resilience:

Resilience is not just about bouncing back; it's also about bouncing forward. People who are resilient face the same challenges everyone else does.  They feel sadness, frustration, and anger just as non-resilient people do.  The difference is that resilient people grieve their losses and regroup.  They celebrate their wins, and prepare for the next victory.  They navigate their circumstances, learn the lessons that need to be gleaned, and emerge stronger on the other side. 


“I lost my job… I liked the job I had. And when I lost it, I didn't pitch anything. I didn't stage a nutty. I fought you, I lost, I had a drink, I took a shower.  'Cause that's how it is in the NBA. You know what I do when I win? Two drinks!”

-Amy Gardner, The West Wing, S4.E4. Red Mass.


Resilient individuals develop a mindset that focuses on future orientation, accepting that neither victory nor defeat, glory nor hardship, is a personal judgement on them as an individual.  Resilient people understand that no matter how much work you put in, no matter how much preparation goes into their actions, sometimes you win second place. 


In the Summer Olympics, the average time for a gold medal winner is between 9.6 seconds and 10 seconds.  On the other hand, the average time for a silver medal winner is between 9.6 seconds and 10 seconds (  To get to the olympics and come in second place is considered

unsuccessful by most measures, and yet these athletes keep going.  Whether you go home with gold or silver, there is another race or another practice tomorrow.  The resilient runners keep moving forward.  They are on to the next race, the next opportunity.  That is resilience.  The resilient athlete plans to win their next time out, no matter how they did today.  The resilient individual accepts that the sun actually will  come out tomorrow.  And they hold onto that awareness in order to maintain a sense of hope and optimism that things will be better tomorrow. 



Factors Influencing Resilience:

While some people may naturally possess resilience, all people can build it.  Resilience is not determined solely by genetics, nor is it sold on late night tv. Resilience comes through focus and through drive, and the ability to acknowledge that today’s shortcoming is merely feedback for tomorrow’s victories.



Cultivating Resilience:

1.      Show yourself compassion.  Typically, resilience is most needed after suffering a setback.  Feeling your feelings is a form of recovery.  If you are feeling sad or angry, stuffing it down can delay resilience.  Acknowledge these emotions, participate in a self-care hobby or activity that can distract you and/or bring you joy.  Processing emotions positively is healthy, especially in the long run; and developing resilience is playing for the long run.


2.      Cultivate a Growth Mindset by Hearing Hard Truths: Remember, failure is feedback.  You didn’t get the job?  If you can learn why, you are better prepared for the next opportunity.  If you did poorly on a paper in school or at work and your teacher or your boss

gave you feedback, they are providing you a roadmap to success.  If you have questions on their feedback, just ask!  Them correcting you is their encouraging you to make progress.  Feedback is something to be excited for, not to dread.  When you embrace the challenges

as opportunities for growth and learning, that is when big success is coming your way.  When you push away feedback, your boss or teacher or coach may be slower to offer feedback.  This is not  where you want to be.  Accept the feedback, and focus on areas of growth, both in the short and long-term.


3.      Build Strong Relationships: Every person you meet, professionally and personally can be an essential support at some point in your life.  When you are struggling, your strong connections may be the people who can help support you.  Additionally, seek out mentors; experts you can use as role models.  If you want to learn to run a race or build a widget, model someone who has been there before.  And, as discussed just above, when they offer you feedback you do not love, accept it as coming from a caring place and space. When you are successful, your strong connections will hopefully be there to support you

****An essential part of building strong relationships is being there for your connections when they are in need of your support.  And if a strong support comes to you and says they have a person who needs a mentor, you step up and pay it forward.


4.      Develop Recovery Strategies: Identify healthy coping mechanisms is part of resilience.  In growth there is pain, and just as there is pain, recovery is essential.  Whether you enjoy mindfulness walks in the woods, playing a round of golf, painting a picture, or singing a song, make sure there is time in your schedule to do the things you love.  If you do not have

a hobby, you are encouraged to start trying new things.  Figure out what brings you joy.  Don’t try to be perfect at it, simply try to draw pleasure from it.

Folding laundry and household chores do not count as a recovery strategy, unless this genuinely brings you joy.  Resilience is built by knowing how to manage your own stress before someone feels the need to check in on you.  Taking a forced timeout for an hour today could lead to far better successes tomorrow. 

         Remember, vacation is not a four-letter word. 


5.      Practice Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, especially when things are not going as you would like.  Recognize that no matter how much you work and prepare, so did the person you were competing with.  Their victory was not necessarily a sign that they were better.  Tomorrow is your next opportunity for massive success.  Self-reflection and growth, self-compassion and acceptance are all part of resilience.


6.      Practice Moderating Celebration:  Sometimes a part of resilience is victory.  You did get the job, you did win the race.  And still, the sun comes up tomorrow.  You have new tasks and obligations to be mindful of, and attentive to.  Enjoy your day in the sun today, because tomorrow, there are tasks to focus on.


7.      Cultivate Optimism: Train yourself to focus on the positive aspects of situations.  No matter how the wind blows or the ball bounces, maintaining a future orientation and a hopeful outlook for the future will help with those days where positivity seems like a challenge. Practice gratitude and mindfulness toward yourself and others, and know that being ready for tomorrow will bring a greater chance for success… tomorrow.




And so let it be said, building resilience is a lifelong journey that requires effort, self-awareness, and practice.  Sometimes it takes the help of experts.  Asking for help from a mental health counselor can be a tremendous sign of strength.  Learning to develop resilience can take insights, especially from a supportive outsider.  We at Willow Grove Counseling are here to cheer you on, offer you guidance, and support all throughout your path.

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