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How To Build Greater Resilience (A Complete Guide)

In this guide, you’ll learn the crucial steps to building resilience so that you can respond to any adversity that may show up in your life.

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What is resilience?

“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. 

The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”


You’ll find the dictionary definition of resilience everywhere these days. Resilience has become a popular topic in the workplace, self help podcasts, and has even filtered into the health and wellness space.

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

As a pain management physician, I believe resilience is one of the core components of building and maintaining health. I’ve counseled hundreds of patients in my clinic on how resilience will positively impact their current health and allow them to have better health in the future, especially when it comes to managing chronic conditions.

Resilience is the special sauce that gives us that edge. It’s the difference between the person who falls off the horse and quits and the one that hops right back on and becomes the next John Wayne riding off into the sunset in a Hollywood western. 

Consider a field full of different kinds of trees. A storm rolls through with wind and rain that strikes the trees from all directions. A strong, but flexible bamboo shoot will bend and flex, but stand strong once the storm passes. On the other hand, the branches of a rigid tree will snap and be broken by the force of the wind. 

“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times.”

Ping Fu

By fostering a strong, but flexible approach to life’s natural course, you become like the bamboo- adaptable in the face of adversity, being able to weather the storms, allowing you to come out stronger on the other side.

Flower growing among metal

Breaking down theory

The theory of resilience dates back to the 1970s during psychology studies in children. It was noted that some children, even when exposed to distressing situations, seemed to recover more easily than others

Psychologists began to ask the question, “why?”. Why did some children seem to develop mental health disorders while others did not? As the researchers asked more questions, they found that the answer opened up a whole new field of psychology – the theory of resilience.

Why is resilience so important?

Life is always going to throw you challenges. It might be something big like losing a job or a loved one or something small like hitting traffic on the way to work. If we allow our negative emotions to take control, we put ourselves at risk of spiraling into the negativity. However, with resilience, we can work through whatever issue is going on and move forward in our life.

Resilience makes you stronger. Having gone through one experience and knowing you can make it through allows you to face similar experiences, more readily in the future. With each new experience, you begin to know what you’re made of. 

Resilience is protective. Your health is largely based on choices you make everyday. By developing the ability to remain positive and see the joy in difficult times, you will reduce the natural stress response thereby maintaining better health.

Resilience is cumulative. Every time you successfully work through a challenging situation, you become empowered to face future challenges with as much grace and thoughtfulness. 

How do you build resilience?

The good news, resilience is not a trait that people either have or don’t have. Resilience is a skill that can be developed and nurtured. Just like any skill, the more you practice, the more second nature it becomes.

Practice gratitude. Taking notice of what you have in your life allows you to put it all in perspective. When you spend time being grateful for the big (and little) things present in your life, you can become more appreciative. This allows you to put the “not so great moments” into better perspective.

practicing gratitude to promote resilience
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Learn from experience. Past trials and tribulations can be an excellent way to find out what works and what doesn’t work. You can reflect back on times when you faced something difficult and decide if you how you handled it allowed for the best outcome. If not, you might choose a different strategy in the future.

Remain hopeful. Hope is a powerful tool that is associated with positive energy. By being hopeful, you keep moving in a positive direction, even if you find yourself in a difficult situation. Hope is another skill that you can you develop. I had a patient recently say to me, “so, there’s no hope.” Sadly, this is a defeatist mindset. I can offer him solutions, but I can’t give him that hope. Hope is an internal process that you can project out in the world around you.

Be kind to yourself. Sometimes we will spiral in negative patterns or ways of thinking. Challenging situations are considered challenging for a reason. It’s okay (and actually necessary) to feel and process negative emotions like anger, resentment, and grief. In those moments, be kind to yourself. Know that this state is temporary and there will still be many good times in the future. Work through the feelings and continue to move forward.

Going deep. Deep, internal work is probably the most difficult step in building resilience. When you experience life at a superficial level, usually by shutting off your connection to your inner being or higher self, you never fully connect with your power. By learning to quiet your internal dialogue and shut out the external world, you can develop a deeper connection to your own healing.

Developing your internal Locus of Control. When you believe that you have control over the outcome of an experience, you are displaying a strong internal Locus of Control. The ability to acknowledge you have control in any situation, even if it’s just controlling your reaction to the situation, will make you more adept at handling anything that’s thrown your way.

Connection. While working through any difficult situation is primarily an internal process, having a supportive circle of friends and family is really important as well. Even having one person that you trust to be there for you can help you stay on track and keep perspective as you process whatever it is you’re going through.

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