Equipping Individuals, Leaders, & Organizations Facing Challenge and Change

Resilience Factors:

Building Individual and Team Capacity
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No matter your living location, job title, social demographic, or political persuasion, life lends itself to suffering, hardship, and trials. While circumstances are unique to each person, no one is exempt. The ability of an individual to be resilient through whatever circumstances come will dictate their ability to thrive in life. The question then becomes, “How do I develop or enhance my resilience?”

We must first ask what it is that gives a person endurance. What personality qualities, skill sets, or values make one person able to persevere longer than another? What is it that keeps some in the game when others bow out? Can these qualities be developed?[1]

For the answers to these questions, we sorted through various sources and studies. While some varying language was used to describe characteristics of resilient people, commonalities in descriptions led us to categorically identify ten different but overlapping factors that were common to people who endured challenging situations in a healthy manner. These categories are the factors listed below.

In this document, we have adapted these ten factors and then used the collective experience of The Resilience Resource team to deduce and extrapolate the visible characteristics and potential steps one can take to enhance and develop each factor.

We hope you find this information beneficial to building your resilience and combatting the burnout and compassion fatigue that can come from facing life’s challenges. 

TRAINING[2]

Definition: Training, preparation, and planning before the incident. There is an old saying that when challenges come, “you do not rise to the occasion, but rather fall to your level of training.”[3] Those who train for challenges before the moment of crisis tend to navigate the event itself and the aftermath in a healthier way.[4]

Visible Signs:

  • Physically fit[5]
  • Intentional prioritizing of work, play, and relationships
  • Practicing or exploring healthy outlets, hobbies
  • Expression and follow through on personal boundaries
  • Self-Aware
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Unafraid to seek help and aware of personal limitations 

Tools for physical, mental, and emotional fitness:

  • Eat well and stay hydrated.
  • Give your brain rest from stimulation—especially electronic.
  • Develop a sleep/wake routine.
  • Identify activities that recharge you, and manage your time with these activities included regularly.
  • Develop a plan for physical fitness.
  • Rehearse critical incident responses.
  • Take self-assessments to increase your awareness of your strengths and limitations. 

ROLE MODELS[6]

Definition: Individuals with character qualities identified as worth emulating Role models should be more than successful people. Resilient people look for individuals who have specific character qualities that they want to develop in their own life.

Visible Signs:

  • Actively being mentored
  • Proactively seeking accountability
  • Provide and receive healthy affirmation
  • Thriving long term friendships, relationships
  • Transparency in humility and being teachable
  • Receives correction well 

Identifying sturdy role models:

  • Find a mentor—someone older than yourself. Someone that you admire for their character, not just what they have achieved.
  • Read biographies while intentionally looking for character qualities that you want to copy in your own life.
  • Watch people that you do not want to emulate with a “what not to do” perspective. 

SOCIAL SUPPORT

Definition: Being surrounded and engaged with a community Statistics show a direct correlation between lack of healthy social support and the development of PTSD following trauma.[7] Turning to find the help of family, friends, and loved ones is often the first line of defense for resilient people. 

Visible Signs: 

  • Thriving community
  • Intentional investment in meaningful relationships
  • Willingness to press into a relationship even when it seems one-sided or difficult
  • Quick to forgive
  • Intentional and meaningful communication with family and support even over distance
  • Prioritizes developing relationships when transitioning to a new environment  

Building a social support network:

  • Stay connected with family and friends remotely with personal audio and video communication. Do not rely on social networks like Facebook and Instagram for your contact.
  • Work to build deep friendships with colleagues that reach beyond work.
  • Take time to invest in relationships outside of work.
  • Find one or two people with whom you can be vulnerable about your needs and struggles.
  • Teach others how to support you
    • Communicate your expectations
    • Ask for and show honesty and grace
  • Participate in community or team activities—meals, social events, video calls, outdoor recreation, etc.
  • Avoid withdrawal from uncomfortable situations
  • Engage in hard conversations for the benefit of another
  • Actively participate in resolving conflict 

These first three factors represent EXTERNAL AIDS for resilience that people access before, during, and after crises. 

ACTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING

Definition: Seeing the problem beyond the symptoms (particularly emotional reactions) and resolving the root issues.[8] Relying heavily on mental and emotional flexibility, Active Problem Solving allows a survivor to focus on solutions rather than getting bogged down in the circumstances 

Visible Signs: 

  • Quick and accurate decision making
  • Possesses good communication skills
  • Makes conclusions based on fact and reality and truth instead of speculation and emotion[9]
  • Patient and longsuffering
  • Active listening
  • Work gets accomplished, excellence in the workplace
  • Proactive, not reactive
  • The non-anxious presence in an anxious environment 

Developing active problem solving:

  • Engage in scenario training: This training puts you through scenarios that require quick thinking and response. Some of these are designed to elicit stress responses and help you navigate trying to solve a problem under stress. Others are less stressful but involve thinking through how you would respond in a given situation.
  • In each situation and conflict, intentionally look for the root cause of the issue. Try to develop this thought process as a habit that comes automatically, rather than getting caught up in the emotions of the event (yours or others). 

MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL FLEXIBILITY[10]

Definition: The ability to see a situation from different perspectives People often get caught in the trap of a narrow mindset when challenging circumstances, sometimes referred to as “cognitive style.” The ability to compartmentalize a problem enough to see another point of view is vital to finding solutions and coming to a complete understanding of an event. 

Visible Signs:

  • Readily receive new ideas from others
  • Adapt to culture and context
  • Capable and willing to serve in various roles
  • Exhibits gratitude and forgiveness
  • Outward effort to celebrate differences
  • Receives criticism well
  • Willing to learn
  • Outside the box thinking
  • Humility
  • Give self and others freedom to make mistakes  

Enhancing your mental and emotional flexibility:

  • Intentionally practice seeing small things from different perspectives.
  • While looking at an object, visualize the other side of it, or how it would look upside down or
    backward
  • Talk with people that disagree with you, and try to see why they think the way they do. You can do this without changing your mind on the issue.
  • When you watch someone under stress, ask yourself, “What are they feeling?” and “What might be making them feel this way?” 

REALISTIC OPTIMISM[11]

Definition: A future-oriented attitude with confidence that things will turn out well.[12] Realistic optimism is intertwined with ’meaning in adversity.’ A person who can see hope through their hardship is not only resilient but tends to raise the resilience of those around them. 

Visible Signs:

  • Outward expressions of joy in the midst of trying circumstances
  • Genuine gratitude
  • A focus on variables that are in ones’ control
  • An understanding of suffering as a tool for strength building 

Practicing realistic optimism:

  • Take time to identify problems. Don’t sweep difficulties under the rug
  • Focus on solutions
  • Intentionally think about how you fit into a larger purpose and a bigger picture
  • Reach out to help those less fortunate than yourself
  • Find satisfaction in giving others hope 

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

Definition: Pro-active, intentional care for ones’ self.[13] Challenging events often cause a freeze response in people as they struggle with decision-making and the fear of the challenge itself and its potential results. Resilient people are courageous. They face their fears head-on[14], working through and with their fears instead of allowing anxiety to stop their momentum. 

Visible Signs: 

  • Intentionality investing in healthy relationships
  • Advanced planning for transitions
  • Intentional in habits of sleep, exercise, and nutrition
  • Seeking people to decompress with
  • Humility; acknowledging weaknesses and limitations
  • Practice gratitude, show joy
  • Established relationship with a mentor, accountability  

Learning to take responsibility:

  • Develop a habit of asking the question, “What can I do?”.
  • Practice gratefulness. Focus on what you have and what you can give rather than on what you need that others can provide.
  • Take time to list what your basic needs are and prioritize them. Think through how you will provide for these needs if a crisis hits.
  • Set personal boundaries for your health and wellbeing, and stick to them.
  • Avoid any false pretense as this will lead to additional stress in keeping up the appearance. 

These four categories represent a person’s PERSPECTIVE. They are how one sees and navigates the world. 

MORAL COMPASS

Definition: The understanding within ones’ conscience of right and wrong as applied to a given choice.[15] Resilient people seem to know from within what the right choice will be[16]. This inner moral compass guides their decision-making process. A person’s moral compass overlaps with ‘taking responsibility in that it gives a person a sense of control and “self-mastery.”[17] It allows them to rest in confidence that the right decision was made even when the outcome is not what was expected. 

Visible Signs: 

  • Able to compartmentalize emotion in decision making
  • Often connected to religious and spiritual resources as a foundation
  • Pursuit of accountability and advice
  • Integrity in the face of opposition
  • Firm grasp of personal identity that is not dependent on changing events or outcomes 

Calibrating your inner moral compass:

  • Actively pursue counsel from faith leaders that you trust
  • Seek accountability from individuals that you know will be honest with you and tell you when you err
  • End your day with a time of meditation and silence, reflecting on the choices you made
  • Always seek to vet sources of information against the truth of Scripture 

MEANING AND PURPOSE

Definition: Understanding that current circumstances serve a greater purpose. Attached to mental and emotional flexibility, no single factor is more important than finding purpose and meaning within difficulty and struggle[18]. Meaning and purpose are often cited as the core contributing values that sustain individuals through the most challenging circumstances.[19]

Visible Signs: 

  • Actively practicing and expressing genuine gratitude
  • Being the non-anxious person in an anxious environment
  • Expressions of hope without ignoring reality
  • Exhibits joy in challenges
  • Consistent reframed perception of adversity into a bigger picture perspective 

Finding meaning in adversity:

  • Keep a journal, documenting outcomes to see positive trends more readily.
  • Keep up with events around the globe rather than just focusing on your situation.
  • Learn to value and keep up with the experiences of others.
  • Meditate in stillness, allowing both mind and body to rest.
  • Carry pictures and mementos of family, friends, and loved ones.
  • Intentionally view difficult situations as events that will ready you for greater, more exciting challenges. 

FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY[20]

Definition: Belief in God and access to spiritual guidance.[21] Religion and spirituality are often the foundation for other resilience factors such as mental and emotional flexibility, moral compass, optimism, meaning, purpose, and growth. Religious institutions can also provide a quick connection to social support in new environments. 

Visible Signs: 

  • Affiliation with an organized religious body
  • Commitment to corporate worship
  • Engagement with religious and spiritual literature
  • Mentoring/discipleship
  • Consistent sources of accountability
  • Evidence of religious principles acted out as a part of integrity 

Adding to your spiritual resources:

  • Stay involved in a church or with a body of like-minded individuals
  • Seek counsel from clergy
  • Study religious texts; not just a light reading, but try and understand what they say
  • Read books with a spiritual emphasis. 

These last three factors shape a person’s IDENTITY. They are the foundation that shapes the development of all the other factors.

You may have noticed that many of these factors overlap in their visible signs and development steps. You will find that as you specifically work on one factor, others are developed as well. They all work together. We encourage you to avoid attempts to start employing all of the tools listed. We all fall short and have areas of lack when it comes to resilience. Start now by taking small steps to strengthen your capacity for whatever life throws your way, and you will soon find that significant growth will quickly come. 

[1] American Psychological Association, “Building Your Resilience”, Februaru 1, 2020, http://www.apa.org/topics/resilience, Accessed September 9, 2021

[2] Cale Palmer, A Theory of Risk and Resilience Factors in Military Families, 205-217

[3] The source for this quote is muddled. It has been attributed to different people from Greek Poet Archilocus to Abraham Lincoln.

[4] Southwick and Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 175

[5] Marian Roman, Physical Exercise as Psychotherapeutic Strategy: How Long?? What Will It Take??, Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 31:2, 153-154

[6] Southwick and Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges

[7] Joshua D. Clapp, J. Gayle Beck, Understanding the relationship between PTSD and social support: The role of negative network orientation, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 47, Issue 3,2009, 237-244,

[8] Diane L. Coutu, “How Resilience Works”, in Harvard Business Review, May 2002, Vol. 80, no. 5,

[9] Helena Chui, Elizabeth L. Hay, and Manfred Diehl, “Perosnal Raisk and Resilience Factors in the Conext of Daily Stress”

[10] K. Lobo Black, Conceptual Review of Family Resilience Factors., 14

[11] Cale Palmer, A Theory of Risk and Resilience Factors in Military Families, Military Psychology, 20:3, 205-217, DOI: 10.1080/08995600802118858, 2008

[12] Stephen Southwick and Dennis Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 35

[13] Stephen Southwick and Dennis Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 63

[14] Helena Chui, Elizabeth L. Hay, and Manfred Diehl, “Perosnal Raisk and Resilience Factors in the Conext of Daily Stress”

[15] Southwick and Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 85

[16] Lanae Valentine & Leslie L. Feinauer, “Resilience factors associated with female survivors of childhood sexual abuse”, The American Journal of Family Therapy, Vol. 21, no. 3, 216-224, DOI: 10.1080/01926189308250920, (1993)

[17] Helena Chui, Elizabeth L. Hay, and Manfred Diehl, “Perosnal Raisk and Resilience Factors in the Conext of Daily Stress”, in Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Vol 32,  no. 1, DOI: 10.1891/0198-8794.32.251 (2018)

[18] Carr, Karen, “Personal Resilience” in Trauma and Resilience: A Handbook, Kindle Edition, 1689

[19] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, (Boston, MA., Beacon Press, 2014)

[20] K. Lobo Black, Conceptual Review of Family Resilience Factors. Journal of Family Nursing, 2008;14(1):33-55. doi:10.1177/1074840707312237

[21] Stephen Southwick and Dennis Charney, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 110

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