Resilience in the Face of Hardship

“The strongest oak in the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” Napoleon Hill

I look around at people who have suffered incredible hardship and wonder how they do it. How is it that some people grow up in very challenging circumstances or experience grea­­t trauma or loss and yet survive? In many cases, not only survive but thrive. Like Charlie Plumb in my last post. Upon being captured, tortured and tossed in a small cell, Charlie wasn’t sure he’d make it or that he wanted to make it. Yet somehow he developed the “attitude,” as his doctor back home called it, to overcome his hellish circumstances.

Psychology has given it a name–resilience, which is defined as the ability to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks. When resilient you bounce back from adversity. You find the inner strength to make good choices in the face of difficulty. If you lack resilience, you tend to dwell on problems, feel overwhelmed and turn to unhealthy ways of coping.

I make it sound like resilience in an attribute, something you have or do not, which is not true. I believe it is more helpful to think of resilience as a strategy, made up of choices and actions you can take to find the inner strength and mental toughness to deal with whatever life throws at you. People who survive and overcome really tough realities don’t do so because they are born with a special gene but rather because they figure out what they need to do to survive. They develop a good strategy.

So, I’d like to offer you some tips to develop your resiliency. Not all will work equally well for you. You have to be deliberate about creating your own strategy or plan. The important thing is to take responsibility for doing so by choosing your actions. Don’t leave it to chance. Be deliberate. Be proactive. Think of the tips as actions. You have to take action to be resilient.

  • Reach out. Many studies show that a key to resilience is having caring and supportive relationships, within and outside the family. Talk to people who will listen to you. Let them be there for you. Accept their love and support. And consider widening your social network by being active in church, civic and social groups in which you are around other people, participating with them in a cause you can support. One of the worst things you can do is isolate yourself when going through adversity.
  • Find meaning. Use this time to discover or reconnect with your purpose. Find something other than yourself to focus on that will bring meaning to you and help you keep your difficulties in perspective.
  • Take care of yourself. Be aware of your needs and feelings. Take time to relax and do things that you really enjoy. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Keep a journal. Journaling can be a way of processing your feelings associated with adversity. It is a way to “externalize” those feelings and help put them in perspective. It is also an important way to learn and grow from your experience.
  • Accept what you cannot change. Deliberately. There are some realities (or aspects of reality) over which we have no control. Accept this fact. Identify what you cannot change about a situation and say the words, “I accept….” or “I allow…”  It is easier to ride the horse in the direction its going.
  • Change your self-talk. Notice how you’re talking to yourself. Is it defeating or empowering? Change the words so they are more objective and empowering in feeling how you want to feel and acting how you want to act.
  • Move towards goals. If you have not, set some realistic goals. Take small steps to accomplish those goals. Setting and working towards your goals helps you keep an eye on the future.
  • Maintain perspective. Think about your situation in the context of your larger life or of the world itself. Have a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing situations out of proportion.
  • Find ways to laugh. Watch funny movies. Be with friends you enjoy. See the humor in situations. Humor shifts your physiology in ways that nothing else can.
  • See the good. Focus on more than the adversity. There is still much good and many blessings in your life. Be aware of and name all the good. Take time to be grateful and express gratitude.
  • Accept the inevitability of change. Change is part of life. Expecting change makes it easier to accept. As you become more flexible you’ll view the world with less anxiety.
  • Engage in a spiritual practice. Find inner peace and calm through meditation, yoga, relaxation, prayer, visualization, etc. These techniques will help you restore balance and bring greater perspective to your life.

Certainly this list is not comprehensive. Consider others that you can utilize in the midst of a big “key moment.” In fact,  I’d encourage you to develop your own list when in the middle of a tough situation. Be aware that developing resilience takes time and practice. The important thing is to be deliberate. The important thing is to remember, as I stated earlier–resilience is not a trait. It is a strategy that can help you endure loss, chronic stress and trauma. It will enable you to develop a reservoir of inner resources that you can draw upon to face life courageously.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

2 responses to “Resilience in the Face of Hardship”

  1. Mike Sperber says:

    Enjoyed reading your stragegies. Here’s one that I like: Optimism

  2. Manikeshwar says:

    A very motivational and a beautiful article for all ages

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