Building your Resilience

Resilience can be learned! Here’s what the US army uses to get their troops conflict ready.

To some degree you are already Resilient. Depending on the life you’ve lived (and the number of children you have!) your Resilience has already been building over your lifetime as you’ve loved, lost and learned to overcome adversity, change and conflict in different situations. It feels and sounds great to be able to say “I’m resilient”, but do you really know what Resilience is, when it’s needed and most importantly how to build your Resilience…



Having explored the last two decades of psychology research and literature on Resilience, Resilience is described as ‘a set of processes that enables good outcomes in spite of serious threats’. What’s most interesting about the research findings is that certain Resilience ‘processes’ are something you are simply born with (or not), but the good news is there are others that can be enhanced through learning.


Born with Resilience, or not.

Inborn traits such as having an easy temperament, a good sense of humour, or strong cognitive abilities and problem solving skills are found to enable resilience when faced with adversity or conflict. These traits make problems seem easier to deal with and less stressful to overcome. We also have a predetermined level of genetic or Biological Resilience which enables us to be biologically ready to overcome threats in the environment, such as viruses. Taking care of your body therefore helps to build your biological Resilience, but many of the situations that we face today such as adversity, change or conflict at work, require what’s called Cognitive Resilience, or Social Resilience.


Resilience abilities that can be learned

The following ‘processes’ have been identified as increasing overall Cognitive Resilience and Social Resilience, and are better described as a set of abilities that can be enhanced through learning:

Self-awareness – the ability to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and psychological reactions.

Self-regulation – the ability to change one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physiology in the service of a desired outcome.

Mental Agility – the ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to think creatively and flexibly.

Optimism – the ability to notice and expect the positive, to focus on what you can control, and to take purposeful action.

Connection – the ability to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships.

Strengths of Character – the ability to use one’s top strengths to engage authentically, overcome challenges, and create a life aligned with one’s values.

So if these Resilience abilities can be learned, or enhanced through learning, what’s the first step in building more Resilience?




As the research suggests, a critical starting point for building your Resilience is increasing your self-awareness. This requires you to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and psychological reactions when faced with having to respond or deal with adversity, change or conflict. Try this 5 minute activity for increasing your self-awareness and building more Resilience…


Step 1. Identify the last time you reacted badly to adversity, change or conflict in your career. Describe the situation in 100 words or less. Focus on only describing the situation, not your reaction.

Step 2. Identify what your reactions were during this situation and after this situation occurred – What did you think about yourself, about others, or about the world? What did you feel about yourself, about others, or about the world? What behaviour did you demonstrate?

Step 3. Identify what you would like to change or do differently the next time you are in a similar situation. What will you think, feel and do differently to ensure you do not react badly?

Step 4. Self-regulate. This is the ability to change your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physiology in the service of a desired outcome. It’s incredibly hard to change your thoughts, emotions and behaviours without having the self-awareness of how these things currently look and are affecting your outcomes. So take the time to start turning the dial up on your self-awareness when dealing with adversity, change or conflict, as a critical first step to building more resilience.




  You need Resilience primarily in these 3 circumstances:

1. Steering through the everyday stressors that you will confront (such as work or social pressures).

2. Recovering from adversity or trauma (such as dealing with conflict or change that’s been forced onto you).

3. Overcoming other risk factors (such as surviving in an environment that is emotionally or physically wrought with insecurity or danger).

Being able to build your Resilience to deal with these sets of circumstances is shown to enhance psychological well-being and mental health, greater academic and career success, more positive social relationships and lower your risk for depression.


Interested in building your Organisation or Teams Resilience, together, entirely online?

The US Army offers Resilience training to its troops for getting them ‘conflict ready’ in terms of surviving an environment wrought with danger. At ripen we’ve used similar psychology research to design Resilience skills training relevant for anyone wishing to build more Resilience at work. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about building your, your team’s or your organisations Resilience, because even though there are not literal bombs and enemy conflicts being faced in our everyday workplaces or social environments, rapidly changing workplaces, industries and environments are requiring us all to adapt faster and deliver quicker, than we ever have before. 


Brunwasser, S. M., Gillham, J. E., & Kim, E. S. (2009). A meta-analytic review of the Penn Resiliency Program’s effect on depressive symptoms. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77, 1042–1054.

Gillham, J. E., Reivich, K. J., & Jaycox, L. H.(2008). The Penn Resiliency Program. University of Pennsylvania.

Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227–238.

Masten, A. S., & Reed, M. G. J. (2002). Resilience in development. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 74–88). New York: Oxford University Press.

Meet the author

Matt Hughes

Matt is the founder of ripen and lead Resilience coach. Previously Matt navigated a career in corporate finance, consulting and strategy for over a decade across 3 continents, then he retrained in psychology to learn the Resilience skills and techniques used by elite performers. Matt now coaches courageous individuals to get the life and results they want in business, career and health, through courses targeted at enhancing self-awareness, self-regulation and mental agility.

Share This