Why is it that some people bounce back from tragedy or even seem to thrive in the face of persistent hardship, while others collapse and stay down for the count?

Are some people just born with this resilience, defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)? Are the rest of us just less adaptive and destined to remain that way?

Or is resilience a skill we can acquire?

Fortunately, there are concrete steps we can take to bolster resilience:

  1. Nurture healthy and supportive relationships. Be it with family members, friends, or support groups, being in relationships characterized by genuine care and concern can provide comfort, encouragement, and connection, all of which boost resilience. Through talking with others about your situation, you can be reminded that you’re not facing unique problems, and you can get other people’s take on your situation.
  2. Face difficulties in life squarely. Don’t deny what’s happening. Do what you can, day by day, to deal with the challenge.
  3. Believe that the problem can be solved. Although we’re not in control of everything that happens to us, we are in control of how we respond. Give yourself credit as you take steps to deal with your crisis or difficulty – believe that you can cope with this situation. Remind yourself of all the challenges you’ve faced and managed well in the past. Nurture a positive view of yourself. See yourself as capable of tackling and resolving problems, and let challenging times give you the opportunity to prove this to yourself.
  4. Develop good problem-solving skills, and move toward your goals. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by seemingly insurmountable problems. Come up with one thing you can do this very day to propel you toward your desired objective. Make a list of possible paths you can take. Brainstorm, don’t worry about coming up with the “perfect” answer. Just take a wild stab at your list. Envision the best possible solution. Once you’ve made your list, go back and flesh out several details of each possibility you’ve written down. Decide upon the most feasible option and start implementing it. If it doesn’t work out, try another option on your list. This may sound obvious or simplistic, but you may be surprised at how well it works.
  5. Make decisions and act on them. Take the next indicated step, rather than being paralyzed or procrastinating, both of which can make the problems seem even bigger over time. Break down your plan into manageable steps. Don’t waste time worrying about tomorrow – stay in today and in this moment. Be proactive. Envision yourself not as a victim but as a overcomer and survivor. Be tenacious.
  6. Accept that change is part of life. As life progresses, some dreams or plan we’ve cherished may no longer be feasible. This can hurt. Learn to deal with life as it actually is (“life on life’s terms”) and put your energy into what is still possible for you. “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” (Alexander Graham Bell) Practice flexibility and being willing to see things in a new light.
  7. Accept that life contains painful times. When you were born, you weren’t promised that life would be a walk in the park. Allow yourself a full range of emotions. Resilient people have self-compassion and accept moments of sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety, while still standing strong in their intent to adapt well to the situation at hand.
  8. Maintain an internal locus of control. People who are resilient believe that what they do matters, and that they are responsible for and can have an affect over how their life unfolds. In contrast, people with an external locus of control tend to blame other people or circumstances for their lot in life, which can be a disheartening, discouraging, and depressing way to live. Believe that the choices you make can greatly influence your situation, your attitude, and your future – because it’s true. As Maya Angelou said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
  9. Consider how you can grow from your present challenges. Think about how your present difficulties may have or be contributing to your personal growth. Has your sense of self-efficacy grown stronger, your self-compassion been heightened, your relationships improved? Has your spirituality deepened or your gratitude for the blessings in your life increased? Ask yourself, “What is this situation trying to teach me?” Although it may not seem possible right now, down the line you may in some ways be grateful, if not for the problem, then for what you’ve become as a result of how you choose to deal with the issue.
  10. Keep things in perspective. Steer clear of catastrophizing. Try to look at your situation with a reasonable point of view. Ask yourself, “How important will this be in five years?” Keep in mind that worrying can run you into the ground and interfere with your ability to problem-solve.
  11. Maintain a hopeful outlook. Strive for an optimistic, realistic perspective and imagine the best-case, rather than the worst-case, scenario. Optimism doesn’t entail ignoring or making light of the problem, but maintaining the belief that things will work out for the best, and that the future will be brighter.
  12. Take care of yourself. Challenging times are easier to deal with when you’re in good physical and emotional condition. Nourish your body with healthy food. Get adequate sleep. Exercise moderately and regularly. Make time for relaxation and enjoyable activities. Many people find that meditation and prayer are helpful in managing stress and providing balance. Spend time in nature. Cuddle a pet. Laugh!
  13. Strike a healthy balance between looking to others for support and turning to your own internal resources. Neither social isolation nor overdependence on other people are optimal methods for building resilience.
  14. Don’t let stress lead you into destructive behaviors like excessive alcohol intake, overeating, drug use, gambling, or other means of temporary escape. Your challenges won’t go away, and you may find yourself with additional problems, such as a DUI, obesity, addiction, or escalating debt.
  15. Find a sense of purpose, both in the short run (i.e., for today) and in the long run. Make each day meaningful. This can help you transcend your difficulties, and in some cases it can help you use your challenges to help both yourself and others.

Remember – building resilience takes time and work. Without difficulties, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow stronger, a quality that will make it easier for the next challenge that comes along.