Mohan is a family physician and a postgraduate associate dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.
Tiggers and Eeyores
Think of the last time you suffered a failure, a trauma that left you deflated. Did you blame the world, the absence of luck and the fault in your stars? Did you lose motivation, grumble and stay miserable with a palpable cloud over your head? Did you nurse a grudge against the universe?
Or maybe you dusted yourself off and bounced back. After the momentary disappointment, you regrouped, considered what went on, learnt from your mistakes, improved what you could improve, worked harder and stayed positive. You went on and achieved the inevitable success that you knew was waiting.
If you are the latter kind, you, my dear reader, are a beacon of resilience.
In this essay we will
- explore concept of resilience
- unravel the attributes and processes that contribute to resilience strategies and
- consider the best methods to teach resilience to an individual.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is an individual's ability to positively adapt to stress or adversity1. Resilience is a not an uncommon trait. Many of us exhibit resilience under duress. We are all capable of resilience yet we are not fully aware of its mechanisms. A conscious awareness of the underlying skills will help us to deploy the resilience strategies consistently, to ensure positive outcomes.
Resilience is not just how we react to adversity, it is also how we navigate through life and deal with physical, psychological, social and cultural impediments in a positive manner.
A resilient person is not immune to the pain of failure, experience of loss or distress. How we react after the initial emotion is what discriminates between the resilient and the non resilient.
Resilience is a series of clear thoughts, actions and behaviours that help recover from failure and achieve success.
Resilience may be an innate trait. More importantly, it can be learnt.
Many may feel that it is either something we have or don't have. In reality, it is a set of thoughts, behaviours or actions that can be learned and developed like any other skill set.
By breaking down Resilience into a series of strategies, we will be able to
- understand our own mental strategies of resilience
- coach, mentor and teach resilience in others
- diagnose the causes of decline in performance following failure
- look at how resilience contributes to achieve success.
The concept of Resilience emerged first in1973 when Norman Garmezy published his work on the competence and adaptation of the children of adult schizophrenic patients2. He was able to identify unique factors that helped some children adapt and succeed despite the lack of nurture from a mentally ill parent, where others were affected adversely.
Some models look at psychological risk as an entity and elaborate on how we can protect against such risks. Positive psychology models, however, accept risks and stressors as inevitable and focus on resilience strategies.
Garmezy and his peers groundbreaking research into resilience theory contributed to many branches such as psychology, sociology, parenting and education.
Resilience - Kumar's CR8 Model
- Change Acceptance
- Control & Crisis Management
- Clarity of Focus
"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future"
Franklin D Roosevelt ( 1882- 1945)
What helps Resilience?
There are many models of resilience. We will look at a set of resilience strategies and see how many of these we possess... I have grouped the strategies into 8 Cs. I'd like to call this my CR8 model ( C- Resilience - 8) - It helps me remember them better!
One of the key attributes of resilience is staying connected with a support network - friends, family and peers. Resilient individuals seek connections and accept help from those who care about them. They reciprocate this support and try to help others in times of need. Belonging to social groups that are mutually supportive helps build resilience.
Resilient individuals accept change. They view change as a path to growth rather than a hurdle. They are able to see things that can be altered while accepting certain things that cannot be changed. This helps to focus on things we have control over rather than get distressed over those we cannot.
Resilient individuals develop their communication skills. They can articulate ( internally and externally) their challenges and their coping strategies. They can communicate their viewpoints while actively listening to others.
Resilient people stay curious. They maintain a sense of wonder and awe. They are curious about what has happened and what will happen. They are curious about how they feel and how they could feel. They are reflective and mindful of themselves and others thoughts and emotions.
Control & Crises Management:
Resilience comes from a sense of control. Resilient individuals get beyond the temporary feeling of loss of control and make decisive actions. They do not shut themselves away and hope the trouble goes away. Staying decisive in times of adversity is hard but helpful. Resilient persons do not view crisis as a tragedy of immense proportions. They maintain a long term view. They view crisis as a milestone, a chance to improve, to change strategies and regroup. They get past the initial emotional response and think beyond towards solutions.
Maintaining a positive view of oneself helps build resilience. Moving away from negative emotion and catastrophising, nurturing a positive self image are really helpful in times of crisis.
Clarity of Focus:
Resilient persons make bite sized objectives and stay focused on achieving them. They break odds into surmountable chunks. They are realistic yet ambitious. They are content with making incremental progress towards their goals and seek positive feelings from small successes.
Learning a new skill, artistic expression helps to bolster resilience. whether it is music, dance, cooking, meditation or art - creative tasks help build resilience. The positive buzz from artistic endeavours has a healing effect.
One of the enemies of resilience is 'learned helplessness3'. Here individuals faced with repeated adverse incidents attain a state of learned helplessness where even if subsequent adversity is avoidable, they reach a state of mind where they think it is unavoidable. They reach of 'fatalistic' view that 'it cannot be helped' even when it can be.
What hinders Resilience?
One could simply state that the absence of the above 8 Cs can indicate non resilience.
However, negativity and non resilience can stem from many attributes. A study of athletes who face failure reveals that those who have a 'negative explanatory style' tend to achieve a state of 'learned helplessness'.
The three key traits that hinder resilience are in how we explain failure:
Non resilience can stem from negative internalisation and personalisation. 'I always get this wrong' ' I messed up the problem''
Non resilient individuals expand their failure as a permanent trait ' I'll never be good at Maths' ' I am always going to be bad at finance'
Non resilience can stem from extrapolating failure to everything/ ' I failed at this' to 'I fail at everything' ' I had a couple of bad relationships' to ' All my relationships are doomed to fail'.
Effective Resilience Teaching Skills
The Evaluation of Assumptions
- Stage 1: Identifying the instigating circumstance
- Stage 2: Considering the relationship between the incident and initial thought
- Stage 3: Considering how emotions follow from thoughts
- Stage 4: Considering how behaviors follow from emotions
- Stage 5: Considering positive coping skills
The Disputing Technique
- Stage 1: Identifying the initial evaluation
- Stage 2: The evidence used in the evaluation
- Stage 3: Errors in the evaluation process
- Stage 4: The required thought processes and refined evidence marshalling
- Stage 5: Comparing potential outcomes
The De-catastrophizting Technique
- Stage 1: Identifying the potential steps to degeneration
- Stage 2: Considering the worst-case scenario and its likelihood
- Stage 3: Considering the best-case scenarios as possibilities
- Stage 4: Considering the most-likely case scenario as a possibility
There are several ways to inculcate resilience in people. Adults and children alike respond to positive feedback and appropriate challenge that enables them to build resilience strategies.
Resilience building comes from having a clear focus on building knowledge, attitude and skills.
A coach, mentor, parent or a teacher need to be mindful of resilience concepts and be able to spot absence of resilience in order to offer suitable support.
One way of helping is to seek and challenge 'learned helplessness'.
The ABC model of behaviour management helps to manage negative behaviours in a systematic way. This model proposes that for every behaviour there are antecedent triggers, the actual behaviour itself and the resultant consequences.
By exploring antecedent triggers for 'helplessness' and challenging the person's assumptions one will help to eradicate 'fatalism'. By positive reinforcement we can also help develop new behaviours and eradicate irrational beliefs about recurrent failure.
Let's say that a person attempts a test and fails unexpectedly. They start to feel humiliated and shocked at the failure and develop self doubt. The emotional consequence of failure leads them to lose confidence and catastrophise the failure. They don't stop to reflect on the reasons for failure but start to believe that they will fail again. Their beliefs stop them from preparing better for the next attempt, affect any meaningful reflection and they may even give up attempting. They may stop studying, revising or preparing as a result of this. These are traits we may see in students. The box to the left gives you the stages we can use to unpick the ABC pattern and help motivate towards resilience.
Firstly we can assist by helping them understand this behaviour. By raising awareness to their own thought process , we will bring this belief to the surface. We can acknowledge the emotion the failure caused but then challenge the resultant beliefs and behaviours.
A resilient person is not immune to the pain of failure, experience of loss or distress. How we react after the initial emotion is what discriminates between the resilient and the non resilient.
Resilience building in a teaching context
Sagor defined the feelings that help students achieve their potential and stay resilient as
Competence, Belonging, Usefulness, Potency and Optimism5.
A good teaching programme should be able to provide them with
- clear evidence of academic success (competence)
- show them that they are valued in their community (belonging);
- reinforce feelings that they have made a real contribution to their groups (usefulness)
- make them feel empowered (potency)
- positive feelings about their own success and future (optimism)
Sagor outlines several teaching interventions that will help deliver these feelings. It is important first to recognise the absence of these to focus interventions in a group setting. This also helps to tailor activities to the individual at risk.
For example there are some who are unaware of their level of competency. They may not have reviewed their own curriculum or reflected on their level of progress. Having clearly defined word-pictures that define competencies, sharing their progress through assessments and hard feedback ( in a formative setting) will help students identify their level and aspire higher.
Making them feel empowered by helping them set their own objectives, learning strategies, seeking resources, identifying strengths and weaknesses through objective feedback will help build potency.
Teaching Strategies that help build Resilience
|Teaching Strategies||Helps reinforce|
Clarity about Objectives
Portfolio based learning
Learning Style friendly
Mentoring and support
Involvement in design of teaching
Helping set own objectives
Help develop learning strategies
By incorporating these strategies into day to day teaching we can help build resilience. Rather than label learners as 'problem learners' and despair about their destiny, if we take an objective and systematic approach, we would be able to help them more.
It is also important to be aware of other outside factors- social, psychological and physical that can hinder academic progress. If these are identified, in addition to showing understanding and pastoral care, sign posting them to appropriate support is vital.
I am sure every parent wants to channel their love in giving children something more than their immediate needs. Helping our children to build resilience could be one of the greatest gift a parent could bestow in their children.
Fostering confidence rather than fear, using positive strategies ( if you do this, you will succeed) rather than negative ones ( if you don't do this, you will fail) are key ingredients to building confidence in a child
Building Resilience in Children
As a parent of three, I know my love for them is immense and unlimited. I am sure every parent wants to channel this love in giving them something more than their immediate needs. Helping them to build resilience could be one of the greatest gift a parent could bestow in their children.
So how do we do this? What parenting wisdom is out there to enable us to help our offspring be competent, confident and resilient?
Here are some possible nuggets - some of which are pure parenting common sense. Maybe you already do all this, or perhaps there are a few ideas here that you may wish to introduce. For ease of use, lets try to apply my CR8 strategies to child rearing ....
Build strong bonds of love and relationship with children. Show them how your own relationships with your parents, friends and others are built on foundations of love, mutual respect and support. Modelling a good behaviour is the best way to introduce positive attitudes and beliefs about relationships. If there are unfortunate divisions in the family or rifts in friendship, discuss them in appropriate context. This way children can understand these things happen and life will still go on.
Sometimes our emotions about change can be one of frustration and emotional outburst. It is only human. However, showing children change acceptance is a way of enduring and surviving towards a positive future is a great way to build resilience. Show examples of positive adaptation to change, share positive stories of change, help them through moments of change ( school, home, relationships) with positive reinforcement.
Families need to be built around communication. Enable open forums and channels of communication. Don't judge too harshly, too swiftly and allow them to make simple mistakes. Be forgiving and fostering. But be clear in your boundaries, explain to them consequences of their action and allow them to take ownership for their action. While the distractions of internet, media and friends can be immense, always allow time for family interactions and parent-child chats. Have fun together.
Allow curiosity, and encourage them to ask questions. Children learn by asking questions. The trait of staying with the questions until one gets a suitable answer is good to build resilience. As Albert Einstein said 'It is not that I am so smart, I just stay with the questions much longer'. These days of multiple distractions and short attention span, those children who can stick with a problem until they find a solution succeed. Several studies of academic performance and career progression shows this conclusively.
Learning self control, not being influenced too much by peer and media pressure is a key trait towards resilience. Parents who pander to their child's every demand are in for a long and painful realisation that they can't give them everything the children ask for. Tantrums and tears may have a powerful effect on parental emotion, but we need to understand and explain to the children learning self control is what will help them to be resilient, to be content and balanced in life. There is a term called 'entitled demanders' that can apply to some who feel they deserve to have everything but with little effort towards it. I am sure we want our children to understand some things have to be earned through hard graft and that we cannot always have everything we want.
When children face crisis, we may sometimes need to help them develop a solution rather than offer our solutions as a package. How else are they going to learn how to handle their own future crises?
Clarity of Focus:
One only has to see some many adults who struggle to set objectives in their life to understand how they probably never learnt this skill as a child. While it is a child's prerogative to be distracted, to enjoy multiple avenues of entertainment - gathering skills of focus is also needed to progress in life. Giving them opportunities to focus, showing them the link between focus and eventual reward, drawing up some rules about boundaries and sticking to them will all help raise a resilient child.
Fostering confidence rather than fear, using positive strategies ( if you do this, you will succeed) rather than negative ones ( if you don't do this, you will fail) are key ingredients to building confidence in a child. Parental support may either be lacking or be too overwhelming. Striking a balance between empty praise and overabundant criticism is hard.
Seek examples of positive resilient behaviour and praise them for it. Show praise when they behave well, pay attention when they demonstrate positive behaviours. All too often it is easy to fall into the trap of shouting and threatening when they behave badly and ignoring them when they behave well.
Using objective examples to praise ( when you did that, you were being very good) is better than empty praise. ( you are good). As some children may not receive and value praise from parents as they may feel that is what one's own parents do.
It is all too easy to succumb to pre-cooked creativity rather than be creative ourselves. Enabling children to create- be it art, music, writing a poem or building something is a great way to develop resilient children. Encourage reading, enjoy their work, help them develop some form of hobbies that will stay with them for a long time. Don't judge their hobbies harshly- show interest in their own ideas and creative thinking.
Children can be far more resilient than adults. They have natural confidence, creativity, curiosity and can bounce back from extraordinary adversity. When we try to pin adult emotions of embarrassment, low confidence, fear of failure is when things can start to taint their child like wonder.
Even helping them retain some elements of child like fearlessness and confidence will be a great parenting strategy.
Resilience and Recovery
We are surrounded by extraordinary feats of human endurance, recovery and rehabilitation. We watch people come back from abject failure to astounding success. We may have done this ourselves and an unconscious competence.
Thinking about resilience, breaking it down into ( my version of ) component chunks has helped me greatly to appreciate what resilient traits I may have and may need to develop.
Despite its length, I sure hope this discourse on resilience may have set off a few sparks of ideas, few insights and few reassuring facts.
In this tiny third rock from the sun, humanity has evolved, survived and has risen through resilience. Let us continue our journey with that sound knowledge that whatever calamity may ambush us, we shall rise again.
1 American Psychological Association. (2014). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
2 Garmezy, N. (1973). "Competence and adaptation in adult schizophrenic patients and children at risk", pp. 163–204 in Dean, S. R. (Ed.), Schizophrenia: The first ten Dean Award Lectures. NY: MSS Information Corp.
3 Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-2328-X.
4 Kamen, Leslie P.; M. E. P. Seligman (1987). "Explanatory style and health". Current psychological research and reviews 6 (3): 207–218
5 Sagor, R. (1993). At-Risk Students: Reaching and Teaching Them. Swampscott, Mass.: Watersun Press.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Mohan Kumar
anand1965 on October 22, 2019:
Hi Mohan very nicely written article, it is simple and easy to understand and implement. Thank You
Sadam Shar from Pacca chang faiz gunj Khairpur on June 30, 2018:
hey i;m a teacher i can teach to children on any topic or subject.
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 09, 2016:
I try hard to indoctrinate resilience and grit and to model these qualities myself for my daughter before she launches into adulthood.
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 04, 2015:
"If you are the latter kind, you, my dear reader, are a beacon of resilience."
I wasn't always resilient, but over time, circumstances and many changes life has given me no other choice. There is no other way for me than to dust myself off and march on...
Awesome article! Very informative and gives many something to think about.
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on July 15, 2014:
Thank you for publishing this article. I especially love reading Hubs from which I learn something new. I wasn't familiar with the concept of resilience. I'm going to bookmark your article so I can read it another time and absorb more of what you wrote.