Flexing your resiliency muscle

Expert advice to becoming more resilient.
Published January 3, 2019

Resilience – it’s not just a buzzword. Resilience is the key to overcoming the daily stresses of life and the bigger challenges, too.

Defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” or “toughness,” resilience is essentially our ability to get through and bounce back from tough situations.

In the face of challenges, how can we be resilient? Is there a way to be more resilient? Is there some kind of “resiliency muscle” we can strengthen? We asked some experts for their two cents.

Texas-based licensed professional counsellor Monica Ross says yes, we can strengthen that “resiliency muscle,” and shares two tips to do it.


1. Utilize your unique strengths

“If you are a writer, write about it. If you are a person who enjoys working with numbers, create a spreadsheet. If you are a person who enjoys physical activity, go to the gym. The reason why leaning on our inner strengths is so important is that these inner strengths come naturally and with ease,” she says.


“Our inner strengths are strengths because we have demonstrated some form of mastery in them. As such, they boost our confidence and attract others to our cause. They also call upon our individual uniqueness, which further builds on our ability to be authentic.”


2. Have a realistic awareness of what the problem is, but don’t focus on the negative

“Awareness starts with the firm acknowledgment that there is a problem of some sort – that there are symptoms and behaviours that are unwanted and causing distress. That distress is fuelled by the negativity surrounding the events that led up to the problem as it stands today,” Ross says. 


“It is helpful to examine the causes and consequences of an issue. But it [is] worrisome to stay there without looking to the future and without finding ways of facilitating growth and change. Focusing on the positive outcomes that a present course of action could bring is often the fuel needed to drive the motivation to change.”


Resilience gets us through our most difficult life experiences and can even help us see a silver lining when it seems like there isn’t one.


“Tough times can make you!” says Maimah Karmo, president and CEO of Tigerlily Foundation, which works to empower and advocate for young women before, during and after breast cancer.


“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I initially fell apart – then I realized that before cancer, I wasn’t truly living,” she says. “Even though I was living with cancer, I began to live more purposefully than before.”


She adds, “We learn what we are made of during these times. When I’m facing a tough situation, I call on all my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual resources to get through.”


In a way, challenges and resilience are intertwined – challenges require us to be resilient, but the very experience of being resilient can show us how strong we are and, itself, can help increase our resilience for future challenges.


“As opposed to the common belief that we ‘find’ ourselves when we are going through challenges, I believe that challenges chisel away at self-doubt, showing us our strength, faith and resilience,” Karmo says.


She shares a few of her own tips to be more resilient.


  • Have a vision: “It’s important to have a vision, so that when situations knock you down, your eyes stay on the mountaintop, not on what got you down.”
  • Remove the labels: “It is okay to have a challenge or make a mistake. How you label yourself or what happened is key,” Karmo says. “Labelling [a situation] as a lesson, a catalyst, a temporary setback, and being okay with being human is key.”
  • Self-care: “Instead of beating yourself up, take time to care for you, nurture yourself and allow yourself to heal – when you treat yourself the way you’d treat someone you love, amazing shifts can happen.”


Ana Jovanovic, clinical psychologist and life coach from Parenting Pod, shares her advice for some inner work we can all do to improve our resilience.


Invest in your relationships with others


“Humans are social beings, wanting to be accepted and understood by others,” she says, noting this is especially evident in times of struggle. “Other people can offer us support, comfort and opportunities to be listened to. They hold us accountable for surviving the challenge and growing from it. They can calm our insecurities and be strong enough to support us in times when we lack that strength.”


Work on your inner capacities


“Even if there’s no one there to support you through a difficult period, you can still be accepting, compassionate and kind to yourself,” Jovanovic says, noting that the capacity to provide yourself such support is something we can develop.


“Being in touch with your emotions and thoughts and giving yourself permission to process them is an important element of self-care. Self-care allows us to build the emotional capacity to deal with challenges – which is a factor of resilience.”


Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this?”


“This question guides you into thinking about how the challenge can become an opportunity to better understand yourself and others and to learn how to cope with changes that come with living.”


Pay attention to what has helped you in the past


“The past offers us the pool of experiences to learn from. What are the strategies that were useful? What are the strategies that ended up failing us? Who could we reach out to? Who wasn’t a helpful resource? Think about all of those factors that helped you survive the challenge,” Jovanovic says.


“Sometimes, the very fact that you made it, that you are here now despite the challenge, can be a helpful insight.”