Four Myths about Resilience

Time to Read:  3 minutes

By:  Gail Wagnild

Resilience is the ability each of us has to learn and grow stronger from adversity and to adapt in a positive way to whatever happens in our lives. It comes from inside of us and specific characteristics unique to each of us constitute the Resilience Core. Resilience is an extraordinary ability that develops throughout our lifetimes. Many people have a narrow view of resilience, however, and this limits the potential for individual growth. Consider 4 myths surrounding resilience.

Myth 1.  You’re either born resilient or you’re not.

There is some truth that some people seem to be naturally more resilient than others just like some people seem to be born happier than others. But I think that most of us develop our resilience in fits and starts throughout life and as we age our resilience gets stronger, which attests to development over our lifetime. Much of resilience results from learning and growing from adversity and being determined to keep going despite disappointments and failures. This comes from living, putting ourselves out there, and learning what works and what doesn’t to maintain an even keel. Resilience usually develops over time; sometimes very quickly and other times gradually. So while some seem to be born with more resilience than others, all of us can develop a strong resilience core. Every single one of us.

Myth 2. If you practice mindfulness, your resilience will increase.

I think practicing mindfulness is good for staying in the moment and doing this helps us focus on what is important and steer clear of extreme responses to events in our lives. And this may increase resilience for some people. In other words, practicing mindfulness might help some people focus on what is meaningful  and be persistent.  But mindfulness is not one size fits all.  For instance, I like to follow Julie Cameron’s guidance who suggests writing three pages first thing in the morning to help me find direction for that day. Think about your own resilience for instance. What works best for you to deal with life’s ups and downs? What helps you focus on what is the most important for you? If we want to build our own resilience, we need to explore approaches that work best for us. In other words, mindfulness alone isn’t the only answer and for some of us, doesn’t work well at all. If your job is to design interventions to build up resilience, explore other approaches in addition to mindfulness.

Myth 3. Resilience is nothing more than stress management.

I’ve talked to dozens of leaders, health care providers, and clinicians who seem to have replaced the term ‘coping’ and ‘stress management’ with resilience. They are not the same thing. Resilience is an approach to life and to have a strong resilience core means that we are able to keep going, rise up again after being down, and survive to fight another day because we have purpose in our lives and we are determined to figure stuff out. Stress management and coping are good because they can keep us centered, calm, and composed so that we can live more resiliently – but they are not what resilience is. When we design interventions to build resilience, look them over carefully and don’t limit them to stress management/coping techniques. Resilience is much more than that. We limit ourselves if we stop short of pursuing a truly resilient life.

Myth 4. Without supportive people you can’t be resilient.

I would say that mostly this is true. We need the support that others give us to be strong, brave, and persistent. I agree with this. But we all know stories of people who were remarkably resilient in the absence of support from others. Think of people who are adrift at sea, prisoners of war, those in solitary confinement, or maybe those who choose a solitary life. They are no less resilient because of these circumstances. They are the exception I know, but resilience is inside of us – it is an inner strength. Things outside of us including other people support that core and make it more likely that our resilience stays strong. But no one can be resilient for us. That is something we do and have that is uniquely ours.