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21st Century CompetenciesResearch

Resilience: Honoring our capacity to change

By February 21, 2023No Comments

Read time:  ~5 min

Author: Dr. Nathan Roberson, PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Research Methodology from the University of British Columbia and Chief Research Officer for Beyond Education.

Editor: Rouxbin Smit, Editorial & Community Manager at Beyond Education

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The article was originally published on LinkedIn.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is attributed as saying, “The only constant in life is change.” As we have all experienced with Covid in recent years, change is ever present along with the adversity and challenges alongside it. Even when change is positive, perhaps a new love, adventure, or other opportunity, we must adjust to new ways of being. The question then is, how can we be present in the world without becoming overwhelmed by all of the upheaval? How can we foster Resilience to live gracefully? 

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to cope with change, misfortune, or adversity (Garmezy, 1996). Psychologists often refer to Resilience as an ability or capacity to adapt and change, but it is also a dynamic process of overcoming negative effects experienced and their risks to foster positive outcomes (Lightsey, 2006). As a process, Resilience is our way of interacting with our surrounding environments to enact ways that protect us and promote well-being (Zautra et al., 2010).

The study of Resilience began in the 1970s by Emmy Werner with a 40-year longitudinal cohort of Hawaiian children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and since then has been studied at length in connection to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of anxiety.

It is important to stress that Resilience is more than just mere survival through stressful situations. It encompasses both the physical, emotional, and spiritual fortitude to go through and come out of deeply stressful events either with competent functioning or perhaps strengthened competencies. While overly simplistic, it reflects the adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Knowingly, this obviously is not always true, but when it is true, it is a result of our internal sense of Resilience.

Importance of Resilience 

Scholarly evidence demonstrates that adolescents with high problem solving abilities, academic performance, and empathetic self-efficacy tend to have higher levels of expressed Resilience compared to their peers (Sagone & Caroli, 2016). Perhaps more importantly, Resilience is a major factor in our mental health and overall well-being.

Resilience is especially important as youth develop independence to be well-adjusted and sociable. Resilient youth perform better in school, are better able to cope including lower rates of anxiety and depression, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse or self-harm (Ahern et al., 2008).

Without Resilience, humans tend to respond to stressful situations either with anger (fight), avoidance (flight), or by becoming despondent (freeze). By engaging with our capacity of Resilience, we can instead confront these situations, feel the appropriate emotions, and work through them to find a place of acceptance and ultimately learning. Our ability to manage and foster positive emotions is closely linked to our physical ability to heal and maintain wellness (Dillon et al., 1986).

The Covid pandemic has tested our individual and collective Resilience. Since 2020, we have new understandings about how to work, what work is important, the importance of individual and collective health, and many other things. Many questions are still unanswered, and perhaps can only be lived. How do we take care of ourselves and one another in a way that promotes well-being? What is generative about the crisis that transforms us into more soulful humans?

How to Impact Resilience

Fortunately, like many skills, attitudes, and values, Resilience is a kind of self-perception that is malleable, meaning our capacity can increase with intentional effort (Pajares & Schunk, 2001). Indeed, consistent with the definition of Resilience as a process, it should be viewed as something to develop and not an end-point. By adopting “strength-based” counselling approaches, we can support the development of Resilience (Lightsey, 2006). Strength-based approaches focus on people’s existing assets in skills, attitudes, and values to face new and unforeseen challenges. Other strategies to support Resilience include building social support systems (positive relationships with peers, family, or other adults), mindfulness, and coping skills that can be used in stressful situations, coaching on how to reframe difficult thoughts using Cognitive-Based Therapy approaches (Padesky & Mooney, 2012).

Some common ways of assessing and measuring Resilience are the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) (Connor & Davidson, 2003), and the Resilience Scale for Adults (Friborg et al., 2003). For younger populations (ages 10-21), Resilience is also included as a competency in the Competencies Compound Inventory (CCI-21: Celume & Maoulida, 2022). Indeed, consistent with the research by Celume and Maolida (2022), Resilience is closely connected to other psychological constructs such as problem-solving, mindfulness, and growth-mindset. As a part of a larger ecological-construct, Resilience can be shaped and strengthened using our other psycho-social assets.

Embrace Change

One of the core teachings of Buddhist philosophy is the idea of impermanence; all things are temporary and they change. Indeed, it seems the Buddha and the ancient Greek Heraclitus could agree when the Buddha said, “Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” A focus on Resilience teaches us to accept the many changes around us that we cannot control, and to move through the journey with grace to become always-newer versions of ourselves. May we always stay amazed at our own capacity to change.


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