In 2002, the Journal of Gerontological Social Work published an astonishing account of resilience among survivors of the Holocaust. During 13 interviews with survivors, the author, Roberta R. Greene from Indiana University, documented what character traits allowed the interviewees to not only survive but thrive during a period of post-war adaptation.
What secrets of resiliency did this study uncover from the survivors of one of the most egregious events in human history? Greene found most of the interviewees demonstrated three strong traits, including the “conscious decision to go on living, celebrate life, and think positively about themselves,” despite their circumstance.
These ideas, which have been recorded in resilience studies elsewhere among diverse demographics, create the core of all resiliency training. Resiliency training, in whatever form it takes (individual, therapeutic, corporate), covers the following ideas:
- Fostering an optimistic outlook on life (and the future)
- Building compassion
- Creating and working towards long term goals
Together, these simple yet powerful ideas are the backbone of all resiliency training programs. It’s what psychologists use as they work with clients through challenging situations, and it’s what the US Army uses within their Master Resilience Training program.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is a universal capacity which allows a person, group, or community to prevent, minimize, or overcome damaging effects of adversities.
Edith Grotberg, The International Resilience Project
At its core, “Resilience is your ability to adapt well and recover quickly after stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy,” to borrow a definition by the Mayo Clinic. Among psychologists and psychiatrists, the study of resilience has gained a lot of traction over the last few decades. It’s a theory that explains why some people bounce back after a challenging situation, while others struggle to cope.
Resiliency and resilience training is a popular concept among counselors and therapists. To help a client become more resilient is to help them recover from challenging mental health issues or hardships by teaching them to rely on internal and external sources of support.
Resilience theory has also become the darling of the business world since the early 2000s. It’s formed the basis for many self- and corporate training programs, including the US Army’s Master Resilience Training (MRT) program.
Your counselor, or the company you work for, may introduce aspects of resiliency training into your sessions without labeling it as such. For example, creating a well being a checklist, developing skills to accept change, building self-confidence, and building an external support network. While none of these examples have the term “resilience” in them, they are all pieces to the puzzle.
Unlike personality traits, which tend to evolve quite slowly as we grow older, resilience is a character trait that we can practice to perfection. Under the right guidance, and with enough practice, you can maintain a positive outlook on the future, foster compassion and empathy for others, and work towards long term goals.
What’s the Difference Between Mental Toughness and Resilience?
Because of its association with the armed forces, and the business world, resilience has become conflated with mental toughness. These are similar concepts but have slightly different mandates.
Mental toughness builds off of the framework of resilience but takes it much farther. It’s about facing challenges, taking risks, and building interpersonal confidence.
As per Doug Strycharczyk, author of “Resilience and Mental Toughness: Is There a Difference and Does it Matter?” the difference is subtle, but essential “Resilience helps you to survive (but not always) and Mental Toughness helps you to prosper.”
To be mentally tough, one must first create a strong foundation in resilience. You have to have the control and the confidence to get through any experience, but the risk-taking and challenge seeking comes only with mental toughness.
What Does a Typical Resilience Training Course Look Like?
Resilience theory has grown from humble beginnings within the psychology field, to become a popular approach to building better organizations and stronger leaders.
It’s a theory which has spawned dozens of for-profit and nonprofit training program, for the individual and organizations. You are just as likely to encounter resilience training within a therapy session these days, as you are to encounter organization resilience while at work.
No matter where you encounter resilience training for the first time, the program should focus on building confidence and developing an internal control. A few common themes are as follows:
- Developing a positive mindset
- Learning emotional control and emotional intelligence
- Building self-confidence and self-worth
- Setting goals and believing you will achieve them
- Learning compassion for others.
The research behind resiliency training has even made its way into the US Army. The Army now provides the Master Resilience Training Program to soldiers as a part of their basic training. The US Army does not stray far from the common themes explored in other programs. Their program teaches:
- Mental Agility
- Strengths of Character
Part of resilience training always focuses on developing a reliable inner belief system so that you genuinely feel capable, confident, and worthy. Once the inner belief is there, it’s possible to work on goals, a positive attitude, and building an external support network.
Depending on the program and setting, you may be working independently with a therapist, or as part of a larger group within an organizational training program. Resilience training requires a lot of personal work in either environment, which means digging deep to better understand yourself and your relationship to the world around you. Expect worksheets, group activities, and homework during a typical training session.
3 Ways Resilience Training Enhances Your Quality of Life
Bounce, not break: Resilient people bounce, not break when faced with adversity or challenge.
Manual for the US Army’s Master Resilience Training Program.
Unlike other trends in corporate leadership training, resiliency training is a rock-solid approach to self-development and better mental health. After all, researchers have repeatedly measured the core characteristics of this theory across diverse populations.
Psychologists have uncovered evidence of resilience among migrant children in the US, homeless young adults, and in patients with chronic conditions. Plus, many studies demonstrating this remarkable trait among survivors of the Holocaust.
Developing these coping techniques and character traits do have a measurable impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Faced with the same adversity, a resilient person will “bounce, not break” as per the manual from the US Army’s Master Resilience Training Program.
Here are three ways that resilience training can improve your quality of life:
1. Live a Life With the A Glass Half Full Approach
It is amazing what a positive outlook on life can do for one’s quality of life. It is exhausting and emotionally draining to wake up every day, seeing the glass as half empty. Without an unwavering optimistic foundation, challenging events are likely to trigger more than just a bad time. A job loss, a death in the family, or an illness may quickly turn into a mental health crisis.
While resiliency training doesn’t mean you will remain unaffected by external stressors, it does give you the skills to pivot, stay positive, and get through it.
2. Reduce the Risk of Chronic Stress and Burn Out
Resiliency describes the ability of someone to adapt to and cope with stressful experiences, and it is immediately applicable for dealing with burnout. Burnout is the “syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment,” as defined by a 2015 publication titled “Stress and burnout in residents: impact of mindfulness-based resilience training.” The authors found significant support within the research for resiliency-type training and workshops reducing chronic stress, and therefore the risk of burnout.
3. Go Beyond Your Mental Health to Boost Your Physical Health
Although resilience training isn’t a guaranteed solution to the prevention of depression and anxiety, it can help reduce the severity and duration of these mental health issues. In some cases, it may prevent the onset altogether. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns often trigger the onset of physical health issues. The research is clear — mental health conditions increase the risk of chronic health conditions.
By having a stronger mental capacity to handle stressful situations and traumatic events, it means you lower your risk of developing chronic health issues as well. It’s the trickle-down effects of seeing the glass half full instead of half empty.
Resilience Training Positively Impacts Quality of Life
“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
Author, Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven
What predicts someone’s “positive adaptation despite adversity,” and what builds this characteristic? Learning to adapt to new situations, and persevere are some of the foundations behind resilience. With proper training, anyone can develop these skills, and create a positive outlook on life – no matter where you come from.
Resilience training helps foster stronger parents, educators, and doctors (as only some examples). It improves mental health, and therefore, physical health. In so many ways, resilience training can positively impact the quality of life, with slight adjustments to outlook and optimism.