Five Things Resilient People Do

Posted on January 22nd, 2014 by in Healthy Living

resilientWhy do some people bounce back after a major tragedy or illness, while others seem derailed by life’s daily challenges? The answer, in a word, is resilience.

At its core, resilience is the capacity to handle difficult moments. That could be a major trauma such as post-traumatic stress after a military deployment; a chronic source of tension, such as parenting a sick child; or a sudden loss—of a loved one, a job, a marriage, or a home, to fire or flood.

“That old image of resilience as gritting your teeth and struggling through is not what we’re talking about,” says Kripalu faculty member Maria Sirois. In fact, instead of being stoic and handing things on their own, she says healthy people seek out connections during tough times rather than trying to go it alone.

Life hands us difficult situations, no matter how much yoga or meditation we do. For those who study resilience, the question is: How can our lives be rich, even joyful, during both the ups and downs?

According to Maria, what differentiates resilient people from the rest of us is that they have a handful of strategies they consistently utilize.

They lead from their strengths. Maria says her strength is perseverance. In times of great difficulty, she reminds herself, “You don’t give up.” When we start from our strengths, we remind ourselves of who we are and what we have control over.

They are authentic. You can’t thrive unless you’re being true to yourself. Trying to live someone else’s life creates more stress and confusion, leaving you exhausted. “Drink from your own well and follow where your own path leads you,” Maria advises. “Remember, what works for me is different from what works for you.”

They reach out. Resilient people make wise choices about social connections. They invest time in building meaningful relationships and sometimes end those that are no longer healthy. There are certain times when it’s crucial to be connected to others. A diagnosis of an illness is one example; ironically, this is when people tend to be most isolated.

There are three specific types of connections that can make a real difference in a crisis. There are connections with experts in the field, such as therapists, healers, counselors, and coaches. There are connections with people who have experienced the same situation and can give us insight and guidance (for example, others who are recently divorced or have survived breast cancer). And there’s what Maria refers to as “the choir”—our support system, those people we trust most.

They are mindful. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of how we live our lives. Being in the present allows us to see things clearly, so we are better able to handle problems as they arise.

They are positive. Positivity is an overall sense of optimism and well-being. People who are most resilient are able to cultivate a positive mindset and outlook even during the bad times, which enhances their capability to come up with more creative solutions. For example, a resilient person who has lost her job will find a creative way to move forward. She might ask: What are the unexpected benefits? Should I pursue something new? What lessons can I learn from this? This can help transform a painful period into an important lesson in survival.

Maria cites a real-world example, a young woman who was unable to do yoga or meditate on a cushion after enduring multiple back surgeries. Her creative and resilient solution was substituting a 10-minute meditative walk in nature.

The lesson, Maria says, is “You can say ‘Woe is me,’ or you can have those feelings and choose to do something constructive anyway.”

What is your lesson in resilience?


About Jennifer Mattson

Jennifer is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.

29 Responses to “Five Things Resilient People Do”

  1. World Gratitude Map January 22, 2014 10:17 am #

    Thx-these are wonderful tips. “The Stories We Tell Create the People We Become” –JT Lewis So even-especially-when things are difficult we need to keep our eyes on all that’s Good & Beautiful & Possible in the World. Narratives of grace and resilience and overcoming odds make us stronger and more resilient. Some of our favorite posts on the World Gratitude Map are by folk who stop to #seethegood under the direst conditions.

  2. Rochelle Spencer January 22, 2014 11:28 am #

    I love this article! I’m trying to learn how to be more resilient, and this article provides some helpful tips. Thank you!

  3. Mia Howard January 22, 2014 11:36 am #

    Thank you for this article. Resilience also comes from yoga, from looking deep within and letting go of pain.

    • KripaluEditor January 22, 2014 9:15 pm #

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Mia!

  4. Guest January 22, 2014 11:41 am #

    @disqus_W8TBoY4MCr:disqus Glad it’s helpful and best of luck as you work toward resilience. I’ll working on a second article on it now. So stayed tuned! –Jennifer Mattson, Writer

  5. Guest January 22, 2014 11:50 am #

    Thanks @world_gratitude_map:disqus for

  6. Jennifer Mattson
    Jennifer January 22, 2014 11:52 am #

    Thanks @world_gratitude_map:disqus for introducing us to this. Gratitude is such a key element of resilience. Will check it out! -Jennifer Mattson, Writer

  7. Lisa Gottlieb January 22, 2014 2:03 pm #

    A sweet reminder, thank you. I also believe that the more I practice resiliant behavior, the easier it is next time to utilize those skills. Each challenge is an opportunity for more practice.

    • Jennifer Mattson
      Jennifer January 22, 2014 6:25 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Lisa. -Jennifer Mattson, Writer

  8. rosayaz1 January 22, 2014 2:08 pm #

    Wow! I read this and my heart soars. EVERYBODY has that capacity. Resilience is not a God-like characteristic given to that selective few among us. It is embedded in our D-N-A. Is part of everybody’s genetic make-up. What some do than others don’t is to access it. To manifest it. To FIND it inside of themselves and run with it. Limits are an illusion. There’s always a way to get out of things. Someone, somewhere survived what you are going through and worst (trust me!) and made it to the other side. The question they ask (the resilience warriors) is: WHY NOT ME!???

    • Jennifer Mattson
      Jennifer January 22, 2014 6:23 pm #

      So glad it resonated with you. Great points! -Jennifer Mattson, Writer

  9. Tweetie December 29, 2014 5:31 pm #

    I am dealing with the “woe is me” with someone very close to me now has been an extreme emotional roller coaster. It is difficult to bear. The person believes that everything except what they choose to deal with can be ignored or skipped over. They believe they have missed out on establishing their own identity and while they are in a moment of self-discovery they can bring up the past and be neglectful to big problems that have existed for years. This resilience is what drives me, but cohabitating with someone who lacks in this area and prefers misery and chaos and grief is difficult. How far does love extend? Am I purposely being phased out?

    • Tom February 3, 2015 8:43 pm #

      hand in there and simply remember to breathe during the journey

    • Catherine February 4, 2015 10:22 pm #

      Unfortunately, I went through what you are going through and when he left me (after 18 years of the roller coaster ride, ) I felt unburdened and free. Every month, I feel more like “me”. He’s still miserable and wants to make me suffer. ..but he has lost his power over my emotions (for the most part, it’s a slow process of changing back to myself)

  10. Kathy January 27, 2015 1:16 pm #

    I am looking forward to taking Maria’s Course in Resilience starting next month at Kripalu.

  11. Terry January 28, 2015 11:41 pm #

    Bouncing back from chemotherapy with an appreciation for strength to succeed.

    • KripaluEditor January 29, 2015 5:53 am #

      May you bounce back with much strength.
      Sending you the best!
      Kim, Kripalu Editor

  12. Tez Anderson February 4, 2015 2:46 pm #

    What I’ve learned is that resilience is imperfect. Over years I realized that I am resilient but I had to learn it. I’ve lived with HIV for nearly 32 years now. When I found out I was HIV-postive in the 1980s they told me I had two years to live. I was 24 now I’m 56. I lots hundreds of friends, a lover and much of my community. I nearly died a few times. I came close. But I’m still here. The secret is to be gentle with yourself. Notice the ways you are resilient and see challenges as opportunities. Also giving back is key too. My two-cents.

    • KripaluEditor February 4, 2015 4:02 pm #

      Thank you, Tez. Wise words.

  13. Catherine February 4, 2015 10:13 pm #

    I think that I have been passing the resilience tests. In one year, we had a fire. I was the one who contacted red cross and we were helped. Then my husband abandoned my 2 daughters and myself. I had some strong personal connections to help me financially (a little but it got me through). I also made some interesting internet connections to help me dream of getting published, learning to speak French and travel more. ..dreams, even if they seem impossible, help distract the mind and give hope. I also found out that I have stage 3 Cancer. …other terrible things happened last year but I got through it. We lost a house and all of our possessions that were in storage. Had to give away pets….The list goes on. I am certain that it is the keep on trying attitude and dreams of better times and the fact that I have 3 beautiful daughters who are going through a lot of stress and I want to keep it to the minimum for them.

  14. Layla Qamar February 5, 2015 4:21 am #

    Great list! I would like to add that resilient people also give themselves permission to feel their feelings, validate their feelings, and express them in a healthy way. Resilient people accept all of their feelings (including sadness, fear, anger, jealousy, and even depression) by acknowledging and facing their feelings in order to move through the darkness and into the light. Resilient people do not avoid or feel ashamed of their feelings; they give themselves love and compassion no matter what they are feeling.

    • KripaluEditor February 6, 2015 8:00 am #

      Nice. It is important to acknowledge and work through, instead of around. Thanks, Layla!

  15. Barney Cannon February 6, 2015 7:32 am #

    I had a stroke last year. I started meditating, and yoga. Above all, I try to keep a sense of humor, and I just won’t quit!

    • KripaluEditor February 6, 2015 8:00 am #

      Barney, this is inspiring! Sending you the best.

  16. Pepita del Paraíso February 6, 2015 11:07 am #

    Thank you for this article, right on for me today!!! last night I had my third injury from taekwondo. I did it to myself, and it has been the same every injury I had, over excited, not thinking too much…BAM! twist knee, go down… people that find out tell me I’m too old for this, stop going, you are going to kill yourself…etc. There is a part of me that listens and start believing a bit of it…yeah, maybe I should take yoga instead…but then, I forget when I’m well again, and return to the dojo, with more confidence, and with another level of respect for what my body can accomplish. Thank you! I’ll have to wait, maybe a couple of months to keep kicking… (:

  17. Lenore March 1, 2015 10:36 am #

    I totally agree with Layla. The blog makes it appear as if people can just jump up, plug in their resiliency and “cultivate a positive mindset and outlook even during the bad times.” I think this is actually a negative message to send to people who may have a hard time doing just that and then think they’re failing. I am a therapist for almost 30 years and I know what it takes for all of us to process the hard, sad, bad feelings and come to a place of problem solving and moving forward. All of it counts and all of it is part of us as we live our lives. We can’t disavow the bad, dark parts. But we must learn to live with them and incorporate them and lessen their power.

    • KripaluEditor March 1, 2015 12:09 pm #

      Good points, Lenore! The idea is to start somewhere, as opposed to remaining stuck. And yes, this isn’t about perfection, it is about allowing the process to unfold and cultivating the ability to look beyond. Thanks so much for sharing.

  18. Moon March 1, 2015 9:58 pm #

    I’ve been through the top 5 stressors within 3 years…Divorce, Death of mother, Moving 3 times, Domestic violence, Alcoholic Ex with our 2 children…I survived and thrived without any medication…there is no doubt it was GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My favorite saying is “God, I can’t do this, but you can through me!” The peace of Christ in your heart can carry you through anything! I have multiple stories of Christ miracles through it all…may you all surrender your will over to God and experience that deep sense of peace unexplainable and unshakeable…with God. All you have to do is surrender and ask.

  19. Mariette Perdigao March 2, 2015 9:42 am #

    Positive attitude goes a long way when your dealing w/the ups and downs of chronic disease! I have recurrent breast ca stage 4, have had multiple therapies w/little relief. I have a great support group that I attend every week when I feel well. These are the days that I cherish.

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