“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. – Viktor E. Frankl
Resilience is a life skill that has the potential to make you bulletproof in the face of ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’
You are not born with resilience, you earn it; you realize you have the traits of a resilient person when you make it through the tough times with your head held high, not giving in to your negative thoughts or surrendering.
Grit and resilience show us what humans are made of.
Persevering in the face of impossible odds is no small feat, and when we see another person striving against the odds, we are inspired beyond words.
Resilience is a skill that will guard you against mental and psychological breakdown after a traumatic experience, give you space to improvise when nothing seems to be working, force you to find meaning in life when everything seems pointless, and make you an overall badass.
Let’s take a look at resilience in detail in the following sections, and later we will highlight the key traits that make a person resilient.
This is a guide covering the traits of a resilient person.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is Resilient Behavior?
Resilience in its literal sense means to ‘bounce back’ or rebound from a traumatic, challenging, and adversarial situation.
If you lose a job, go through a breakup, flunk an exam, or suffer from any tragic misfortune, in the end, it is your ability to accept, adapt, and choose to bounce back that matters for your progress and improvement.
Choosing a logical response to any unfortunate situation by stepping back and taking a breather is the defining trait of a resilient person.
The ability to distance yourself from tragedy and come up with the best coping strategies is why resilient people are so good at bouncing back.
Jim Stockdale in the book, Courage under Fire, tells the story of how he spent seven years in Viet Cong captivity in the most grueling prisons in Vietnam.
Through sheer resilience, he was not only able to develop a communication system between the prisoners that shared words of inspiration, but also managed to survive the atrocities of the camp all through mental toughness and resilience.
Resilience is closely related to grit and toughness. Truly resilient people never blame outside events for their misfortune.
They are always into improving themselves, eliminating weaknesses and flaws, and developing skills and strategies to make the best of a certain situation.
Humans are by nature storytellers and love to hear a good story.
Stories of resilience inspire us beyond measure. Successful people, like Elon Musk, face setbacks on almost a day-to-day basis.
Even their childhood has stories of inspiration that how against all odds they chose to rise above their circumstances and changed the world.
Contrary to popular belief, resilience is not a product of wishful optimism detached from reality.
Such misplaced optimism can shatter at any time leading to depression and a ‘woe-is-me’ mentality.
Resilience is not the product of sheer optimism, but a blend of optimism and a real dose of acceptance.
What Causes a Person to be Resilient?
It is hard to pinpoint the causes of what makes a person resilient. Resilience, like any other skill, can be learned, however, there are certain individual traits and environmental factors that influence resilience.
A research review highlights that resilience is a product of controlled exposure and can never be developed through avoidance. This is also known as the gradual ‘steeling’ effect.
If a person has been through a few wretched experiences in life and somehow managed to pull through, they are more resilient if faced with any future calamity.
Maurice Vanderpol, a pioneering resilience researcher, identified a certain set of skills to tackle psychological trauma called “plastic shield”.
These skills included the ability to make associations and to distance oneself from a tragedy along with humor, as the set of “plastic shield” skills that enabled the survivors to persevere through the grueling concentration camp.
Another cause that has been highlighted by this research shows that a child’s sense of belonging bodes well for increasing resilience.
Why is it Important to be Resilient?
Resilience makes people adapt to adversity or persevere through hardships without losing their mental health.
Life can put you down one too many times, but if you have resilience you will find ways to overcome adversity.
Resilient people look at problems as temporary bumps in the road. Resilience makes them overcome challenges with whatever they have at their disposal.
Self-confidence comes easily to people who are resilient. They are confident in their abilities to overcome adversity.
If you have ever overcome a few challenges in your life, you will find that you are able to face down minor setbacks with the confidence of an experienced pro.
How to Become More Resilient?
Adaptability is the cornerstone of resilience.
Life is all about change, and if you accept that fact wholeheartedly then you would be ten steps ahead of most people in being more resilient.
Adaptability is an unmistakable sign of resilience in a person.
Adaptability has within it two important aspects of resilience: (1) acceptance; and (2) improvisation.
Acceptance is the prerequisite for calling forth the forces of resilience. Keeping yourself in denial about your life situation and avoiding responsibility is the worst way to deal with problems.
Resilience is not about avoidance but confronting problems head-on. It is the fighter’s mentality that counts when it comes to resilience.
Improvisation is your ability to make do with whatever life throws at you. As the saying goes, “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade”.
We can’t always guarantee that everything that we plan will go accordingly.
Most often than not, plans go sideways, projects derail, relationships get stormy, and life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
In such situations, it will be your ability to improvise that will rescue you.
Resilience is an aspect of your mental health, and that’s why when you don’t take care of yourself by eating well, sleeping for the appropriate amount of time, and exercising, your resilience can suffer.
According to this research, healthy sleep promotes overall resilience to stress.
And exercise helps build resilience by deliberately exposing your muscles to stress, and when you power through that burning sensation in your muscles, resilience also increases.
What are the Characteristics of a Resilient Person?
According to a Harvard Business Review article, How Resilience Works, by Diane L. Coutu, resilient people have three main characteristics:
1. They Accept Reality
When resilient people are confronted by challenging circumstances, they don’t bury their heads in the sand in the hopes that the problems will magically disappear.
By accepting reality, they create an obligation to resolve the problems.
2. They Find Meaning in Their Ordeal
Viktor Frankl, the author of the bestseller Man’s Search For Meaning, found his life purpose while suffering through the painful ordeal of a Nazi concentration camp.
Working under grueling conditions, he imagined giving a lecture about it one day and telling the world about how it felt to be in a concentration camp.
3. Improvise. Improvise. Improvise and Improvise Some More
A defining characteristic of resilient people is their ability to improvise.
Improvisation keeps the brain active in finding solutions and staves off any mental breakdowns or susceptibility to depression.
10 Traits of a Resilient Person
So now that we know a little about what makes a resilient person, their characteristics, and about causes and signs of a resilient person, let’s look at the 10 traits of a resilient person.
1. Having a Growth Mentality
A growth mentality is looking at problems as opportunities to grow.
It is that change in perspective that can make you infinitely more resilient than the other guy.
Resilient people are self-aware.
Self-awareness about their feelings, their thoughts, and their behaviors lets resilient people come up with better stress-coping strategies.
3. Keeping it Real
A resilient person will never hide behind empty optimism or stay in denial.
Resilience means that you are accepting of reality and making sure you take action to remedy it.
Not taking ‘no’ for an answer is another trait that resilient people have.
It is important to understand that resilience is as much about persevering and fighting for what you believe as it is about change.
Sometimes, you have to show resolve and not budge from your principles to be resilient.
5. Having an Internal Locus of Control
An internal locus of control means that you don’t blame outside circumstances for the position you are in, but you look for areas of growth and weaknesses in yourself that you need to put effort into.
6. Detachment from Self-Centered Emotions
Resilient people are like Zen masters who are detached from their egoistic whims, fantasies, and negative thinking.
Detachment from the ego gives resilient people that much mental space to avoid being sucked into the ego’s negative thoughts.
By doing so, they avoid a lot of mental drama later on.
7. Healthy Optimism
Optimism that does not border on wishful thinking is good for buttressing resilience.
Optimism is that ray of hope in a sea of darkness that seems to surround one going through tough times.
8. Having Self-Compassion
Engaging in negative self-talk, blaming yourself for your circumstances, and constantly degrading yourself with your inner voice will ultimately lead to spiraling down into depression, stress, and worry.
Resilient people are self-compassionate and consider themselves to be above the challenges that face them.
9. They Have a Support System
A support system consists of your friends and family. People who are there for you when you going through tough times.
They can offer words of encouragement and motivation to get you back on track.
10. Exploring Options
Exploring your options before making a decision is another trait that differentiates a resilient person.
Since they have the psychological space, they can logically assess their situation and consider options.
To further explore the characteristics and traits of resilient people, we recommend this TED Talk by Lucy Hone:
Resilience is an extremely important life skill. It helps us bounce back after a setback, makes us endure hardship with a positive attitude, and helps us find meaning within tragedies.
Resilience is hard to measure and scientifically examine, but we know it once we see someone making an all-out effort against the odds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should everyone try to be resilient?
Yes, resilience is an important skill that can benefit everyone in their personal and professional lives. Developing resilience can help individuals better navigate challenges and setbacks, cope with stress and adversity, and achieve their goals over the long term.
What makes someone a resilient person?
Someone who is able to adapt and recover quickly from a difficult or challenging situation is considered a resilient person.
Is resilience a trait or skill?
Resilience can be both a trait and a skill. Some people may be naturally more resilient due to their temperament or personality, while others can develop resilience through intentional practice and training. Regardless of whether resilience is innate or learned, individuals can strengthen their ability to bounce back from adversity by building their coping skills, social support networks, and positive mindset.
Sikandar is opinionated on a diverse set of topics that include, but are not limited to, Productivity, Health, Fitness, Motivation, and Career. He is in love with the written word and writes mainly to help others on their self-actualizing journeys. A journalist by education, getting to the bottom of things is his modus operandi. Often, he finds himself moonlighting as a life coach to his family, friends, and colleagues. He can be reached at his LinkedIn for collaboration.