How To Become More Resilient in a Troubled World?

Instead of making new year’s resolutions that have the habit of just making you feel guilty down the road, have you ever thought of choosing a word…just one word to represent your theme or intention for the coming year?  If I were to choose a word that could make the difference between suffering or thriving in 2021, that word would be “resilience”.  But what is resilience and how can you nurture this ability?

Resilience is the ability to withstand and adapt to adversity.  It is about facing hardship, feeling the distress, and finding a way to cope that is empowering.  To do so, you have to be able to accept unasked for and unwanted change.  You have to be able to accept what is happening and find a way to deal with it.  Your happiness cannot be entirely reliant on good things happening to you.  G-d knows we have learned that lesson during this pandemic!  You must feel the power within you to relate to those externals in a way that feels empowering.  You cannot have your heels dug in or be entrenched in one way of behaving or seeing things.  In order to have resilience, you need to be able to shift gears and recalibrate which often requires being able to see things from a different and new perspective.  The word “pivot” which is being used a lot lately, is most apt.

So what are some of the key qualities that make for resilience and what are concrete tips for how to nurture these?  Can a person learn to be more resilient?  I think so…

  1. First off, you need to be able to accept that change is inevitable.  It is tempting to live life hoping that a day will come when everything will move along smoothly and when a state of happiness will finally be achieved.  But alas, this simply is not how life goes.  Life instead is a wheel that keeps spinning and there are always going to be ups and downs sometimes of your own making and other times due to circumstances outside your control. If you have let go of the tempting fantasy that one day your train will finally reach the station and all will be well, you will not be so totally thrown off-kilter when unexpected and unwanted change inevitably comes your way.
  2. Second, confront the hardship head-on.  Put it in the light of day. While it is a natural thing to want to avoid suffering and deny unwelcomed change, defending against reality simply does not work.  Just because you decide not to face something does not mean that it has evaporated.  While being an ostrich and sticking your head in the sand might bring some initial relief, problems typically grow larger over time, and what might have been manageable at one time, may now have to snowball into a crisis for you to pay attention to it!  In addition, there is an obvious cost to this choice;  how can you cope effectively with difficulties if you are unwilling to face the problems that are right in front of you?
  3. Third, face and integrate your fears.   Facing the unknown is scary business.  Acknowledging this is better than pretending otherwise.  Try to listen to your fears, understand them, and address them.   Do not try to rise above and pretend your fears do not exist.  As the old saying goes…what you resist, persists.  In fact, repressed feelings typically intensify and find a way of pushing back. If you keep stuffing your feelings into a closet, one day you are going to open that closet and everything is going to fall on your head!
  4. Fourth, put your energy into what you can control.  Embrace where you feel powerless but do not linger there.  Once you have accepted where you are helpless, go where you have personal power, and focus on things that you have some say about.   Which doors are open?  Where can you go and what can you do to feel effective?
  5. Fifth, build a support network.  We tend to glorify independence in our society.  But resilience is as much about being autonomous as knowing how to reach out and rely on other people.  We are social creatures.  People need people and one of the biggest factors that mitigate stress in many adverse situations is whether or not you have people who listen well and whom you can talk to even though they may not be able to solve your problems for you.
  6. Sixth, change your perspective about adversity.  The attitude you have towards adversity will mean all and everything about how you respond and feel about it.  Nobody likes adversity.  However, when we look at people who are resilient, we discover that people who cope well, view adversity not as an impediment but as something that can be a motivator.  They see adversity as an invitation to learn, build strength, and make themselves better people.  They see value in it and seek positive meaning from difficult circumstances.  Learning to see adversity as an opportunity for growth can be game-changing.
  7. Lastly, find or create purpose.  Purpose creates resilience.  Especially during a pandemic, when restrictions are many and choices are few, perseverance is enhanced by a reason to get up in the morning.  I am not talking here about having to know your entire life purpose.  You can create purpose in whatever situation you find yourself in…large and small.  Realize that it is you who has the ability to put meaning into your life and that you can use any circumstance to do so.   You can make this situation of adversity an opportunity to get to know your children better, to get into the best shape ever, to learn a new instrument, to write to old friends you have not heard from for a long time, to study a new language, to get reacquainted with fiction, or to slow down and enjoy the day-to-day tasks of making wholesome meals.  You will find that with purpose, there is more meaning in your life, you have more agency and you can handle things better.

No doubt there are many more tips that could be added to this list.  These are just a handful.  Feel free to share what you have learned about being resilient in the commentary below.


  • Dr. Merika Graham Skirko

    I am happy to see you continuing to write your helpful and well-written blogs. Your website in general is so professional and well done. I know that for many of us, the one word that would help us get through this is “travel”, a return to movement, and to visitation of our loved ones and beloved places, and also the possibility of some new adventures. I constantly have to think about the idea that a return to more normal times will finally result in the possibility of less restriction of movement.

  • Ian Moore

    As always, it is wonderful to read your thoughts on how to better go through life. I airways enjoy your down-to-earth approaches to the everyday confusions that many of us face. You have been a source of strength for me over the years.
    As I read through this article, I had some thoughts that your ideas on resilience are in some ways like the wel-known Serenity Prayer which can serve as a backbone to addicts and non-addicts alike.
    Your article seemed especially useful to me in this time of Covid when our lives are in some ways more calm yet in some, much in turmoil.
    Thank you for keeping in touch with us

  • Wonnita Brands

    Excellent blog! Love you tips! Resilience is a great word right now and I appreciate your definition.

    Change is inevitable and most often out of our hands so being able to go with the flow is a great quality to have!

    I was listening to one of my favourite authors just recently and he felt that we are much less resilient than our ancestors!

  • Raimner

    Excellent tips! I grew up hearing this word and believe me, it helps change the way we deal with “adversity”. Like my grandma always said “If lemons fall from the sky, learn how to make lemonade”

  • Suzanne

    I like how you’ve listed and explained each tip, Dr Esses, and resilience in particular. I usually think of resilience as being needed for the worst of circumstances.

    Reading this is re-energizing and a bit of a wake-up call.

    Thank you 🙏

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