Resilience: A Key Ingredient For A Successful Life

Resilience: A Key Ingredient For A Successful Life

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in the rising every time we fall.” – Confucius 

It is a truism that life is full of changes with lots of ups and downs.  Sometimes the ‘downs’, like being bullied at work or school, the loss of a job, a life-threatening illness, or the death of someone close, can have big emotional impacts that reverberate for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years.  So how to best handle these difficult life stressors? How best can we manage inevitable changes? Can we learn how to manage challenges, or are some people just born better able to survive and thrive despite setbacks, stress and changes?

One concept that is important to consider in trying to answer these questions is resilience.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom” (Becker, in Coutu, 2002).

Resilience – the ability to bounce back from setbacks, adapt well to change and continue in the face of adversity – is a key ingredient for a life well lived. There are many qualities that can make up a resilient individual. Two of these important qualities that help people cope
with life, not give up and bounce back after a ‘fall’ are optimism and flexibility.


According to the ‘father of positive psychology’ Martin Seligman, being optimistic is the key to resilience. Positive, optimistic people tend to:

  • interpret life knocks as temporary and changeable; i.e., they understand that things won’t be this way forever, that they will likely view the situation differently in the future and they tend to look the future with positivity;
  • recognize when difficult emotions, such as sadness and anger, are out of proportion to the reality of the threat they face;
  • identify opportunities in turbulence;
  • have a positive self-view and self-worth; and
  • be confident in their abilities and recognise and use inherent strengths to move forward despite challenging conditions.


If we are rigid and unyielding in our approach to life, we may find that, sooner or later, we are confronted with a change or a situation where our old inflexible coping skills are overwhelmed.  In contrast, those who demonstrate resilience tend to:

  • adapt to new and different situations;
  • learn from experience;
  • develop creative, pliable strategies to respond to change;
  • remain open to change and exploration; and
  • are open to asking for help.

Although it may be easy to talk about being optimistic and flexible in the face of challenging situations, it is not always easy to do or to feel this way.  However, the good news is that many of the qualities of resilient people outlined here can be learned.  If you would like help with building resilience, you can contact us.

© Thérèse (Tess) Collie 2020

Coutu, D. (2002, May). How resilience works. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Seligman, M.P.  (2011, April) Building resilience. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

The views and information expressed in this article are for general interest only and are not designed to replace personalised therapeutic support from a psychologist, counsellor, psychotherapist or other appropriate professional.