Thriving Together Series: How to Build Resilience to Manage Change Well


by Katie Clare, Associate Director for Resilience Programs, University Life

“We all need resilience to live a fulfilling life. With resilience, you’ll be more prepared to take on challenges, to develop your talents, skills, and abilities so that you can live with more purpose and more joy.” – Eric Grietens

Since resilience is always shifting and challenges always changing, building resilience requires continuous work, and it’s not work that can wait for the crisis. A crisis teaches us new things. A challenging stressor gives us an opportunity to flex our resilience. In fact, it’s possible that without the stressor that demands resilience, we can’t understand our resilience in an embodied way. All that said, if we want to manage change well, resilience needs to be a deliberate part of our everyday experience.

Even though we may not see the immediate effects of behaviors like drinking water for hydration and exercising for overall health, we know these are important behaviors that help sustain us. We need a similar approach to resilience. One key skill that can help us develop resilience day by day is self-awareness.

The challenges we’ve faced during this past year of the coronavirus pandemic have required us all to run a resilience marathon. My sincere hope is that it has led to deeper self-awareness on many fronts for all of us. As we turn to the next chapter of this pandemic, one in which more people are vaccinated and some greater semblance of normal returns, what might you do to be deliberate about engaging resilience for the long haul? What might you do to deepen self-awareness? I have three recommendations that will help you do this work.

Deepening Your Self-Awareness for Greater Resilience

My first recommendation requires definition: Yes, an actual definition, but also definition in your life. The American Psychological Association says resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” What does it mean for you to adapt well? Likewise, what does it mean for you to bounce back? As you consider these questions, be sure to factor your values and your priorities into your definition.

The second recommendation requires some reflection to take stock of what got you to this moment. To build resilience, identify the strategies that helped you get here. Also identify the strategies you had prior to this year that required reimagination. To adapt well, you need a robust set of strategies and the ability to recognize which strategy to turn to in the moment. After all, the strategies that worked in our pre-pandemic lives may not be the ones that worked in our pandemic lives, or will work in our post-pandemic lives. Consider how your strategies allowed you to grow, pushed you to grow, and even prepared you for the next growth opportunity.

My third recommendation encourages you to engage your mental state. If your thinking is clouded by distraction or worry, it is even more challenging to be resilient in the face of adversity. It is easier to manage change with a clear mind that allows your thinking to be flexible. There are many approaches to engaging your mental state, but they all have the same goal of The New Yorker cartoon that asks: “Have you tried turning off your conscious mind and then turning it back on again?” You can start by leaving your phone at home and stepping outside. Allowing your mind to wander in nature can promote relaxation, not to mention a sense of awe, both of which can help you to feel recharged and ready for the next challenge. You might also engage in mindfulness practices that help to focus your thinking.

These recommendations can help you to enhance your resilience. Even more important than enhancing it, they can help you to maintain your resilience, especially if you follow the first two recommendations periodically and the third regularly.

Maintaining Your Resilience

Recognizing that you are resilient is important. Acknowledging the circumstances that have allowed you to build your resilience is important. Yet I often hear people say they are resilient, as if the work is done. To maintain your resilience so you’re ready for the next challenge, you must keep working at it. You won’t build it or maintain it meaningfully by operating in the autopilot mode. Instead of talking about resilience as something we have that allows us to manage change well, we would benefit from re-orienting ourselves to “resiliencing” as an intentional approach we engage that allows us to manage change well.

Additional Resources

Mason’s Resilience Badge is a fully online, asynchronous learning opportunity that will allow you to further develop your resilience through content knowledge and practices, all of which are backed by the science of resilience.

Mason’s Resilience Resources articles each connect to one of the 10 strategies explored in the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney.

The Greater Good Science Center presents a variety of resilience resources, including Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.

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