Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.

Even after more than 30 years as a university administrator, I continue to be plagued by my own negative thoughts.  It may even be that because of my long professional experience that I manifest negative thoughts and concerns about my leadership, my decisions, and my interaction with others.

Certainly one of the ways of dealing with negative thoughts is to practice resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, what some call grit.

Dealing with negative thoughts is the first step in practicing resilience.  Two recent articles one on turning off negative thoughts another in a recent EAB post ( describing what clinical psychologist Meg Jan in her book Supernormal, 8 habits of resilient people provided some insights into becoming more resilient.

1: Resilient people avoid self-deprecation. When I first read this I thought what a minute I appreciate some self-deprecating humor but that wasn’t the point.  The point is recognizing and acknowledging that your own challenges are legitimate.

One of the suggestions in turning off the negative thoughts, related to this point is first recognize and observe the negative thought.  Recognizing the negative thought and where that thought may be coming from is an initial step in dealing with it.

2: Resilient people remember how far they’ve come. In all honesty, my experience in setting up the new College of Continuing Education and Professional Development has come with challenges I simply didn’t anticipate.  That doesn’t mean it has been a negative experience, just the opposite it has been quite rewarding, but there are times when one is stuck in the minutia that do feel stuck and that you are not accomplishing what you set out to do.  Jay recommends thinking about three previous challenges you faced and what strategies you used to get through them.

3: Resilient people take back control. “Every problem can be approached somehow,” Jay argues. When faced with a set back we can find ourselves in the situation of “I am simply frozen, I can’t think of a way out.”  We go down the rabbit hole of ruminating over our negative thoughts.  One way to deal with this suggests Alice Boyes create two columns on a sheet of paper. Label the first column “Thought” and the second column “Solution.”  With this track the solutions you develop when the negative thoughts appear.  This tool will assist you in finding the solutions and will quick thaw being frozen.

4: Resilient people use their talents. Everyone copes with a challenging situation differently. Resilient people know their strengths, such as a specific skill or friendly personality, and use those to help solve their problem.

To do this one needs to be mindful, in turning off negative thoughts Christopher Bergland, three-time champion of the Triple Ironman triathlon and scientists, breaks down his approach to mindfulness in three steps: “Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking.”

5: Resilient people find allies. In a tongue and cheek response when asked about my leadership style I will sometimes say I subscribe to the Blanche DuBois leadership style, I depend on the kindness of strangers.  In my case nothing could be further from the truth.  I have always had great support from Peggy and have had the good fortune to have a number of friends that I can count on.  The difficult thing is first recognizing you need help and then reaching out to friends for help and insights.  Of course the last step in taking and acting on the advice.

We can’t underestimate the importance of allies.  According to Jay, people who recover from adversity tend to have at least one other person they can rely on for support, such as a close friend, family member, or counselor.

6: Resilient people maintain their relationships. You don’t need a hundred best friends to be resilient, but it helps to recognize your desired level of interaction (one close friend or dozens of acquaintances?) and make sure you’re filling your social needs.}

7: Resilient people take breaks. Stephen Covey reminds us that we need to take time to sharpen the saw.  The difficulty is if you are ruminating about a particular challenge you may not give yourself permission to take a break.  Jay tells us “if you constantly focus on your challenges, you will burn yourself out. Instead, identify the activities that refresh you (such as reading, socializing, or playing sports) and schedule regular time for those activities.”

8: Resilient people celebrate their growth. When you get through a difficult situation, you may not feel like it helped you. Using Bergland’s “Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking.”  It is important to recognize that you’ve learned “how to overcome the obstacle, you’ve actually built new confidence and coping skills that will help you recover more quickly next time (Jay,, 1/5).”

The APA reminds us “resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.” (














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4 Responses to Resilience

  1. Don Swoboda says:

    Jim my friend, this doesn’t sound like you. Having a little experience with resilience myself, I can relate to many of the points you make, but your tone sounds like you think you are in a slump of some kind. At my lowest career point i found myself questioning my actions that led to that point, and after beating myself up for a while I came to the realization that “it wasn’t my fault” at all. Could I have done things differently, well of course, but I would not allow myself the possibility of giving up my basic principles. no actions were worth giving up my integrity, belief system and faith. After all, I was the one that had to live with me every minute. Once I convinced myself It wasn’t my fault, the battle was changed. I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time figuring out whose was at fault, I prefer to redefine the problem or issue and decide how to solve it (with the help of others). There is truth in the old saying that it takes a community to raise a child. Well, to raise someone out of a slump or funk, it takes friends, colleagues and one person that you can say “oh shit” to and they receive it without judging, criticizing,evaluating,or telling you what to do. They just listen, help you clarify what your thinking, pat you on the back and tell you to get back in the game and figure it out. I think they all are helping you find your resilience. I know you’ve done it for others, now let “others” help you. Part of resilience is persistence, if you don’t believe that then explain to me why the CUBS kept trying to win a world series…because they knew they could.
    One more thing that I find helpful to me personally is prayer.
    Continued success,
    don s

  2. shaeffjm says:

    Don thank you so much for your kind and supporting words. I agree with you there is no point in playing the blame game and your advice of turning to friends and colleagues for support is very helpful. Sometimes I can be just plan stubborn and assume I can figure this out. And your right, that sort of thinking only exasperates the issue. I am very lucky to have friends and colleagues like you Don, thank you. And did you note that the Cubs did win the world series so there is always hope.

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