The Resilience Definition Paradox

A definition of resilience can be found in any dictionary, but for a living breathing definition of resilience, you will discover it etched in the faces of those that have faced difficulties head-on, and refused to be defeated.

You might see resilience looking back at you in the bathroom mirror, or in the face of your spouse as they prepare for another day of work, or in the dogged determination of a co-worker or employee. Resilience can be an in-built quality or a choice, but either way it is not revealed in calm waters but in tough times.

Resilience Definition – Bounce Back or Bounce Forward?

For humans the dictionary defines resilience as:

“the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.”

For substances it is the ability to spring back into shape, elasticity.

The paradox, for me, is that with these definitions’ resilience is about recovery (getting back what you have lost) or springing back to an original shape, as if nothing had happened. Having experienced my own life challenges, and coached numerous people through tough times, I know that we are forever changed by these experiences, and therefore, with resilience we bounce forward, rather than bouncing back.

As a Motivational Speaker and Executive Coach on the topic of Self-leadership, I would never wish adversity visited up anyone, but if it does happen, I would advise to face it because:

“It is through adversity that we truly discover who we are and what we are a capable of.”

So, resilience is bouncing forward not bouncing back.

Building Resilience: 2-Mindsets

The foundational mindset of resilient people can be summarized as:

“This too shall pass”


“I can handle this”

The first mindset recognizes that tough times don’t last but tough people do. Know that that whatever you’re are facing has an expiry date and is not permanent can motivate you to keep going until you glimpse the finish line or the light at the end of the tunnel.

The second mindset is the self-belief that we have the resources to handle whatever life has put in the way of us achieving our goals. This is at the core of Self-leadership.

A caveat on, “I can handle this”, is that this mindset doesn’t mean you have to handle it by yourself. Resilient people are not afraid to ask for help. Having a healthy network of friends and connections will make all the difference during tough times.

I remember, when I went through disruption in 2000 and lost my business, my house, my money and my relationship that I pushed whatever friends I had left away and decided to suffer alone. This was a terrible plan. It was a dark time for me and thankfully I finally reached out for help before I spiraled any further down. Since then, I have faced adversity again, through the Global Financial Crisis, A Divorce and Illness. Each time I have had the mindset that this too shall pass, and each time I have taken action and I have asked for help where appropriate.

As I write this post, we are facing a potential pandemic with the Corona Virus Covid 19. This will test the resilience of both people and systems. Will we go down or bounce forward?

What kills resilience is pessimism and psychologist, Martin Seligman, gave us 3-P’s to avoid if we don’t want to be pessimistic.

Personal – don’t make what’s happening all about you. You have not been specially selected to suffer. If you are facing a problem, define the problem, tackle the problem, don’t resort to crying “Why me?”.

Pervasive – don’t make the problem about everything. You may be facing a financial challenge, but other parts of your life are functioning, such as your health your relationships etc. So, don’t make a problem about everything, compartmentalize. Deal with what you need to deal with.

Permanent – As mentioned, this too shall pass, so start looking past the problem to what you want to achieve, rather than being helpless and giving up because nothing will change.

Resilience is a Muscle

Anyone who has been to the gym knows that to build muscle you need to overload it first. Lift a weight until you can’t lift it anymore and you will be sore the next day, but if you keep doing this, the muscle gets bigger and stronger.

I believe we all have the capacity for resilience, and I believe that with each challenge we face and overcome we get stronger. Rather than curse the unfairness of this struggle, consider asking yourself,

“What is this preparing me for?”

And see how this changes your perspective.





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