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Growing from Adversity how to build resilience

Sarah Winnig, MA

“When you fall off a horse, get back on.”

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

These quotes sound nice, but might leave you wondering: How? How do I get back on the horse, make lemonade, or try again? The answer lies in resilience.

Resilience means using inner strength to work through and grow from challenges and crises. This is what allows a person to “bounce back” after anything from a minor rejection to a major life setback.

No one is born resilient—it's a learned skill. With practice, anyone can become resilient. More than anything, resilience comes from mindset. By controlling how you think about a situation, you can control how you respond to it.

Read on to learn four mindset-oriented strategies for building resilience.

Focus on What You Can Control

During times of crisis, it’s common to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It may feel like everything is out of control, and there’s nothing you can do. For this reason, it’s beneficial to recognize that there are things within your control. Resilience comes from managing the things within your control while accepting the things you cannot control.

Acceptance won’t necessarily come easily, but you can work toward it. For example, practicing mindfulness can help you accept things as they are, without trying to change them or push them away. Focusing on what you can control is a skill, and the more you practice, the better you will get.

Resilient mindset: Defeated mindset:
A person loses their job and reflects on what is in their control and what is not. They recognize they couldn’t control their boss’s moods, but they could improve their own work ethic and relationships with coworkers. Going forward, they know they don’t have control over where they’ll be hired, but they can control the effort they put into the job search. A person loses their job and fails to take any responsibility. They blame everything on their boss. Going forward, they don’t feel they have control over finding another job. They feel hopeless—if they don’t have any control, why bother trying?
  • Resilience-building questions
  • “What aspects of the situation are within my control?”
  • “What are two things I can do to improve the situation?”
  • “What are two things I cannot control and have to accept?”

Adopt a Growth Mindset

There are countless ways to view the events in your life. Depending on the perspective you take, the same situation might carry completely different meanings.

Resilience comes from viewing hardships as opportunities for growth. This mindset is developed by looking for the upside of difficult situations—even when that is hard to do. This doesn’t mean you see the situation as entirely positive (or even mostly positive). Instead, you recognize there are at least some positive things you can take from the situation.

Resilient mindset: Defeated mindset:
A person loses their job and acknowledges both what they’ve lost and the silver linings. They take time to improve their job skills and consider the fact that they might find a job they enjoy more. A person loses their job and focuses entirely on what they’ve lost, including income, friends, and a sense of purpose. They fail to see anything they can learn from this situation.
  • Resilience-building questions
  • “What can I learn from this?”
  • “How will this ultimately help me?”
  • “What positive things can I take from this situation?”

Face Your Fears

When facing a crisis, it’s natural to want to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that come with it. For example, after losing a job, it might feel bad to reflect on your mistakes, or to share the bad news with loved ones. Skipping these steps means not having to face discomfort... for now.

In the long run, avoidance leaves the root problems unresolved, allowing them to grow or recur.

Confronting difficult experiences is key to developing resilience. Being present to your difficult experience—rather than pushing it away—gives you the chance to work through problems. The more you practice confronting challenges, the more confidence you gain in facing similar challenges in the future.

Resilient mindset: Defeated mindset:
A person reflects on the reasons why they lost their job. They explore their feelings about it, take time to consider what mistakes they may have made, and cut back on spending until they find a new job. A person loses their job and is in denial. They refuse to share that they feel upset and insist that they don’t care. They bury their head in the sand, not reflecting on their feelings or their job performance.
  • Resilience-building questions
  • “What would happen if I didn’t face this situation?”
  • “What are the benefits of dealing with this?”
  • “What is the best possible outcome?”
  • “What changes do I need to make?”

Discover Your Values

Values are the things that are most important to you in life. Understanding your values can help build resilience. When you’re just going through the motions and doing things without passion, it’s easy to throw in the towel as soon as things get difficult. In contrast, when you know what you’re fighting for, you’re better equipped to push through even the most challenging situations.

To discover your values, consider times you felt happy, focused, or energized. What did these situations have in common? What values does this reveal? Use your values to motivate you through future challenges.

Resilient mindset: Defeated mindset:
A person who highly values family loses their job. They’re motivated to do whatever it takes to find a new job so that they can support their family. A person without clear values is not sure what to do after losing their job. They feel lost and directionless, and aren’t sure how to move forward.
  • Resilience-building questions
  • “What is most important to me?”
  • “What motivates me each day?”
  • “What are the values I want to live by?”


Resilience is about working through challenges and coming out even stronger. You can develop resilience by focusing on what you can control, adopting a growth mindset, facing your fears, and defining your values.


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