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How to understand resilience

In this article, Helen Kempster discusses the importance of resilience, and how you can increase your ability to bounce back from setbacks.

Resilience is another important attribute associated with career success. It can be defined as the ability to ‘bounce back’ quickly after setbacks and to withstand stress and difficult times.

Everybody experiences setbacks

Everybody experiences failure at some point in their lives. In general, people with high levels of resilience are optimistic about failure. They believe that it can be an opportunity to learn and develop.

There are many examples of well-known people who have failed many times before going on to be incredibly successful, including Steve Jobs (one of the founders of Apple) and J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series).

What is resilience?

Many psychologists believe that resilience is a learned trait that can be developed. Business psychology consultancy, Nicholson McBride, have come up with the concept of ‘RQ’ to measure resilience (Clarke and Nicholson, 2010).

RQ consists of five components:

  1. Optimism
    This involves having a positive outlook and seeing a positive vision of the future. Optimists have a ‘can-do’ attitude and are happier and healthier as a result. Seligman (1998) talks about the idea of ‘learned optimism. The process of learned optimism is:
  • Adversity – acknowledging difficulties
  • Beliefs – recording your thoughts and feelings (beliefs) about the difficulties
  • Consequences – thinking about what the outcomes of these beliefs might be
  • Disputation – challenging your beliefs about the difficulties
  • Energisation – reflecting on the process and changing your beliefs if needed
  1. Solution Orientation
    This is the ability to anticipate problems, take control and be proactive in finding solutions. It involves displaying sound judgment and reframing your thoughts from problems to outcomes.
  2. Individual accountability
    Those who feel accountable are secure and take ownership of their own self-confidence. They are able to tackle issues, deal with conflict and take action. This links to the idea of internal locus of control, which we looked at when discussing self-confidence.
  3. Openness and flexibility
    This involves the ability to cope with ambiguous situations. People who are open and flexible change direction when necessary, learn from previous problems, cut their losses when appropriate, and empathise with others.
  4. Managing stress and anxiety
    This is about knowing your stressors, anticipating stressful events and dealing with the symptoms.

Life experience seems to increase an individual’s capacity for resilience; this could be because the more experiences you have had, the more likely you are to feel confident in dealing with new situations.


Clarke, J. and Nicholson, J. (2010). Resilience: Bounce Back from Whatever Life Throws at You. Crimson Publishing.

Seligman, M (1998). Learned Optimism. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

© Goldsmiths, University of London
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