This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
If there’s a word people in the top ranks of human capital are buzzing about these days, it’s resilience. I get asked all the time what it means—followed by questions about how to get more of it. I’ve done lots (and lots) of reading and thinking and speaking about resilience. I’ve watched it in action, experienced it myself, and heard more than one person oversimplify it (“The ability to bounce back,” for instance), while hearing others attempt to explain it biologically and psychologically (and go on far too long).
The fact is, resilience in a person is far more than a tough-as-Teflon surface or rubbery resolve that helps you rebound from stress or disappointment. Because while we humans are arguably all made from the same stuff, some of us clearly have a way of thriving even when times are tough and stress is unabating.
I’ve concluded that there are four key components that contribute to resilience. These four essentials make a critical difference between hanging tough to get what you want in life and never quite getting there. The most resilient among us can summon these components at will—or, better yet, make them habitual so they don’t have to think twice.
1. You believe in yourself. Seems simple and obvious, but in fact, you won’t get very far without this. A resilient person is not cocky or overly confident; quite the opposite: He has a clear sense of his own potential, capability, and ability to cope and achieve—a top trait of resilient people. It’s this belief that contributes to another of my favorite qualities: self-efficacy, which means not only your ability to do a thing but to access the resources to get the help you need.
2. You have the ability to see what is possible, while also seeing what is. Optimism has been touted as above-all important, but resilient people temper this with a less-is-more approach. Blind optimism is a liability, but tempered with clear vision, an optimistic outlook is an asset, and I’m far more likely to trust someone with a sense of realistic optimism than someone who refuses to take into account the downsides in the “spirit of positivity.” The most resilient people assess their surroundings as well as their own strengths and weaknesses in context, and know where they will excel—and where they will fall short.
At the same time, they have a positive bias—they expect good things from the world and from other people. It’s this kind of outlook that allows them to do what’s also critical: To see the world for what it is. And you need both. The clear vision is what gives you the power to assess what is and what you need to do about it (realism), and at the same time keep expecting good things. Because if you truly believe that there’s nothing and no one good left, you won’t be able to function, let alone thrive.
3. You have control over your impulses and feelings. With the ability to self-evaluate and assess a situation must come the willingness to manage the impulses and emotions that result. This is where a resilient person’s rubber meets the road. The most resilient people I know aren’t hotheads; they don’t combust over little (or big) things. They’re able to take everything into account before they respond so that they don’t make mistakes, rash decisions, or other actions they may regret. Unchecked emotions and impulses not only contribute to those actions, but can cost them some self-preservation, as they’re big contributors to stress. This takes a lot of practice, no question! We’ll spend our lives learning to be better. But it is a skill that can be learned and honed, and the most resilient among us know that.
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4. You aim high and reach out. A resilient person doesn’t curl up and die over the slightest rejection or failure. In fact, a resilient person does the opposite of curl up; she expands. She reaches out—even in the wake of crisis. This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of resilience: Your ability to continue to aim high and reach for it, as opposed to lowering your standards, expectations, or efforts. So when things don’t go your way (as they sometimes don’t), and you feel hindered or pushed back, your inner resilience can keep you coming back, and reaching out, not just to “try again,” but to outdo yourself, once again.