12 Ways to Build Resilience

12 Ways to Build Resilience

I’m not the most resilient person. I would go as far as to say I was quite lacking in resilience growing up. On the outside, it looked like I rolled with the punches and didn’t let anything bother me. But on the inside… Boy, was I a mess! I would often internalize every little thing, obsess over it to see where I went wrong. It never occurred to me that I could build resilience. That my inside could reflect my outward appearance. Honestly, I never really thought about it. And to be completely honest, I probably didn’t even know what resilience was.

So when I saw Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, I was intrigued, to say the least. Could this be the answer to my low self-esteem? Is it possible for someone who is so easily hurt to build up defenses against all my insecurities? Will I finally be as strong on the inside as I appear on the outside?

Dr. Rick Hanson is a psychologist with extensive work on the need for building mental resources. Resilient is his latest book of that theme.

From the cover:

“These days it’s hard to count on the world outside. So it’s vital to grow strengths such as grit, gratitude, and compassion—the keys to resilience and to lasting well-being in a changing world.

True resilience is much more than enduring terrible conditions. We need resilience every day to raise a family, work at a job, cope with stress, deal with health problems, navigate issues with others, heal from old pain, and simply keep going.”

In the book, he breaks down the three basic needs everyone has (safety, satisfaction, connection) and the four major ways we meet our needs (recognizing what’s true; resourcing ourselves; regulating thoughts, feeling, and actions; and relating skillfully to others and the wider world). When you multiple the needs by the ways we meet those needs, we get 12 inner strengths we can use to build resilience.


1. Compassion

We need self-love and self-care. If we don’t love ourselves, it’s hard to love others, and for others to love us. But if we know we are loved, it makes it easier to accept things that happen and not stress over it too much. This allows us to enjoy the little moments in life, because little things add up.

2. Mindfulness

The brain is shaped by our experiences, so if we are mindful and take notice of our mental strength, we will build and reinforce those strengths. Three ways we can engage our minds are to be present, decrease harmful thoughts, and increase positive experiences. Positive thoughts will help us be responsive instead of reactive.

3. Learning

Our brains learn to be more positive through having beneficial, enriching experiences; absorbing those experiences; and being able to draw on those experiences to mitigate the effects of negative experiences. For example, if a horrible relationship and subsequent break-up makes you doubt your own worth, remembering all the friends and family who love and support you and knowing they are there for you will go a long way towards mending your confidence.


4. Grit

Grit is the mental toughness to get over obstacles and move on. In order to build grit, we have to focus on the things we can do, the things we have control over. Otherwise, we can succumb to learned helplessness. We can’t control the results, so we focus on and accept that we can control our actions and reactions. We can appreciate all that we do and have done.

5. Gratitude

We have a bias towards negativity, because throughout our evolution, it was better to be wrong about something negative (e.g., the rustling bushes contain a lion waiting to eat us) than to be right about something positive (it is merely a gentle breeze rustling the bushes). But that means we pay more attention to our failures than our successes. Being grateful for what we have and what we’ve accomplished in life, no matter how small a win, will keep us going when times get rough.

6. Confidence

Confidence is related to a sense of security. We want to be able to trust others to be dependable, helpful, and caring. Our confidence relies on the narrative we tell ourselves; a coherent, positive story about our lives will help us be more secure in ourselves. We need to recognize that we are a good person at heart, and push back against our inner critic.


7. Calm

There are two branches of the nervous system. One is responsible for “rest and digest,” the other for “fight or flight.” Being in regular fight-or-flight mode creates anxiety, so we need to take time to rest and digest, to relieve stress. We can control reactive anger by understanding the two parts to anger: priming and triggering. If we understand that having a miserable day at work is priming us for anger, we will respond proportionately to the trigger, and not file for divorce just because our spouse is chewing loudly at dinner.

8. Motivation

What keeps us pursuing our goals in the face of challenges? There’s a spot between wanting to achieve something and being obsessed with it; it’s our job to figure out the balance, for optimal motivation. Sometimes we might need more rewards to stay motivated, and that’s ok. We have to remember to use guidance rather than criticism when trying to motivate ourselves.

9. Intimacy

Empathy, compassion, and kindness are needed for intimacy. But there must also be a strong sense of self, or we will lose our individuality and boundaries in “we” or “us.” The sense of self helps create and strengthen our bonds with people; we should focus on our responsibilities and not stray from our personal code of conduct no matter what others are doing.


10. Courage

We all want to feel safe with other people. It starts by separating the solving of problems from the sharing of experiences; sometimes we just want to vent, not have the other person fix things. When we’re on the other side of that scenario, we must make sure to speak wisely. To speak wisely, what we say must be: well-intended, true, beneficial to the other person, timely, not harsh, and most importantly, wanted.

11. Aspiration

As we grow up, we forget most of the dreams we had as kids. We get caught up in the daily grind. But it’s important to have aspirations, because they keep us going. We should dare to aim high, but have a growth mindset, to be ok with whatever results we get, even if we fail. The best aspirations combine what we enjoy with what we’re talented at, and what we care about.

12. Generosity

Being generous doesn’t involve money; most acts of generosity don’t. We can easily be overwhelmed by all the things happening in the world, and feel helpless in the face of it. But if we do what we can and recognized all that we’ve already done, it will make an impact. Remember, little things add up over time.

As we apply these mental strengths, and respond to the world around us instead of reacting, we begin to build an upward spiral, similar to the one mentioned in Big Potential. We become better equipped to deal with the world, and ourselves.


While I greatly enjoyed reading the book, and learned a lot, I felt like the author didn’t tie everything back to resilience. Some things are no-brainers, like courage and grit and confidence. But how does aspiration and generosity really help us build resilience? I can make the stretch, but I would rather not infer and assume. I was also a bit thrown off by the abrupt ending. The book ended with the chapter on generosity, without a conclusion.

Get your copy here:


Do you consider yourself a resilient person? Which of these strengths do you already have in your arsenal? Which do you want to develop further?

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

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Comments (2)

  • Emily 2 years ago Reply

    I need to check this book out! It sounds so helpful!

    Lily 2 years ago Reply

    It was very helpful! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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