Photo of Vanessa Redgrave courtesy of

Photo of Vanessa Redgrave courtesy of

The same bad thing can happen to two people: one gets really down and depressed for a few days/weeks, the other bounces back to “normal“ within a few hours. What’s the difference?

When I worked for Child Protective Services, we talked about “resilient children” and how they managed not only to survive abusive/neglectful parents, but to thrive in tough situations. This column is about how YOU too can thrive when bad things happen.

Most successful people had a lot of obstacles thrown in their way, but, somehow, they kept going. How can we? Here’s a little quiz:

When you’re stuck in a bad situation, which answer sounds most like you?

Answer #1: “This sucks, but I’ll get through it and be stronger when it’s over.”

Answer #2: 
“Why is this happening to me?”

Answer #3: “I know that this is going to screw me up forever.”

Obviously, #1 is the answer for the most resilient of us, but how do we get there? It’s all-too-easy to drift into #2 (I know that I do) and, if we’re really going through a rough time, we might even opt for #3. If you want to become more of an answer #1 kind of person, here are some suggestions:

Be grateful for what works – Stop every so often and tell yourself three things you’re grateful for. Gratitude builds resiliency.

Keep learning new stuff – Resilient people don’t sit back and watch bad TV for hours (not usually, anyway). They keep growing and getting smarter and more skillful, so that when bad things happens, they know what to do.

Build a strong support network – No one can do it alone. Do your friends tell you, “Oh, you poor little victim” or “You can get through this. How can I help?” Hint: Choose the latter.

Combine optimism with critical thinking – A guy I know can build or fix anything. Since I’m far from being able to do that, I asked him how he does it. “Well, I think I can figure just about anything out, so I just keep going until I do.” When you combine skill with self-confidence, you can accomplish almost anything.

Have an internal locus of control – Resilient people believe that the actions they take will affect the outcome of an event. They know that they have the power to make choices that will affect their situation, their ability to cope and their future.

Be a good communicator – Assertiveness comes with resilience: we ask respectfully for what we want and negotiate until we get it, or most of it anyway. A resilient person is calm and cool, doesn’t create a lot of drama to get her/his way.

Identify as a Survivor, Not a Victim – When dealing with any potential crisis, avoid thinking like a victim of circumstance and instead look for ways to resolve the problem. While the situation may be unavoidable, you can still stay focused on the most positive outcome possible.

Ask for Help – While being resourceful is an important part of resilience, it’s also essential to know when to ask for help. During a crisis, people can benefit from the help of psychologists and counselors specially trained to deal with crisis situations.

Cultivate good problem-solving skills – In difficult situations, people sometimes develop tunnel vision. They fail to note important details or take advantages of opportunities. Resilient individuals, on the other hand, are able to rationally look at a problem and work toward the best possible solution.

Embrace Change – Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you’ll be better equipped to respond when faced with a crisis, Resilient people can utilize tough times as an opportunity to try new things and move in new directions.

Nurture Yourself – Eating junky food, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis. Instead, by taking extra-good care of yourself, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be better able to handle whatever life sends your way.

In summary, you CAN learn to adapt to change. When you’re faced with a crisis or stressful situation, you can’t always choose what happens, but you can choose your response and become more resilient. Since bad things happen to all of us, learning to bounce back quickly from trouble is a really good quality to cultivate.

Why not start now?