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Resilience: A Valuable Resource in Adversity

written by Eleanor Chin 4 May 2009

Eleanor Chin, MAPP '08, is a life and executive coach. Founder and President of Clarity Partners Coaching and Consulting, she works with institutional and individual clients to support them as they navigate change, create inclusive and dynamic systems, and leverage strategic strengths for growth, learning and competitive advantage. Full bio.

Eleanor's past articles are here.

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Who isn’t affected by the financial melt-down these days?

As a coach, I hear daily about the psychological, physical, emotional and relational impact of rocky financial times. Adversity is part of life, but if your job is cut, your financial resources diminished, or you’re working twice as hard with less, it’s hard to bounce back. In times like these, feelings of scarcity color our reality. When financial resources are limited, we tend to focus on our material resources and forget that we have personal resources.

Taking an auditWhat do I mean by personal resources? Stop to take an audit of inner resources—your competencies, relationships and blessings. What natural strengths do you have? How can you increase positive emotion, hope, and physical well-being to smooth out the emotional roller coaster ride of hard times? Here are some tips for tapping into those non-material resources.

The Power of Character Strengths
Character strengths such as creativity, courage, kindness, persistence, optimism, gratitude, humor and spirituality are exactly the personal resources needed in times of adversity to solve problems or just to stay afloat. Why do some children show greater resistance to the ill effects of terrible events, sometimes even exhibiting “exceptional outcomes” and growth? According to Dr. Chris Peterson, research shows their resilience lies in the presence of “protective factors,” among which we can count character strengths. But it may not be enough just to have character strengths; people who intentionally practice using them find them readily available in times of need.

As I coach, I often suggest that my clients take the character strengths assessment and keep their list of 24 character strengths by their night table or desk and start each day by picking one strength to use as a lens for the day. For example,

LensesSay you select creativity as your lens for the day, ask yourself can your creativity strength help you…

  • in making cold calls about job openings more palatable and memorable?
  • in revising your household food budget to be smaller yet just as appetizing, and maybe even fun?
  • in planning a family vacation around friends, family, or camping, instead of Disney World this year?

These strengths needn’t even be your top strengths, but could be ones you want to stretch.

Hope as a Change Agent
Finding hope can be hard in times of extreme stress, but hope is exactly what fuels resilience. Hope theory helps us to make a fuzzy term more concrete. Hope researchers such as Shane Lopez and C.R. Snyder have defined hope theory as our perceptions of our capacity to accomplish three things:

  1. dream up goals
  2. create specific strategies for accomplishing our goals
  3. generate and sustain the momentum to carrying out our strategies

They also talk about the “power of hope as a motivating force.” This suggests a shift in our thinking. Lopez, Snyder and colleagues seem to suggest that hope can be a change agent. In times of great stress, they suggest that doing these three things, even when hope is hard to find—in other words, acting “as if”—can actually create the momentum and energy to change, and generate more hope in the process.

Tapping into Positive Emotions
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson studied the presence of positive emotions and their effect on post-crisis behavior. She found that positive emotions can serve as more than pleasant distractions. In fact, positive emotions for some people can be “active ingredients in superior coping and thriving despite adversity.” What’s more, even in the most difficult times, positive feelings such as gratitude, love, optimism and interest can occur naturally and be cultivated.

MusiciansCreating positive emotions might seem hard when you’re facing a difficult situation. Here’s where intentionality and planning ahead can help. Knowing what brings you joy or pleasure and making a list will help make recovering from a bad mood easier. Does certain music always make you smile or want to dance? Set it aside or make a playlist. Does humor lift your spirits? Make a list of funny movies that always make you laugh so you can watch them when you need a lift. Save poetry and quotations that inspire you. Write a gratitude journal so you can go back and remind yourself of all that you are grateful for. Call a friend whose voice and spirit cheers you up.

Physical Reserves
A critical part of your inner resources is your physical stamina. We’ve all heard of the runner’s high. Endorphins, mood regulating chemicals, are released when we exercise aerobically. Studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes of exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Scientific evidence shows that exercise improves our ability to think, manage our emotions, and resist the physical effects of stress.

Positive Relationships
Dog and Cat TogetherIt’s common sense, but also scientifically proven that positive relationships form an outward system of support that generates the inner resources we need in times of stress. A survey of over 2000 Americans in 1971 showed that one of the strongest predictors of overall life satisfaction turned out to be a happy marriage (primary relationship) and family life. Positive social relationships obviously have a direct effect on the individual by generating positive emotions. In addition, researchers have found that they have the indirect effect of softening the harmful responses to stress.

So when you’ve lost your job or feel like you need to cut back on the cost of socializing, that’s exactly the time to circle the wagons of friends. Reach out. Ask for help and advice. Or maybe just coffee and a sympathetic ear.

Intentional Practice
Once you have a sense of your inner resources, intentional practice builds them like muscles so that they are available when needed. A good coach can help you take an audit and practice using your resources so that they become second nature in times of stress.



Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises?: A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 365-376.

Huppert, F.A. (2004). A Population Approach to positive psychology: The potential for population interventions to promote well-being and prevent disorder. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.). Positive Psychology in Practice. pp. 693-712. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, K., Turner, J. L., & Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.). Positive Psychology in Practice. pp. 388-404. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Reis, H.T., Gable, S. L. (2003) Toward a Positive Psychology of Relationships. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived , 129-159. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

This article appears in the Positive Psychology News book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves.

Globe collection Photo by João Silas on Unsplash
What are the ‘Holidays’? (Auditing tape) courtesy of Joe Bastardo
lost and found celebration (Glasses) courtesy of Lori-B
Celebration in Crimson courtesy of Ronnie Bicard
Brothers (dog and cat) courtesy of Suzalayne

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Leanrainmakingmachine 4 May 2009 - 10:22 am

Thanks Eleanor:
These are all excellent reminders of ways to improve our abilities to cope with challenging times.
I’d also suggest that the science supports practicing meditation or mindfulness as well..
Indeed, in stressful situations, taking some time to focus on my breath, calm down and acccess positive thoughts and emotions can be quite effective, and I have read the science that supports such an intervention. Indeed, it’s a central piece of Frederickson’s book.


Kathryn Britton 4 May 2009 - 11:05 am

I really like picking a strength as a lens for the day — any strength, it doesn’t have to be one of the top ones. Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on signature strengths — as if they were the only ones available to us in the search for meaning and engagement.

Eleanor Chin 4 May 2009 - 11:22 am

Hello LRMM, I’m so glad you mentioned meditation. As you mentioned it’s an increasingly important part of Fredrickson’s research work. It also just makes so much sense for calming the physical and mental aspects of stress–something that Kathryn Britton, one of our regular PPND authors calls the “amygdala hijack” moments. In fact, I think you’ll find a few articles on mediation here among the PPND archives. Thank you for reminding us of this critical practice!

Eleanor Chin 4 May 2009 - 11:29 am

Yes, Kathryn, as coaches we are both accustomed to validating our clients’ whole selves and so validating all the strengths seems a natural extension. I love hearing back from clients who do this about what they discover in the process. I think there’s still a wealth of application possibilities for using strengths and would love to hear more from others about theirs. Any thoughts, anyone? Many thanks for your comments, Kathryn.

Chuck C. 4 May 2009 - 1:50 pm

Drs. Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein have written powerful books on raising resilient children.

Jeff D 5 May 2009 - 6:33 pm

Eleanor, about your piece…yes. More later.

Eleanor Chin 6 May 2009 - 5:34 am

Chuck C., and Jeff D, Yes, resilience is a very rich topic. Resilience can encompass a multitude of strategies and approaches for adults and children. Stay tuned for much more on this topic from other PPND authors this month. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the reading and the dialogue on this!

Margaret 7 May 2009 - 8:21 am

I so enjoyed our article Eleanor! I, too, like your “lens” exercise and your straight forward definition of hope theory. You requested other applications for using strengths. Here’s one I use with clients I call “Amplfying Strengths”:
1. Pick one strength you would like to use even more (e.g. – for your job search or whatever topic you’re working with your client on).
2. Imagine turning up the volume, like you would your stereo, on this particular strength. What are some things you would do if you were truly amplifying this strength? (brainstorm)
3. Move the client to action by asking them to pick 3 things from the brainstorm that she will commit to over the next week/month.

Eleanor Chin 7 May 2009 - 3:44 pm

Hi Margaret, Thanks for your lovely feedback! And what an elegant strengths exercise–simple (not necessarily easy) and powerful. Great metaphors like amplifying the volume also really help clients to remember and practice the skills! Let’s keep the brainstorm going! Any more ideas out there?

Al Gammate 1 June 2009 - 4:55 pm

Hello Eleanor:

I enjoyed reading your article “Resilience: A Valuable Resource in Adversity.”

I agree with you that hope fuels resilience in time of adversity. Hope is a byproduct of optimism.

From my own personal experiences, positive affirmations coupled with positive visualizations work well in maintaining optimism, thereby maintaining hope, thereby overcoming the darkest adversity!

Eleanor Chin 1 June 2009 - 4:56 pm

Dear Al,

I totally agree that optimism is one of the factors that fuels hope. What I didn’t mention in this article and what you may have discovered, is that hope and optimism often work together to create a dynamic positive upward spiral, each fueling the other. You seem to have a personal formula that works for generating optimism. What do you think is the role of hope theory in your personal formula?

Thanks for reading PPND and sharing your thoughts! I look forward to hearing from you again! Eleanor


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