What Is Resilience Anyway?

Having read an article and done some work with the Mental Toughness team at AQR I became very interested in why potential clients were asking me for resiliency training when in fact they actually wanted work that more closely aligned with positive psychology. In the article I read by Dr Doug Strycharczyk he describes the term resilience as being misunderstood. Dr Strycharczyk says that the term resilience is being used like the term Hoover is used to describing all vacuum cleaners when not all are Hoovers.

Indeed, an expert in this field, Suzanne Kobasa, defines resiliency as “the ability to recover from an adverse situation” which is a personality trait meaning that people have an ability to cope but not necessarily thrive. Over time the term resiliency has become like the Hoover. It encapsulates many concepts from positive psychology that are not resiliency and passes them off as if they are. Research by Kobasa into workplaces shows that although many describe themselves as resilient they responded differently to stress pressure and challenge. She went on to find some responding positively to adversity and even looking out for it. This passion for challenge and risk has been given many labels over time with one of the most popular coming from the work of Dr Carol Dweck into Growth Mindset.

However, this is not actually resilience. This is more aligned with Mental Toughness and is congruent with the work that I have done into stress which has found that the more mentally tough a person is the more they are likely to have burnout. Mental Toughness is “a personality trait which determines in large part how individual deal with stress, pressure and challenge irrespective of circumstances”(Dr Doug Strycharczy). 

Resilience and Mental Toughness are related but they are not the same and when we are trying to develop specific qualities in a person it is better to understand the variables and their component parts to ensure the treatment can accurately predict its effects.

When I work with clients use the Mental Toughness framework to develop my interventions rather than just resiliency because the outcome is more positive leading to:

  • Better performance
  • Better and sustained wellbeing
  • Development of positive behaviours

By using Mental Toughness what we are doing is introducing psychological well-being and positive psychology into the explanation.