So You Want to Build Resilience? Answers to 2 Popular Questions

By Shannon Gander


You know what I love about resilience? We all have it and we can all build more of it.

To state the obvious – people are resilient!  I continually get to witness the resilience in the people I meet, whether I am working with a group on building personal or team resilience, or coaching a client who is feeling stuck.  Time and again I have the privilege to observe our human capacity to bounce back from difficult life events and navigate change and stressful times without making a situation worse.

There is a breadth of research on resilience that states people with more resilience have less stress, anxiety, depression, perfectionism and rumination. On the flipside, they have greater life satisfaction, coping ability, self-confidence, curiosity and optimism. With all of these great benefits, who doesn’t want to grow their resilience? The best part is that we can all learn skills that help to grow our stress resilience (think of it as exercising a muscle that gets stronger with training).
Speaking to groups of staff and leaders on the topic of resilience over the past year, I was curious to know what participants have most wanted to learn in my sessions on this topic.  I decided to review the lists and observed several questions that have showed up many times and 2 questions that have showed up on every list.

The 2 most popular questions have been… (Drumroll please):

1)   How can I increase my resilience at work and home by leaving work worries at work and home worries at home?
2)   How can I share my resilience with others (staff, colleagues, friends) to support them in increasing their resilience?

Assuming people have their own uniqueness and also share common challenges and interests, following are some strategies and skills that may help with each of these that may be of interest to you (recognizing that there is always lots more to say):

1) Leaving work worries at work and home worries at home

a) Mindfulness practice – There is little more powerful than the practice of mindfulness for helping leave work at work, and home worries at home so that you can feel both present and effective in both places.  So often I hear from clients that they feel that they are failing in both areas because even though their intention is to be present, their mind is not cooperating. Let’s face it, no one wants to miss out on being present during story time with their child or intends to be preoccupied in a meeting at work with thoughts of the discussion they had with their partner the night before. Our mind follows our angst and it leads us to our greatest worries. If this sounds like you, this makes you human because our brain works this way – it loves to be busy challenging us to stay focused in one place.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present, on purpose, in the present moment, one-mindfully and without judgment (John Kabat-Zinn). Inevitably, 20% of the people in my sessions have already started to practice mindfulness and are singing its praises because of the positive impact it has had on reducing their stress, increasing their resilience and helping them be where they need to be in their mind rather than distracted by their list of thoughts.

If mindfulness is of interest to you, one of the simplest and most accessible ways to get started is by engaging in short mindfulness practices. Mindfulness to breath is my favourite starting place and you can do this in short sound bytes by following a 30 second, 1 minute or 3 minute mindfulness to breath exercise on YouTube. Of course you can do a longer practice but I have found that many clients will say that they don’t have 20 minutes and none of my clients have ever said they don’t have 1 minute. The best part about mindfulness is that it is portable so once you get the hang of it you can practice in your car while in traffic (with eyes open of course), while on a stressful call at work if needed or in between clients and meetings. By repeatedly bringing our awareness back to our breath, we have the ability to calm our mind, which calms our body and brings us into the moment making us less distracted (it’s like giving ourselves permission to be nowhere else but here, right now, in this very moment).

b) When you are stuck worrying in the moment

Worry impacts our stress resilience because if we have already been worrying and an additional stressor comes along, we have little resources to deal with the situation and become easily overwhelmed and as a result may overreact in the moment.

Worry is an interesting animal because it usually involves one thought after another often about the list of things that we have no control over in the moment (to be frank most of the things we worry about we have little control over but boy do we love to think about them).

If you tend to lose your ability to be present and you get stuck in moment to moment worry, the first step is to notice or bring awareness to your worrying (without judgment, “I see that I am worrying, that’s interesting”).  Rather than get on the worry train and follow your thoughts down the track, ask yourself the following question: “Is this a now thought?” Which essentially means, is there anything that I can do about this worry right now, in this current moment? If the answer is “no”, use your senses to pull yourself into the moment to attend to the storybook you’re reading your child at home or check off the agenda item that you are on in the meeting at work. It helps to take a big grounding breath while doing this because it anchors us to the present.

If the answer is, “yes” because it is a now thought and something will burn if you don’t take it out of the oven, by all means – attend to it. Most often however, the answer is “no” (such as worrying about finances while in bed, thinking about a work task while trying to relax in the evening or ruminating about future health concerns when we are currently healthy). Not that our concerns are not important it’s that worry in and of itself increases our stress thereby decreasing our resilience and ability to be present-focused.

2) Sharing your resilience with others to support them in increasing their resilience

We all look to mentors for guidance, people that we look up to and want to become more like them and be able to do what they do. However, if we can’t relate to them, then we will think their advice is not for us, it’s for people more like them (like working-out is an activity of Olympians). For this reason, one of the most helpful things that people with resilience skills can do is to share their common humanity. For instance, if you are someone who has the ability to appear steady and calm in meetings and you are asked how you “keep your cool”, start with sharing your common humanity – that you too feel triggered in a meeting, get riled inside, or can feel stressed or upset (assuming you do). Then take the next step of telling the person what you do, “and how I help myself manage this is by: deep breathing, grounding myself, waiting until I have collected my thoughts before speaking, etc”. Then the person asking knows that you are human, that you aren’t perfect and that you use skills (which they can learn and practice, too).

Speaking of practice, it can also be helpful to let them know that these are skills you have learned over the years (assuming that you haven’t always been this way) so that your mentee knows that you had to grow these skills over time. Then encourage them to do the same and reassure that you know that they have these same abilities and just need some practice. If you have taken a great course or training, tell them. If you have your own mentor that has helped you along the way, let them know.  Also, if you admire something in the person asking – share it! Then you are building on their resilience.  Of course demonstrating resilience skills is always helpful, but so too is modeling that you’re human and sharing how you have worked to become more resilient.


If resilience is a topic of interest for you, tell me why. If you have a question – please ask! I would love to hear from you. And/or if you have a favourite tip for what has contributed to building your personal or team resilience, please share. We would love to hear from you.  





2 Responses to “So You Want to Build Resilience? Answers to 2 Popular Questions”

  1. Matt

    i agree with this article. id like to add that even people who are experienced in this kind resilience building techniques also need others around to keep that resilience up. like all learning reinforcement has an impact i feel. so surrounding yourself with these kinds of people creates a kind of learning by osmosis. Resilience is noticed and others enquire about it. now you have an opportunity to teach!

    • Shannon Gander

      Hi Matt
      I totally agree with you. I think resilience can be quite contagious! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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