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Resilience and the Power of Perception


man running up outdoor staircase

Not too long ago I did a development session on resilience with a team whose organization experienced immense re-organization. 

During these sessions, one of the goals is for each person to walk away with a personal resilience plan. Before we start coming up with what they can do to be more resilient, we must first reflect on who they are when faced with stress and pressure. 

One of the questions I asked during this reflection is – “What stress invitations do you keep accepting?” 

One of the participants on the team said, “Could you restate that question? I don’t seem to understand the question.” I responded with, “What stressful situations do you allow in your life? Or, what situations do you put yourself in that open you up to stress?” It seemed to have resonated with him at that time. 

After the reflection time was done, I invited the team to share what insights they gained about themselves. This time, a different participant brought up the “What stress invitations do you keep accepting?” question saying “That question struck me. At first, I didn’t understand- what do you mean what stress invitations do I allow? But when I got to thinking about it, there are certain things that I do that open me up to stress. I do have a role in it.” 

One of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves in any difficult situation* is to recognize we almost always have a part in it. This builds resilience. Whether it’s in the choices we make, how we perceive the person/situation, or how we respond, we do have a part in it. To claim anything else is to give your power away and to take on a victim mindset. 

When it comes to building resilience, there is a wellspring of power in our perception. It’s what makes getting the kids ready for school, going to work, managing difficult employees, getting to the dentist appointment, picking the kids up, and then coming home to make dinner for everyone look like a normal Tuesday for some people. For others, just getting to work and back is a win. 

George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Colombia University who has been studying resilience for over 25 years, found that those who have a positive perception, or the ability to manage negative perceptions, are far more resilient than those who don’t. So, when faced with a difficult situation, do you respond with a “why me?” or “of course, this would happen to me” attitude? Or, do you see it as difficult, but also an opportunity for growth? Your ability to move through adversity is greatly affected by how you answer that question.


So how does one go about managing their perception? 

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but here are a few tips: 

  • Recognize the difference between facts and assessments in your mind. We often live like our assessments are fact when this is rarely the case.

  • Bring in a friend, mentor, coach, or counselor who will challenge your thinking and encourage ways of visualizing the situation you didn’t consider before.

  • Pause. Give yourself some time and space from the situation to allow your initial emotions and bodily reactions to come back to center. Your perception is greatly impacted by your emotions and your nervous system.

  • Catch the lies you tell yourself and call them out for what they are- lies. “I can’t do it,” “I’m not good enough,” and “She’s always difficult to work with” are examples of thinking that limits us, especially during difficult times.

  • Practice empathy and curiosity towards others. Seeking to understand others can open us up to new perceptions.

  • Educate and expose yourself to different people, cultures, religions, etc. you aren’t used to. You’re bound to learn something that changes your perception.


Man rock-climbing outdoors

By taking the time to build resilience, you will find yourself living life instead of feeling like it’s running over you. Because of your resilience, you will say yes to more opportunities, learn more about yourself, others, and things than you would have thought, grow in ways you wouldn’t expect, take on risks, and get greater rewards. You will feel joy because you know what it’s like to experience pain.

The reverse of this, trying to live a safe life, is impossible. And, the inevitable challenge will knock you out because of your lack of resilience. Plus, a neutral life is bland and boring. 

If you have not had the opportunity to read (or watch) Lois Lowry’s The Giver, I recommend it. I had the opportunity to watch the movie version for the first time the other evening. The Giver is a story of a dystopian society designed to avoid the evils of human nature, where characters lived “The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without color, pain or past.”  I won’t spoil it, but one young citizen learns there is so much to life they are missing by avoiding the bad. I found tears stinging my eyes at this character’s realization. The beauty of life includes the ugly. There is no joy if we do not have pain. And joy, it's worth the pain. We just have to have the resilience to move through the pain.

While perception is far from the only factor when it comes to being resilient, it is one place you can work on to get your resilience levels up. 

If you'd like to learn more about building a personal resilience plan click here.


*The contents of this post are not intended to be directed as a sole solution for deep emotional trauma or traumatic events.

1st image by ArthurHidden on Freepik

2nd image by viarprodesign on Freepik


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