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How to Build Resilience

Gold Coast local Ali Day's comeback in the Nutri-Grain IronMan Series was nothing short of extraordinary.

Overcoming setbacks, including severe injuries and the global pause brought on by a pandemic, he returned to the Nutri-Grain IronMan Series with a fierce spirit.

After missing the 2019/20 Nutri-Grain Series, Day returned to the scene with an unstoppable six wins from six starts, a feat that has never before been achieved, and he backed it up with a trophy.

The presence of Day’s newborn son at the finish line symbolised new beginnings. His story is an inspiring testament to the human capacity to rise above challenges.

Day is an Ironman and four-time Nutri-Grain Series champion.


  • Resilience is the mental strength to overcome adversity.
  • Happiness and resilience are interconnected, enhancing each other.
  • Expressive Writing for 20 minutes can offer new perspectives on challenges.
  • Mindful Self-Compassion program improves mindfulness and reduces stress.
  • Building resilience involves acknowledging emotions and fostering supportive networks.

Listen To This Article

What is Resilience?

Psychological resilience is the mental and emotional strength to deal with adversity.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” – Steve Maraboli, Speaker, Author and Athlete

Research by AJ Hunter suggests that resilience is a scale with two ends: lower and higher resilience.

If you have lower resilience, you might lean on harmful behaviours like substance abuse and withdrawal from others when going through a hard time. A highly resilient person, however, might meditate to stay calm, reach out to a trusted friend for a heart-to-heart conversation, or journal their thoughts and feelings to navigate through a crisis.

When a panel discussion asked researchers to debate the nature of resilience, they agreed that people may be less resilient at times and more at other times.

For example, an individual might feel resilient until facing a parent's death and a subsequent divorce. These back-to-back tragedies can significantly erode their sense of resilience, at least temporarily, as they grapple with compounded grief and upheaval.

People may also be more resilient in some aspects of their lives than others (Southwick et al., 2014).

A university student might display resilience by managing academic pressures and part-time work with determination yet struggle with resilience when faced with social anxieties or public speaking, illustrating how resilience can vary across different life situations.

Bend, Don't Break: The Art of Elastic Endurance

The relationship between happiness and resilience is bidirectional.

Research by Cohn, Fredrickson, and others suggests that happiness doesn't just stem from resilience; it also fosters it. Happy individuals are more inclined to embrace new experiences and adapt to challenges, enhancing their resilience. This adaptive behaviour, in turn, contributes to skill development and strength building, which are essential for overcoming obstacles.

Consequently, a resilient disposition is linked to improved wellbeing, greater happiness, and a more positive outlook, creating a reinforcing cycle between happiness and resilience.

But What if You’re Stressed, Not Happy

Building resilience can help you maintain a positive outlook, face an uncertain future with less fear, and get through even the hardest days. But building resilience can be hard if we’re already in the middle of a stressful time.

Yet, it is possible.

Writing freely about personal challenges for 20 minutes, known as a concept called Expressive Writing, can help us see our challenges in a new light. This approach doesn't aim for polished writing; it's about capturing raw thoughts and feelings on paper.

Interestingly, a classic 1988 study on this topic showed that people who practised Expressive Writing 20 minutes of writing daily for just four days felt healthier after six weeks and happier for up to three months later.

It appears that through writing, we sequentially address and organise our thoughts, which can lead to fresh perspectives. It's like we're writing our life's story, gaining a sense of control in the process.

Another Science-Backed Way to Build Resilience

In one study, participants in an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion program reported more mindfulness and life satisfaction, with lower depression, anxiety, and stress afterwards compared to people who didn’t participate—and the benefits lasted up to a year.

One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:

  • Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
  • Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
  • Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”

Actionable Steps

Building resilience is a journey, not a destination.

Key strategies include acknowledging emotions, reframing challenges, fostering supportive networks, practising reflection, and embracing feedback.

These steps form a blueprint for resilience, equipping us to navigate life's ups and downs.

It's about growth, learning from experiences, and adapting. Embrace this journey with openness and patience, knowing each step forward enriches your resilience.

The path may have twists and turns, but the rewards—increased strength, adaptability, and wellbeing—are profound.

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