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Resilience training: Your secret weapon in difficult times

man with green shirt is doing resilience training

When life knocks you down, resilience training gives you the skills to get back up and grow from adversity. By learning things such as how to manage stress levels, reframe thoughts and practice gratitude, you can build your capacity for hardships.

Whether at work or home, anyone can participate in resilience training of some sort to strengthen their ability to overcome obstacles.

Table of contents

What is resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association:
“Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”

What is resilience training?

To find out, I spoke with Jurie Rossouw. He's the CEO of neuroscience-based company Driven, which developed an app to assess and build resilience, provides courses on the topic and offers certifications for Certified Resilience Coaches.

Resilience training is about practicing a broad set of skills that help us have a sense of purpose, manage stress, plan ahead and look after ourselves well over time,” Rossouw says. “It's really a skill that benefits everyone, from young children through to old age. Resilience training helps us understand how to live a good life, which is exactly what protects us against mental illness such as depression and anxiety.”

Resilience training programs can help you develop or strengthen your ability to:

  • Reframe the way you see a situation
  • Move from denial to acceptance of a hardship
  • Identify emotions in yourself and others
  • Manage feelings of stress and anxiety and other strong emotions
  • Clearly communicate what you’re feeling
  • Gain a sense of agency so you can change the things you can control
  • Cultivate gratitude for the things that are going well in your life
  • Gain appreciation for the skills and strengths you already have

Resilience training, then, is any workshop, course or program designed to build the skills you need to cope with stress, adversity and trauma and adapt in healthy ways. It has a broad application and reach—from employees in the corporate world to soldiers on the battlefield. Resilience training can be facilitated by a consulting firm, resilience trainer, coach or mental health professional.

“As a psychologist, I teach resilience activities using a mental health framework,” explains Karen DeCesare Doll, Psy.D., L.P. “My modality is through group coaching and utilizes a curriculum of science-backed practices proven to enhance resilience and well-being.”

In her six- to ten-week program, participants form small groups and introduce new habits incrementally, applying skills between sessions and reporting back during weekly virtual meetings.

“Participants can expect a blend of learning, new content, practical application and reflection of progress,” she says. “Having the nudge of social support and community is helpful for any habit or behavior change.”

Who is resilience training for?

“I’m biased, but I think everyone can benefit from resilience training,” says Jen Arnold, founder and CEO of Redesigning Wellness, Inc. Her company offers virtual employee resilience training grounded in neuroscience.

“People are feeling exhausted and burnt out from all they’ve been through,” she says, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “They need time to recover and reflect on the last 18 months so they can grow from the experience.”

In other words, anyone who experiences stress (ahem, everyone?) can benefit from resilience training because it teaches you ways to better manage stressors in your life.

Resilience training programs

There are a variety of resilience training programs out there, so you’re sure to find one that fits your situation. Here are some real-life examples to give you an idea of what to expect:

Mental Resilience Training (MRT) in the British Army

Just as the military must train its service members for physical fitness, it must train them for mental fitness. The British Army offers its soldiers Mental Resilience Training (MRT) to prepare them for engaging in combat and transitioning back home after experiencing stressors and trauma.

British Army MRT is built around the following seven pillars of resilience:

  1. Self-belief
  2. Positive affect
  3. Emotional control
  4. Mental control
  5. Sense of purpose
  6. Coping
  7. Social support

The intended outcomes of MRT in the British Army are:

  • Increased motivation
  • More positive, task-oriented thoughts
  • Clear and accurate decision-making under pressure

Anyone (civilians included!) can benefit from watching the British Army’s MRT videos that are available for free online.

Master Resilience Training (MRT) in the U.S. Army

In the U.S. Army, the Master Resilience Training Course (MRTC) is a 10-day, 80-hour program offered to soldiers, family members and Department of Army civilians. It helps students learn and teach 14 essential skills within the six areas of resilience:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Regulation
  3. Optimism
  4. Mental Agility
  5. Strengths of Character
  6. Connection

So valuable is resilience to high-stress careers that the U.S. Army has an entire Army Resilience Directorate whose mission is to "provide policy, resources, and capabilities for individuals and leaders in order to increase resilience and readiness."

Penn Resilience Program

The University of Pennsylvania’s evidence-based Penn Resilience Program (PRP) is popular among the military, first responders, the government and academia and can be taken in-person or virtually. Since 2006, the U.S. Army has used it as part of its MRT. The PRP is open to individuals and teams from a range of organizations and teaches the six skill sets mentioned above (self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strengths of character and connection).

With the PRP, you can expect hands-on activities, feedback from your instructors, group presentations, breakout sessions and practical exercises to build your resilience skills. It's customizable based on your organization's needs. You can have their resilience training delivered via workshops, short executive courses, live webinars or even set up ongoing consultations.

University of Pennsylvania's free Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills on Coursera

If you want to get a taste of the University of Pennsylvania's PRP, they offer a course free of charge on Coursera. Taught by Karen Reivich, Ph.D., Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills equips you with tools to increase resilience in your personal and professional life. This course averages a 4.9 out of 5 based on 1,648 ratings.

The curriculum is as follows:

  • Week 1: Resilience and Optimism
  • Week 2: Cognitive Approaches to Resilience: Strategies to Increase Optimism and Resilient Thinking
  • Week 3: Managing Anxiety and Increasing Positive Emotions Like Gratitude
  • Week 4: Leveraging Character Strengths and Strengthening Relationships

University of California’s free Adaptability and Resiliency on Coursera

UC Davis also offers a free resilience course on Coursera. Taught by executive coach Laurie Cozart, Adaptability and Resiliency helps you successfully navigate an unpredictable and ever-changing world. 

The course curriculum is as follows:

  • Week 1: Adaptability and Resilience
  • Week 2: Building Self-Awareness
  • Week 3: Creating an Action Plan
  • Week 4: Implementing Your Plan

LinkedIn’s Developing Resilience and Grit learning path

As part of its professional development programs, LinkedIn offers a learning path called Developing Resilience and Grit. It is included with a Linkedin Learning membership. The eight-course program has a few courses devoted specifically to resilience and taught by qualified instructors, such as organizational psychologists Adam Grant and Gemma Leigh Roberts. After finishing this learning path, you will receive a certificate of completion.

Resilience coaching

If you’re looking for customized, one-on-one help with boosting your resilience, hiring a resilience coach might be the best option. Coaches are trained professionals who assess your situation, ask probing questions, provide accountability and help you find what works best for you. After looking at your goals, a resilience coach will work with you to create a personalized plan to strengthen the skills that will help you bounce back from adversity.

What can you expect from a resilience coaching session? I asked a couple of coaches, and here’s what they said.

“If a potential client came to me looking for resilience coaching, the first essential element would be to set expectations and clarify the path forward,” says Katarina Haddad, an ICF professional certified coach. “All coaching—resilience coaching included—is not a ‘three-step process,’ a ‘magic pill’ or something that can be resolved in a week or two. Resilience is a skill. Like any other skill, if we want to get better at it, it’s something that we need to practice consistently over time. Developing resilience comes down to a holistic, three-pronged skill-building strategy: the ability to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to one’s personal and professional challenges in stronger ways.”

Resilience coaching might also involve gleaning lessons from your past. 

“In coaching, we will identify the stressors in your life,” says Gia Lacqua, a professional certified coach who works with individuals and organizations. “Together, we will reflect on your own past experiences and explore what’s worked for you and what hasn’t. I will challenge your thinking by asking open-ended questions. Coaching provides the forum for safe self-reflection.”

What is resilience training in the workplace?

Resilience training in the workplace seeks to strengthen the skills that workers need to stay calm under pressure and maintain emotional well-being even in the most stressful situations. Many employers choose to hire firms that host workshops and training programs to build resilience.

Let’s be clear, though: Resilience training in the workplace is not a free pass for your company to continue to pile an overwhelming amount of work onto employees.

With workplace resilience training, we need to be mindful that it's not about expecting individuals to deal with more stress,” explains Rossouw. “Instead, workplace resilience training is as much about individuals building their own resilience as well as managers and leaders learning about how to build a supportive environment that enables people to thrive. This is what I call 'connected resilience,’ where specific types of training are provided to leaders, managers, staff, and even the family members of staff at home, since everyone together sharing the same language about proactive mental health is really what helps us as a community to support each other to be resilient.”

Stress and resilience test

How do you assess your resilience? Well, one simple way to know if you’re coping the way you want to is to ask yourself this question: When I face adversity, does it substantially interfere with my life? Someone with high resiliency will, of course, still feel negative emotions about hardship, but they are able to cope in a way that doesn't completely derail their goals.

There are other more scientific measures of resilience, as well as some you can find for free online. 

The Heart Math Institute stress test is a key test which does an excellent job at accurately measuring four primary components or pillars that likely make up one’s stress and resilience challenges: stress management, adaptability, resilience and emotional vitality,” says Haddad.
Dr. Doll suggests this resiliency quiz developed by Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Resiliency Advantage

Does resilience training work?

Let’s see what the research says. 

In a meta-analysis of 11 studies, the results of which were published in peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ Open, researcher Sadhbh Joyce and colleagues came to the following conclusion: “Our findings suggest that resilience training, particularly those based on mindfulness and/or cognitive and behavioural skills, may be able to enhance resilience.”

A 2012 Army report assessing the effectiveness of its Master Resilience Training showed promising results. Eight brigade combat teams were randomly selected, and four received MRT while the other four did not. Over 15 months, psychological health scores were higher for the teams that received MRT than those that didn't. 

According to the Resilience Institute's 2020 Global Resilience Report, people who participated in resilience training saw an improvement in sleep quality, relaxation and fitness, as well as a decrease in worry, fatigue and self-doubt. This was from a sample of 1,788 people.

Resilience training can help you adapt to adversity and grow from it

Everyone has stressors in their lives; how you deal with it makes all the difference between satisfaction and joy or dissatisfaction and drudgery. 

The good news is that, through resilience training, you can build upon the skills you need to shoulder the weight of adversity and bounce back from trauma. The science around building resilience is promising. Sometimes, you just need the help of someone who can provide resilience training to yourself as an individual or your workplace as a whole.

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