What is the definition of Resilience?

By Jenny Campbell|November 25, 2015|Uncategorized|

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What is Resilience?Resilience is our ability to reshape ourselves. Or another way of saying it is our ability to successfully adapt to change. This definition is applicable at any level, individual, team, organisational right through to community.

It’s an unusual definition. Most of what is talked about on resilience is about either coping or about bounce back. Both of these are elements within resilience, but they do not capture all of what resilience is, or indeed can offer. In fact these definitions come from a deficit style way of looking at ourselves:


Coping is about not breaking down.

Coping is a state where things are held as much as possible at status quo. We resist change. Instead we look for the highest level of control. The state of coping is a rigid one, where we aim to deflect anything that will threaten us. We hold onto old habits and patterns because they give us stability. In this state our performance is at best satisfactory, but especially in a prolonged state of coping, performance is more likely to be at best mediocre, at worst poor.  That’s in any part of our life.

If coping strategies are successfully stopping a breakdown, coping is a great place to be. And it’s tough.

Bounce back

Inherent in the words bounce back is the notion of setback or even trauma. This time bouncing `back is great, if the alternative is coping. Bounce back means returning to something normal, and in doing so somehow absorbing the change necessary to do so, even if unwelcome change.

The return from difficulty feels good, but bouncing back has created a cost. There may be loss involved in the change. And often the total cost is expressed in our energy; we are often tired because of dealing with the setback, and that shadow of tiredness may last a long time. If affects performance. Our performance in this state is likely to be more satisfactory than at coping but it’s difficult to improve it.

Having to bounce back from several challenges wares us down. The Resilience Engine are seeing this more and more; more managers and leaders are having to face simultaneous difficulties, and it is this overlap that sends them back to coping mode. In the end, we may slip out of bounce back into something much more rigid and stuck, often coping, or sometimes, oscillating around in the middle of a kind of ok, static state where there is no change.

Either coping and/or bounce back give us ok.  Interestingly we notice how often organisations seek to get back to coping after difficulty – but in doing so not realising they are stymieing their own performance.

So Is There Anything Else? Introducing Breakthrough

What if there was another stage of resilience where deficit didn’t play a part?  Where in fact there was a high level of energy all the time. Where performance was sustainably high. Where even when things got tough, we operating from a surplus mentality, having enough understanding and confidence about how to whoosh back into high performance. All without cost. All of this no matter the domain, whether work or in personal life. Where bumps in the road were smoothed out long before they become a setback. Where we would thrive.

Doesn’t that sound great? And doesn’t it sound like those who operate at this level are really quite at ease in both home and work domains? It’s very attractive!

This state of resilience exists. It’s called breakthrough. When you are at breakthrough resilience, you are resourceful, adaptable and energised. If you know this level of resilience and do experience a tough time where your resilience slips, you are wholly confident in your abilities to go back to breakthrough, and the return is straightforward and quick. When at breakthrough, one particular setback, no matter how important, will not completely dominate our existence. We will have better perspective, and in fact still be able to experience joy in our lives.

This is when resilience is wholly about our abilities to reshape ourselves. It’s a strategic capability in business and organisations. It’s a strategic capability in our personal lives. When we operate with this level of resilience, our capacity increases immensely, our clarity of purpose and motivation and alignment all increase, our options for solving problems increase, our speed of decision making and action increases. It’s a great place to be.

The Resilience Engine® has been researching resilience since 2007. We have discovered these levels of resilience, and how dynamic resilience is. We are proud to offer  The Resilience Dynamic® as a simple model that helps people – individuals, teams, organisations – diagnose their own levels of resilience and  understand the implications.

Jenny Campbell,
Senior Executive Coach and Resilience Researcher


The Resilience Engine® then helps develop them develop it according to this initial diagnostic.
To learn more about our research and The Resilience Dynamic click here. Get in touch if you want to learn more.
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