We Asked Our Coaches: Can You Learn to Be Resilient?
Having nerves of steel – or rather of elastic rubber? Resilience describes how well we can deal with burden and stress. Undoubtedly, this is a great quality in life and work. Research and our coaches suggest: Resilience is learnable. But not without some stress and setback. 
By Lisa Baier
July 1st, 2024

From 2010 till 2020, scientific publications on resilience increased by over 87%. The psychological phenomenon is apparently of great public interest, and we can assume that with the Covid pandemic happening from 2020 on, research as well as media coverage on resilience grew even further. Resilience however doesn’t have its origin in psychology, but in material science: The term is used to describe a material that gets back into its original shape after experiencing change – a soft foam ball or rubber for example have very high resilience, whereas glass and ceramics have very low resilience.


Transferred to psychology and the human mind, resilience means the ability to deal with burden and stress. The authors of a report on resilience research published in 2015 define psychological resilience “as a dynamic [lifelong] psychosocial process through which individuals exposed to sustained adversity or potentially traumatic events experience positive psychological adaptation over time.”

Info graphic about common misconceptions about resilience

According to the authors, resilience research originated in two fields: traumatology (looking at adults) and developmental psychology (looking at children and youth). One of the first and most cited long-term studies on resilience by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith looked at the development of children born in Hawaii in 1955. Despite bad conditions (mostly defined by poverty, alcoholism, and violence) some children were developing well and thriving in later life. Werner and Smith identified humor, the ability to ask for help, optimism, and some form of spirituality, but also the bond with a caregiver, such as a parent or teacher, as the success factors. Until nowadays, researchers align on the idea that not only personal attributes, skills and characteristics lead to resilience, but also the environment of a person, meaning their social relationships, community, culture, and available resources (Masten and Wright, 2010).

Want to Be Happy? Look For Challenges

Becoming more resilient has more benefits than just surviving the next crisis: A study by psychologist Mark Seery and his team (2011) found that “having some life experience of adversity is associated with better mental health and well-being than having had no adversity at all.” The results showed that crisis-tested people were less shaken by negative events. Other research shows that even severe negative events like a divorce or death can have a positive outcome in people over time. It was and is assumed that experiences like these make us humble and change how we view the world and our own lives, and often people report to feel more connected to others in crises. All this strengthens our sense of belonging and our resilience, and so ironically there is truth in saying that adversity and setbacks make us happy.


Of course, not all adversity will eventually turn into positive adaptation; especially if adversity is severe and/or happening again and again, individuals may feel continued despair or even develop trauma / PTSD. The authors of the resilience report summarized that “what appears to be most important in distinguishing whether a situation of adversity will set into motion a trajectory of resilience or a trajectory of maladjustment is whether the adversity is manageable.” And this in turn, as we have learned, is dependent as much on the individual’s coping skills as on their support network, conditions and resources.

Protective Factors and Mindsets That Favor Resilience

While we can only influence to some extent how our support network looks and what resources we have available to face a challenge, much of the research focuses on what we can actually do ourselves to strengthen our resilience. According to resilience expert, coach and trainer Prof. Dr. Jutta Heller, there are 7 factors that protect us and make us resilient: (1) acceptance, (2) optimism, (3) self-efficacy, (4) (self-) responsibility, (5) network orientation, (6) solution orientation, and (7) future orientation. When we attended a lecture about resilience hosted by psychologists and trainers Ludwika Fichte and Bettina Löhr, they shared that they experience acceptance as the least and solution orientation as the most lived and practiced factor in our society. “We observe a kind of a correlation between those two factors: it seems that people want to take control over their lives, which means also of every situation they face. If we experience a situation we do not like, we immediately look for solutions because we don’t want to accept unexpected and unwanted things”, shares Ludwika. “However, resilience begins with acceptance. It is arguably the most important protective factor.”

The 7 protective factors for building resilience according to Prof Dr Jutta Heller: (1) acceptance, (2) optimism, (3) self-efficacy, (4) (self-) responsibility, (5) network orientation, (6) solution orientation, and (7) future orientation

All of these factors are a matter of mind, how we view the world and the situation, and what we make of it. It is scientifically proven that the decision to view things with optimism and to understand stress as something that is not inherently negative, helps people thrive. Researcher Alia Crum has found (2007) that a positive mindset about stress (meaning that stress is good for me and helping me) supports people in dealing with their stress, making them more productive, successful, and resilient.


Such a positive mindset is working on 4 levels: (1) I pay attention to the chances rather than the struggles and risks, (2) I don’t “stress about the stress” as much, but think rather solution-oriented about it, (3) I behave and react in the most helpful way rather than bursting in anger for example, (4) and my body helps me deal with the situation better on a hormonal level, as it breaks down the stress hormone cortisol quicker. It seems that positive thoughts have a direct connection with our body, releasing those hormones that support us in dealing with stress and adversity – a positive chain reaction, if you will.

So, Can We Learn to Be Resilient?

Apparently, a lot is in our hands when it comes to cultivating resilience in us. The American Psychological Association shares this view, and published a practical guideline “Road to Resilience” that features ways to build resilience. All the research we looked at in this article suggests that we can indeed train our resilience, both by adapting supportive mindsets and protective factors, and by learning how to deal with setbacks through the lived experience. 


Neurologist Achim Peters explains that many people ‘habituate’ when confronted with stress, which means that they get used to this kind of stress and become more calm and confident when similar stress arises next time. This quality is not equally present in everyone, and even genetics might have a role in how well a person is able to habituate to stress. For some people it is therefore easier to deal with stress and to become resilient than for others.


However, resilience remains a complex dynamic process to be viewed in its context. We can never fully predict how well a person reacts to stress: Someone who was resilient in one situation is not necessarily resilient in the next one, or vice versa. The strongest learning factor for resilience seems to be to actually go through challenges and adversity, and to learn from experience. Learning to be resilient is therefore always a learning by doing and reflecting, and cannot be completely achieved in a ‘dry learning sense’, such as a day workshop might provide. Or to say it with Nvidia CEO’s Jensen Huang’s words to Stanford students: “I don’t know how to teach it to you except for I hope suffering happens to you. (…) I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering.”

Our Coaches on (Learning) Resilience

Susanne Jess, …

Can we learn to be resilient? And hence: Is resilience coachable? What seem to be the factors that help us to act resiliently?

The good news: yes, we can definitely learn to become more resilient.

In coaching we work from the inside out. We start with an inner analysis aiming to become aware of our own personality. A good starting question is whether I know my needs and my inner play and patterns.


There are three key factors for greater resilience:

  1. I need a healthy dose of optimism. It is important to live and grow positively on a day to day basis.
  2. I need a reliable network and a community around me that provides support. Do I have people by my side who believe in me and my development, such as family, friends, colleagues or sparring partners?
  3. What about my flexibility? Am I able to adapt to new situations?
If we can train our resilience, how? Are there methods and activities that help us develop our resilience?

In my experience as a resilience coach it is essential for people who want to build their resilience and thus their inner strength to know what their needs and their limits are. By creating a “Manual of Me”, I myself am able to promote awareness of what is negotiable and what is not.


My “Circle of Influence” clearly defines what I can and cannot change or accept. In this way, I strengthen my self-efficacy and practice shaping my life actively. Resilience is a practice that takes time and repetition. It‘s a path of small steps and staying focused along the way is key.


I create a “Growth Journal”, which helps me stay on track. I use it to reflect regularly and understand my daily routines, and through this it highlights what I have already achieved, and what I intend to do next.

Can you share a story about a client or yourself how they / you gained resilience / acted resiliently in a challenging situation?

A young yet ambitious and successful client of mine described how she was becoming increasingly insecure. Both her mind and body reacted strongly: insomnia and constantly overthinking ongoing stress.


Her previous coping strategies were not sufficient to deal with the new situation any longer. Consequently, we took a different approach working together. We created an “Action Plan for more Resilience”, tailored to her situation. This included micro action steps that reminded her to take care of HER needs. We created a monthly pit stop for her to develop a check in with herself. The key question was “Am I doing the things that are truly important and right for me?”.


As a result, she has been feeling less stressed and overwhelmed, feels more energetic and joyful towards life. As a consequence, she is able to communicate more clearly and respectfully with others, maintaining her boundaries.

What is the biggest misconception about resilience in your eyes?

There are many misconceptions about resilience:


Resilience is an innate trait that you either have or you don’t.

Science has proven there are certain personality traits by birth, which make people more resilient. Yet we also understand that one can learn to build and improve resilience.


I am resilient using “quick and dirty methods”.

We now understand that resilience is a lifelong learning concept. Resilience is like a muscle that needs to be trained continuously.


Resilient people are always strong.

Claiming to be more resilient means increasing the ability to adapt to challenging situations. This can also mean to admit and show vulnerability, which is often key to acquire new competencies.


Resilience is a general cure.

We need multiple competencies to face the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world – short the “VUCA world”. We need mental energy, role clarity, communication skills and clear yet flexible goal settings.

Profilfoto Susanne Jess

Resilient people don’t always have to be strong. Claiming to be more resilient means increasing the ability to adapt to challenging situations. This can also mean to admit and show vulnerability, which is often key to acquire new competencies.

Susanne Jess
Coach & Consultant

Susanne Schlenker, …

Can we learn to be resilient? Is resilience coachable? What factors help us act resiliently?

Yes, resilience can be learned and is coachable, even in the face of loss and grief. No one is born resilient; it is developed by coping with hardship. We can train resilience by managing our energy levels, practicing a nonjudgmental and flexible mindset, cultivating gratitude, facing grief and challenge with patience and acceptance, and building trust. As a resilience, grief, and end-of-life coach, I passionately support people in coping with their most vulnerable and challenging experiences. This profoundly impacts their life and work, both in the present moment and in dealing with future challenges. All the mentioned factors help individuals adapt and thrive despite their loss.

How can we train our resilience? What methods and activities help develop resilience?

We can learn new behavioral habits and rewire our neural pathways through focused attention, or mindfulness. This helps replace automatic reactions with adaptive responses to better deal with adversity, grief and loss.


Studies show that resilience training is most effective when approached holistically. This involves not only mental strategies but also being aware of emotions and bodily sensations. It is all about cultivating self-awareness and self-management skills: reflecting on behavior, tapping into intuition, handling strong emotions, controlling impulses, developing self-discipline, and acting intentionally.


Strategies during grief are individual and include talking, joining support groups, doing sports, working, journaling, creating art, reading, and engaging in self-care activities.

Can you share a story about a client or yourself who gained resilience/acted resiliently in a challenging situation?

A client who lost her son at 24 weeks of pregnancy sought my help in coping with her loss. Returning to work two weeks later, she appreciated the structure that her job gave her in life, but at times felt overwhelmed by her emotions and her team’s reactions.


We focused on stabilizing her emotional state and identifying her resources. By addressing boundary-setting and clear communication with her team, she rebuilt her resilience. Over time, she regained confidence and felt more capable of handling future challenges.

What is the biggest misconception about resilience in your eyes?

A prevalent myth about resilience is that it can be learned in a course or a few coaching sessions. While these can introduce the concept and provide valuable tools and coping strategies, true resilience requires constant awareness and regular practice, ideally daily. Resilience is a process, not a one-time achievement.


Staying calm and balanced when new challenges arise demands ongoing focus training. From this state, you can consciously find new solutions to new challenges. Understanding this is empowering and reassuring.

Profilfoto Susanne Schlenker

A prevalent myth about resilience is that it can be learned in a course or a few coaching sessions. While these can introduce the concept and provide valuable tools and coping strategies, true resilience requires constant awareness and regular practice, ideally daily.

Susanne Schlenker
Leadership Coach, Resilience Trainer, End-of-Life and Grief Coach

Becoming Resilient With Coaching

Coaching is one of the most effective ways to learn resilience. In this long-term guidance and safe space for reflection, clients get to work on their specific challenges individually, with their resources and solutions that feel right and good to them – like we heard in the client stories from our two coaches Susanne and Susanne. Instead of learning about resilience in theory, coaching – much like therapy – works with what’s happening in life, and so clients will build up their individual resilience strategies.


Teams as well as individuals benefit from professional guidance to find a fit solution on the one hand, and to learn about different coping strategies along the way on the other hand. Contact us or book a demo if you wish to learn how we can support your organisation and employees with programs, coaching, and more.



Header Illustration: Johanna Goldmann