Rate this article for a chance to win
As a student, you’re probably pretty familiar with stress. You might also have wondered why some of your peers seem to handle their challenges relatively easily while others struggle to meet similar demands. That difference relates to resilience, or grit: the ability to overcome and draw strength from difficult situations. “At our most resilient, we can surf the waves of change and stress rather than being swamped and drowned by them,” says Dr. Holly Rogers, a psychiatrist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

In recent years, researchers have identified factors and processes that help individuals cope and explored how those can be nurtured. “A large number of people do not develop the problems we would expect them to have [after serious adversity]. We have for 50 years been interested in explaining what makes the difference,” says Dr. Michael Ungar, founder and co-director of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Why is resilience so important?

“Resilience skills can help students not just get through [school] but actually thrive and flourish while doing it,” says Paula Davis-Laack, who designs resilience training programs for professionals and organizations. “Resilience skills bring out the best qualities in a person and activate desirable behaviors. Resilient students can tolerate change, stress, uncertainty, and other types of adversity more effectively.”

Your video is loading...

Is resilience born or made?

“Resilience has been very conclusively shown to be a bundle of skills that everyone can learn, develop, and practice,” says Davis-Laack. External supports matter too, including “the capacity of the institution [e.g., school] to create opportunities for students to succeed,” says Ungar.

What builds resilience?

  • Hanging on through a challenge
  • Learning from experience
  • Strong relationships
  • Seeing your current situation as a turning point
  • Humor and realistic optimism
  • Appropriate environmental supports

7 ways to build resilience

1. Think of three good things

Positive experiences are opportunities to identify and build our inner strength. Try the Three Good Things exercise: Every day for a week, write down three good things that happened that day. For each event, write why it happened, what it means to you, and how you can have more of it. This is a great way to discover your strengths and how you can use them to overcome challenges. This exercise was developed by researchers at the Penn Resilience Project, University of Pennsylvania.

Sample exercise:What happened: 1. Baked whole wheat banana bread with Kayla 2. Good grade on my English paper 3. Got invited to a party

2. Practice mindfulness

“Mindfulness has been identified as one of the primary ways to develop resilience in students,” says Dr. Rogers. Her class-based approach, Koru, is an evidence-based mindfulness training program developed for students. Try out her quick mindfulness exercise below.

Quick mindfulness exercise, by Dr. Holly Rogers

Practicing mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes a day—for just a week—results in better sleep, less stress, and greater self-compassion, according to research.

Read this through a few times before you practice:

Wherever you are right now, close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing and see if you can find the place in your body where you most clearly feel the sensations of your breath moving in and out. For some people, the belly moving in and out is most prominent. Others notice the rise and fall of their chest. Still others most easily feel the breath moving in and out at the tip of their nose. It makes no difference at all where you feel your breath; you are just trying to discover the place in your body where you can most easily make contact with the sensations of breathing.

Got it? OK, now let your attention settle on that place where you most easily feel your breathing. With an attitude of relaxed curiosity, count 10 breaths. Don’t try to change your breathing. You don’t need to do any special or fancy breathing. Just count 10 inhalations and 10 exhalations.

Most people will notice that their mind wanders before the end of the first breath. When that happens, just notice that you are thinking about something else, and without judging yourself or your wandering mind, bring your attention back to your breath. Stop after you’ve completed 10 breaths.

Try Koru’s free guided meditations here.

Your video is loading...

3. Be NUMB to negative thoughts

The NUMB Technique, a four-step process for redirecting your thoughts, was developed by Dr. Ilona Boniwell, professor of applied positive psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK.Notice the negative thought. Keep an elastic band around your wrist and flick it each time. Understand it. Why is this thought occurring? Manage it, using the acronym ACT: • Active intervention: Walk around the block, or run up and down stairs. • Calm intervention: Take a few minutes to meditate or refocus. • Talking intervention: Involve a friend or therapist. Build on the positive emotions.NUMB technique [TED talk]

4. Nourish your happy experiences

Our experiences drive our brain development. To empower yourself through positive experiences, try the HEAL system identified by Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley.Have a good experience: For example, celebrate a friend’s birthday. Enrich it: For about 20 seconds, reimagine the venue, the food, the cake, the joke. This consolidates your long-term memory of the event. Practice this with every positive experience, and make it a habit. Absorb it: Focusing on the experience encodes it into your brain structure. Link positive and negative experiences: Allow the positive feelings to soothe negative memories and heal old pain. For example, hold a strong positive experience in your mind, such as feeling loved and appreciated. Then, with that still in your mind, acknowledge something negative you’ve felt, such as loneliness. Now allow the strong positive feeling to soothe the negative feeling, and possibly even replace it.HEAL technique [TED talk]

5. Identify and apply your strengths

The Penn Resiliency Program recommends this method:

  • Recall past experiences (good and bad).
  • Focus on the strengths that brought you that positive experience or helped you overcome that challenge.
  • When you experience difficult situations in the future, think about how to use those strengths to handle this challenge too.

6. Find your growth mind-set

To build grit, develop a “growth mind-set,” says Dr. Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Find ways to remind yourself regularly of the following:

  • The ability to learn is not fixed. It can change.
  • Failure and setbacks are not permanent and can be overcome.

Growth mind-set [TED Talk]

Your video is loading...

7. Nurture close relationships

Social connectedness is key to protecting us from stress. Helping friends or family members, and volunteering, can help improve your self-confidence, self-worth, and resilience.

Got grit? Find out here

How does your resilience rate? Test yourself

This survey should take about 5 minutes to complete. You will be prompted to enter your name and email so that we can contact you if you're the winner of this month's drawing.

Your data will never be shared or sold to outside parties. View our privacy policy.

I read the article + learned from it
I read the article + learned nothing
I didn't read the article
What was the most interesting thing you read in this article?

Next >>

Article sources

Holly Rogers, MD; psychiatrist, Duke University; founder, Koru Center for Mindfulness, Durham, North Carolina.

Michael Ungar, PhD; Killam professor of social work and founder of the Resilience Research Project, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; scientific director of the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network.

Paula Davis-Laack; founder and CEO, Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute.

American Psychological Association. (2015). The road to resilience. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

Baumeister, R. F., Finkenaur, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.

Bernard, B. (1995). Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school and community. San Francisco: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development.

Bonanno, G. A. (2008). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? Psychological Trauma, S(1), 101–113.

Boniwell, I. (2013). Educating for happiness and resilience. TED. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbC18wFkHNI

Cohn, M., Fredrickson, B., Brown, S., Mikels, J., et al.  (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361–368. Retrieved from http://0eds.a.ebscohost.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=d12bb585-7e34-4a78-bcee-6418f19ba96d%40sessionmgr4004&hid=4211

Coutu, D. (2002, May). How resilience works. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works

Dyrbye, L., Power, D., Massie, F., Eacker, A., et al. (2010) Factors associated with resilience to and recovery from burnout: A prospective, multi-institutional study of US medical students. Medical Education, 44(10). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03754.x/full

Duckworth, A. L. (2013) The key to success? Grit. TED. . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8

Duckworth, A. L., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Self-control and grit: Related but separable determinants of success. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(5), 319–325.

Duckworth, A. L., Weir, D., Tsukayama, E., & Kwok, D. (2012). Who does well in life? Conscientious adults excel in both objective and subjective success. Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences, 3(356), 1–8.

Dumont, M., & Provost, M. (1999). Resilience in adolescents: Protective role of social support, coping strategies, self-esteem, and social activities on experience of stress and depression. Journal of Youth and Adolescents, 28(3).

Evans, L. (2014, July 22). 4 common characteristics of the super resilient. FastCompany.com. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/news/stress-the-roots-of-resilience-1.11570

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.

Greeson, J. M., Juberg, M. K., Maytan, M., James, K., et al. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of Koru: A mindfulness program for college students and other emerging adults. Journal of American College Health, 62(4), 222–233.

Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring happiness. TED. . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpuDyGgIeh0

Hughes, V. (2010, October 10). Stress: The roots of resilience. Nature.com. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/news/stress-the-roots-of-resilience-1.11570

ACE Study. (2014). Injury Prevention & Control, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

Ito, T., Larsen, J., Smith, K., & Cacioppo, J. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: The negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(4).

Kaufman, S. (2014, June 12). Why academic tenacity matters. The Creativity Post. Retrieved from http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/why_academic_tenacity_matters

Prati, G., & Pietrantoni, L. (2009). Optimism, social support, and coping strategies as factors contributing to posttraumatic growth: A meta-analysis. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14, 364–388.

Southwick, S. (2012, September 13). The science of resilience. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-m-southwick/trauma-resilience_b_1881666.html

Townsend, V. (2012). What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-doesnt-kill-you-doesnt-necessarily-make-you-stronger/2015/01/02/939f250e-8f7e-11e4-ba53-a477d66580ed_story.html

Von Culin, K., Tsukayama, E., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). Unpacking grit: Motivational correlates of perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(4), 1–7.