Want to develop resilience? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Gary Robinson of Australia makes his way through the course at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair during the Road Cycling Time Trials event at the Invictus Games, in Sydney, Australia.

by Brian Corrigan, Sports Physiologist, Management Consulting

Interest in resilience has increased in recent years. The military’s focus is on personal health and adaptation following exposure to battle, while the civilian interest centres on adjustments subsequent to disastrous events. Only in the last few years has it begun to be explored in a sports context (1) and the corporate world. According to the US military, resilience is the ability to withstand, recover, and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands(2). There are two important aspects that resilience requires: the presence or experience of adversity and the subsequent positive adaptation (3).

Watching the delayed start to the opening ceremony of Invictus Games and I was reminded again of Gary Robinson’s personal story (Gary and I served in the same unit in the Australian Army and he was the team leader during my last patrol in uniform). For Gary, having spent three birthdays in a row in hospital undergoing rehabilitation after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan 2010 to having the best year of his life leading up to the Sydney games is an unbelievable example of resilience. The Aussie digger is renowned for their resilience.

Resilience is also deferentially defined and influenced by culture (4), is an on-going process and individuals maybe more resilient during one period of their lives than another (5)

Workplace Performance

Of particular relevance to the corporate world are findings that resilience is related to workplace performance (6).  Individuals who are more resilient are considered to be more adaptive within the ever changing workplace. Resilience is positively related to job satisfaction, work happiness and organisational commitment (7).

What contributes to employee resilience in the workplace is support from peers, team members, managers, and company culture (8). In a workplace context, resilience has been re-defined as the positive psychological capacity to rebound, or ‘bounce back’ from adversity.

Resilience and Coping

Although coping and resilience are related constructs, they are distinct in that coping refers to a wide set of skills and purposeful responses to stress, whereas resilience refers to positive adaptation in response to serious adversity (9). Coping skills can be positive, negative, or dysfunctional, thus not necessarily leading to improved functioning, however successful coping is considered to be adaptive.

In an investigation of cognitive-behavioural training of Australian Army recruits results showed, by the end of basic training, recruits receiving the instruction reported less use of negative coping strategies, more positive states of mind, and less psychological distress than the control group (10).

During stressful situations, the mind and body instinctively triggers the fight-or-flight response in an effort to diminish threat, harm or loss. While the fight-or-flight response can be beneficial toward acute stressors, long-term and chronic exposure is harmful to health (11). These chronic levels of stress is what we see firsthand during our heart rate variability monitoring (shows us a 24-48 hour snapshot of the participants autonomic nervous system) when conducting performance assessments.

There is evidence showing that individual resilience can moderate the impact of stress (12). A number of factors are considered to contribute to individual resilience because they create the conditions by which individuals are able to adapt. These include:

  1. exercise
  2. social support and communication skills
  3. managing your time and priorities
  4. effective problem solving
  5. relaxation and meditation
  6. focusing on what makes you happy.

The areas above have all been proven to increase our resilience and help us to handle pressure more effectively (13). It should be no secret that exercise sits on top of a list to develop resilience; the benefits of exercise are numerous, varied and beyond the scope of this article.

Next time you’re experiencing adversity or discomfort, remember this is an opportunity to build your resilience by being conscious of how you adapt and think about how well you’re doing on the factors that contribute. If you want to develop resilience get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Photo: ©AAP CRAIG GOLDING


  1. Galli, N., & Gonza´ lez, P. (2015). Psychological resilience in sport: A review of the literature and implications for research and practice. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 13, 243–257
  2. https://www.army.mil/e2/rv5_downloads/readyandresilient/419479.pdf
  3. Secades XG, Molinero O, Salguero A, Barquín RR, de la Vega R & Márquez S. (2016) Relationship Between Resilience and Coping Strategies in Competitive Sport. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 122(1) 336–349
  4. Didkowsky N, Ungar M & Liebenberg L. (2010). Using visual methods to capture embedded processes of resilience for youth across cultures and contexts. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(1):12-8
  5. Rice, V. & Lui, B. (2016). Personal resilience and coping with implications for work. Part I: A review. Work 54, 325–333
  6. Harland L, Harrison W, Jones JR & Reiter-Palmon R. (2005). Leadership behaviours and subordinate resilience. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(2):2-14
  7. Youssef C.M. & Luthans F. (2007). Positive organizational behaviour in the workplace the impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33(5):774-800
  8. Bardoel E.A., Pettit T.M., De Cieri H. & McMillan L. (2014). Employee resilience: An emerging challenge for HRM. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 52(3):279-97
  9. Glennie E.J. (2010). Coping and resilience. Noncognitive skills in the classroom. In: Rosen JA, Glennie EJ, Dalton BW. New perspectives on educational research. Research Triangle Park: RTI International, 169-93.
  10. Cohn A. & Pakenham K. (2008). Efficacy of a cognitive behavioural program to improve psychological adjustment among soldiers in recruit training. Military Medicine, 173(12):1151-7.
  11. Gloria C.T. & Steinhardt M.A. (2016). Relationships among positive emotions, coping, resilience and mental health. Stress Health, 32(2):145-56
  12. Pinquart, M. (2009). Moderating effects of dispositional resilience on associations between hassles and psychological distress. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(1), 53–60.
  13. http://www.working-minds.org.uk/documents/emotional-resilience-workbook.pdf

One thought on “Want to develop resilience? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

  1. Nice one Brian! I like the ‘call out’ on the importance of building a culture of ‘support’ to foster resilience in the workplace.

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