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20 Ways to Build Resilience

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20 Ways to Build Resilience

I just met with a group of doctors under the wise and beautiful guidance of Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom. We meet monthly to talk about Finding Meaning in Medicine, a program lead all over the country which aims to put doctors back in touch with the heart of healing. This month’s topic was “Resilience,” and as you can imagine, lively discussion ensued.

What is Resilience?

It got me thinking. What does it mean to be resilient? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Certainly, in the US, we ascribe great value to the idea of resilience. If someone experiences a trauma and manages to get back to the details of life a short time later, we praise this person for being “so strong.” When Haitians crawl out from under the rubble to witness the devastation of their city only to talk about how grateful they are to be alive, we smile. It makes us feel good. All is right with our world as long as people can just “put it all behind them and move on.” But is that really resilience? Or is it just denial?

Maybe resilience means that you’re like a rubber band — you can pulled and stretched out of shape, but you bounce right back into the shape in which you started. Sure, you’ve lost your husband, you just got fired, and your house burned down with your dog inside — but damn if you aren’t resilient for being able to bounce right back.

The Pros and Cons of Bouncing Back

But wait a minute. Is that a good thing? Do we want to be like rubber bands after a major life change? Or do we want to allow a natural reshaping to occur? Is it okay if we no longer look like a rubber band. Maybe now — we look more like a square. But we’re still whole — we’re still intact. We are not broken. We’re just no longer in the same shape anymore. Is that resilience?

On the flip side, maybe being a rubber band can benefit us. Sometimes we’re subjected to tremendous external pressure to change our shape. My medical school training is an example of that, for sure. So is being in the military, perhaps. Being a prisoner of war. Marrying into a family that doesn’t accept you. I’m sure there are hundreds of examples of situations in which you are pressured to change your shape. You are expected to morph — and yet, because you are resilient, you retain your original shape, in spite of the pressure to be different. In spite of it all — somewhere, deep down, you remember who you really are.

Next: Tips for Cultivating Resilience

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
7:59AM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Good article, thanks!

3:49AM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Thanks for this useful info

7:38AM PST on Dec 2, 2011

Thank you for this, Lissa - I shall be trying them all!

11:36PM PDT on Aug 28, 2010

Good article, Lissa - thank you.

4:36PM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

If you make God the primary focus or meaning of your life he gives you the strength to carry on through bad times. If your primary focus is physical like family, jobs, relationships then when they come unstuck this can lead to bitterness, regret, depression, guilt. I have had bad times like loosing my wife through cancer, loss of a child, divorce but through it all Jesus Christ (God) has help me in my grief. So put your focus on him as he cares and loves us deeply.

1:20AM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

Thank you for sharing!

1:49AM PDT on Aug 7, 2010

The people you draw around you are absolutely the key.

My friend, boss and "honourary big brother" Graeme married one of my closest friends Huia in October last year.
Straight after the wedding they went to stay in the Cook Islands with some of my family.
Two days later we got a call from the Cook Islands telling us that Graeme had drowned. They had been married for 2 and half days.
That has been one of, if not, the most awful shocks I have ever experienced. We all fell apart.
The only thing that kept us all vaguely functioning was that we all converged on one house and camped out there for a few weeks. Literally holding, living and experiencing each others pain, got us all through those first few days so we could keep going and be strong for and support Huia when she finally made it home.
That one experience has brought every one of us closer together and we do not for an instant take for granted how much love and support was given and needed at the time.

It has not quite been a year yet since his death. I know that we would not be as strong or resilient about it now, if we didn't have all the family and friends band together at the time.

11:19PM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

Great article. Thank you, Lissa.

10:44PM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

good article

10:43PM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

thanx for the article

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.

Happiness is all i see now I never thought that I will live on earth before the year runs out., I ha…


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