How to Build and Foster Resilience

Here are a few tips to help build and foster resilience.

  1. Make connections/Spend time around positive people

Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important.  Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.  Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.  Seek out those who are accepting, loyal, and kind and who share your values and common interests.

Things to try:

  • Say hello to 3 people today.
  • Join a club or organization.
  • Start a conversation with someone in your class/ 2 Question Rule.
  • Be assertive. / Take initiative.
  • Tell people you care about how much they mean to you
  1. Move toward your goals

Develop some realistic goals.  Do something regularly—even if it seems like a small accomplishment—that enables you to move toward your goals.  Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”

  1. Take care of yourself

Pay attention to your own needs and feelings.  Engage in activities you enjoy and find relaxing.  Exercise helps to keep BOTH your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Two students playing frisbee.

Things to Try:

  • Move for at least 20 minutes a day.
  • Walking to class?  Take the long way.
  • Hit up the Junker Center with a friend.  Hold each other accountable and have fun!
  • Try something new!  Always wanted to play Frisbee golf? Lacrosse? Check out what is available here on campus.


  1. Adopt a “growth mindset”

Practice shifting your views about failure.  Consider failure can be a setback but isn’t defining.  Learn to practice optimism and flexibility in your thinking.  An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. 

Things to Try:

  • Visualize what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  • When you make a mistake, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”  Associate the mistake with your behavior not your person.  When confronted with failure, practice seeing it as temporary.
  • Try the Best Possible Self exercise (BPS) Think and write about a future self characterized by ideal circumstances and achievements.  Researchers at Obero U. in Sweden found that students who thought, wrote and reflected about their best possible selves were more optimistic about their future than students who wrote/reflected about a typical day in their lives.
  • Pay attention to negative, automatic thoughts that may be contributing to helplessness and worry.  Challenge these thoughts by recognizing if they are based on fact, fiction, or assumptions.  Pause and ask “Where is the evidence this thought is really accurate?” Replace negative/unrealistic thoughts with more neutral, realistic cognitions.  Remember the acronym: F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real).  Also, kill those A.N.T.S.!!!
  1. Increase the control you have over your life

When we feel competent and in control, we tend to feel more relaxed and resilient.  How are you managing your time? Are you being assertive in your life?  Do you feel overwhelmed with your day to day life?

Things to Try:

  • Use the Pomodoro Technique for time management.  Set aside 25 minutes to study and then give yourself a 5 minute break.  Repeat this 4x than allow yourself a 20 minute break.  Breaking large study times down allows for increased focus and motivation.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, examine your day and see if there is something you can take off your “to-do” list.
  • Accept that it is okay to say NO.  You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way.  Learning to say NO isn’t selfish, it’s self-defense.
  • Make time each day for quiet space to ground yourself and relax.
  • Establish and stick to routines.
  1. Take decisive actions

Act on adverse situations as much as you can.  Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses wishing they would just go away.

  1. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you CAN change how you interpret and respond to these events.  Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, and a heightened appreciation for life.

  1. Regularly notice and acknowledge your strengths

Reminding ourselves of past successes, strengths, and goals helps us build competence and mastery.  Nurture a positive view of yourself.

Things to try:

  • Sit and reflect on your life experiences. 
  • What assets do you have that got you this far?
  • What strengths do you admire in yourself?
  • What can you build upon?
  • If something unpleasant is happening, consider ALL the reasons why rather than focusing on something horrible you did or life did to you.
  1. Trust yourself and your ability to cope with difficulties; draw upon past successes

There will always be suffering along with the joy in life.  It’s our ability to weather the storms that leads us to calm.

We make decisions every single day.  What to wear, when to eat, whether or not to brush our teeth, etc.  Some choices are big and some small but we can learn something from each one if we are open to it.

Things to Try:

  • Ask yourself….when was the last time you made a good decision? What did you learn?
  • When was the last time you made a poor decision?  How did you learn from that?
  • Remember a time that was stressful.  How did you cope?
  • Reflect on a time you helped a friend in need.  What advice did you give?
  1. Identify and live out your core values

It makes sense that we should intentionally spend our time doing things that we value, but we rarely stop to think of the things that are important to us.  Values are about what is most important to you, deep in your heart; what sort of person you want to be; what is significant and meaningful to you and what you want to stand for in this life.

Try this:   From the list below, select up to 5 values that are important to you.  Now from this list of 5, pick one and think about why this value is important to you.  Finally, identify one action that you can take to help live according to that value (including when you will act and any obstacles you may face).

List of Values
Values 1 Values 2 Values 3
Safety Excitement Organization
Peace Novelty Independence
Security Change Forgiveness
Adventure Flexibility Family
Certainty Freedom Leadership
Groundedness Fun Prosperity
Curiosity Validation Effectiveness
Originality Humor Understanding
Creativity Connection Uniqueness
Expression Authenticity Purpose
Passion Trust Wisdom
Appreciation Harmony Spirituality
Respect Friendship Physical Health
Play Acceptance Vision
Intimacy Belonging Patience
Experience Structure Unity
  1. Additional ways to strengthen resilience

Things to Try:

  • Some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life.
  • Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for YOU as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.


Bolin, Mary C., Ph.D. (2016).  Bounce Back:  building resilience through interactive workshop series.  Presented at AUCCD Conference, October 2016.

Develop Resilient Students:  Foster Grit, Life Skill, and Stress Management.  Information online through Paper-clip Communications, 2016. 

The Road to Resilience website