James just learned that one of his teenage clients harmed her little brother.

Amanda’s son just had a meltdown in the grocery store.

Yolanda just heard a rumor that her organization will be laying off staff.

Diego’s car just started making an awful noise.

Pam’s father just molested her.

Each of these scenarios is different, but they all have something in common: They represent a disruption in expectations—a gap between the way someone expected or wanted the world to be and what is actually happening.

Sometimes you can see these disruptions coming, and sometimes they’re a total surprise. They can range from very minor to deeply traumatic. Some disruptions pass quickly, while others have effects that linger for a long time. But all of them share common ground.

Whenever your expectations are disrupted, you use energy to close the gap. You may be able to change what’s happening, or you may need to adjust to an undesirable reality. Either way, you draw on your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. If the disruptions you face are too large, or you encounter several of them at one time, you may run out of energy and start to break down.

A Definition of Resilience

Personal resilience is the ability to maintain well-being and effective functioning in the face of high levels of disruption. It involves adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats, and stress. It means bouncing back from difficulties with your family, relationships, health, workplace, home life, finances, etc.

Resilience is a tremendously important capability for professional caregivers, who often operate in environments filled with unexpected events and need to maintain their effectiveness in challenging circumstances. In addition, caregivers have the opportunity to support and build the resilience of those they care for.

Research has shown that people can develop resilience. Here is some information that can help you enhance your own resilience and that of the people around you:

Your Personal Resilience Muscles

Resilience isn’t a single attribute or skill, but draws on a set of capabilities that you can think of as “muscles” you use in dealing with disruption. These muscles help you use your energy more effectively and achieve better outcomes when facing challenges and crises.

The ability to see hope and possibility even in the darkest of times is the cornerstone of resilience. This is the muscle that keeps you going in the face of impossible odds, and helps you bring more of your energy into figuring out how to deal with a challenge or resolve a problem.

Your willingness and ability to take action in difficult situations is enhanced when you have confidence in your own capabilities, knowledge of your strengths, and the belief that you can use challenges to learn, grow, and develop.

Most crisis situations are filled with confusion and ambiguity. You will be most effective if you can quickly decide what is most important and tune out distractions. This allows you to conserve your energy and achieve the best outcomes.

When you encounter an unexpected challenge, you need to figure out what to do to address it. If you can stretch your brain to come up with a range of options that include new, unusual, or unexpected strategies, you have a better chance of a positive outcome. As a bonus, this muscle helps you see the humor even in dark times.

Crisis intervention is a team endeavor. If you are able to build strong connections with others and reach out to them when you need help, you can go well beyond the limits of your own energy and resolve issues that may seem impossible for one person to handle.

Systems and processes can be very helpful in deciding how to respond and in using your energy most efficiently to deal with disruption. This muscle helps you build, learn, and use structured approaches—such as CPI’s Crisis Development Model℠ model—when facing challenging situations.

In most difficult situations, you need to take action without having all the information you need. Rather than wait for certainty, you can often try something, see what happens, and adjust your strategy based on what you observe. This muscle helps you take small risks that help you move forward to resolve the issues you face.

How to Strengthen Your Resilience Muscles

Like your physical muscles, your resilience muscles can be built through practice. You can create exercises for each of them. You will have the most success if you pick small actions and do them regularly. Here is a sample exercise for each muscle:


A second strategy for strengthening your resilience muscles is to consciously use small challenges as a “resilience gym” to build your capability to handle larger ones.


Rhoda arrived at her job at the hospice facility to find that one of the patients had several visiting family members engaged in a loud argument.

While she thought about the best way to approach this based on what she had learned in the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course, she recognized that this also provided an opportunity to practice her resilience.

She used her confidence muscle to remind herself that she had the skills and training to deal with this situation, and her priorities muscle to make sure she kept herself and others focused on the well-being of the patient. She applied her structure muscle to identify the level of the Crisis Development Model to use, and her creativity and experimenting muscles to figure out some creative ways to move the visitors out of the room. When her first attempt didn’t work, she used her connection muscle to engage another staff member to help her. Once the situation was calmed down, she applied her positivity muscle to recognize the successful outcome.

Helping Others Be Resilient

As a caregiver, you are often dealing with people who are facing a multitude of challenges. Here are four things you can do to apply your knowledge of resilience to help them:
  1. Be a good role model. When you deal with challenges effectively, bringing a positive attitude and a strong set of capabilities and problem-solving skills, you help others see how to do the same.
  2. Support their weak resilience muscles. If you are working with someone, for example, who is easily distracted (weak priorities muscle) or who gets stuck in a rut when thinking about how to address a problem (weak creativity muscle), you can help them by providing assistance in these areas.
  3. Affirm and build their resilience. Each person has the seeds of resilience within them. When you observe someone demonstrating some aspect of resilience, you may be able to help them build their own awareness of this muscle so they can continue to develop it. For example, if you see a student effectively using a study guide to help them do their homework (structure muscle), you could take time to say “Hey, I noticed that you used the study guide when you were doing your homework. That’s great!”
  4. Create an environment that encourages resilience. You can make it easier for people to apply their resilience muscles by ensuring that the situations they are in provide reminders and reinforcements for being resilient. For example, an organization or classroom in which people are punished for making errors rather than encouraged to learn from their mistakes will discourage the use of the experimenting muscle.

A Few Additional Thoughts

Before you exercise your physical muscles, it’s helpful to warm them up. Similarly, your resilience muscles work better when you are calm, centered, and grounded. Learning to calm yourself down by taking a few deep breaths or consciously relaxing your body can be very helpful.

Resilience muscles draw on your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. No matter how strong the muscles are, they can’t operate if there’s no energy available. With this in mind, it’s important to take care of your own well-being in each of these areas. Eating, moving, and sleeping are important for your physical energy. Keeping your mind active and engaged, doing things that bring you joy, and staying connected to a sense of meaning and purpose are important for your mental, emotional, and spiritual energy.

In your role as a caregiver, you have a tremendous opportunity to practice and build your own resilience and to help those you care for do the same. I hope the information provided here is helpful to you in becoming more conscious of your resilience muscles and in using them well to face life’s challenges.
linda-hoopes-1.jpgDr. Linda Hoopes has spent more than 20 years helping organizations build their change capability. She is passionate about helping people learn to thrive in turbulence. Her Atlanta-based firm, Resilience Alliance, has equipped change practitioners around the globe with tools and materials that help their clients increase their personal and team resilience. Linda coauthored Managing Change With Personal Resilience with Mark Kelly in 2004, and is working on her second book. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and has served on the faculties of several academic institutions, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, and Colby College. In addition to her academic background, Linda brings many other influences to her work on change and resilience. She is a musician, a sailor, and a traveler, and is also licensed as a massage therapist.