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Resilience research. What mindset gives me mental strength?

There is no doubt that we are living in turbulent and challenging times: wars, recessions, price increases, pandemics, the threat of job cuts – everywhere. In addition, society is becoming more and more divided. The differences seem irreconcilable. Most of the daily news is negative…

Each era has had its own set of difficulties, but the omnipresence of media coverage means that we are being bombarded with negative news – in real time – every day. This never-ending barrage of negative news, coupled with the worries and hardships that play out in our personal lives, can all too easily lead to anxiety or even depression.

On the other hand, there are always people who seem to never lose their optimism, no matter what difficulties they face. This does not mean that they are not suffering from difficult circumstances, but that they have the ability to deal with them constructively and with intelligent optimism. This ability is called resilience. In this article, we are looking for strategies, thoughts and a general mindset that can help us develop and strengthen resilience.

Our impulse contribution[1] is based on a German article in the Spiegel + Magazin („People can break in a crisis. But sometimes a new strength emerges„). Resilience researcher Cornelia Richter, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Bonn and head of the interdisciplinary research project „Resilience in Religion and Spirituality“, was interviewed in the article, among other things, about her research project.

  1. What do we mean by resilience?

In the interview, Prof. Richter refers to a colleague – Ms. Franziska Geiser, a doctor of psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy at Bonn University Hospital – who is working on her research project on resilience and distinguishes between different levels of resilience.

On the first level, there is the usual everyday stress, where something like „everyday resilience“ is required. This is about coping with daily challenges, such as guests arriving at the door too early, the milk boiling over, a glass falling and breaking, etc.

Then there are the smaller crises on the second level, such as when you have to switch between the train and the car as a commuter because the train keeps breaking down. These types of „crises“ are more stressful, especially if they are permanent. But you can manage them well by changing or adapting your routines. These first two levels are therefore more about harmonizing with your environment and adapting.

According to Prof. Richter, however, resilience means even more. Resilience is the perspective on one’s own life that comes into play when all the strategies to increase one’s own well-being and self-optimization reach their limits and one „hits rock bottom“. According to Prof. Richter, there is no guarantee that I will be able to overcome a serious crisis just because I have mastered the lower two levels with my „everyday resilience“.

Crises on this third level are existential crises that leave you in a state of powerlessness. You are hit so hard that you experience a loss of control that affects your life planning and your perspective on life itself. Such states can lead to depression, in which we feel a high degree of powerlessness. This extreme state destabilizes us mentally and is often associated with some form of real or perceived loss (you lose a loved one, your job, your income), or you are betrayed, or the responsibility becomes so great and the amount of tasks so overwhelming that you sink into a fear of failure, or your entire attitude to life is shaken by the event, etc. What all these extreme states have in common is that they give us the feeling that the ground is literally being pulled out from under our feet…

According to Prof. Richter, resilience research shows that it is not right to speak of an innate „resilience personality“. Conversely, this means that resilience is not a character trait that you either have or don’t have, but can be developed and strengthened over time. And this is exactly where our survey comes in: we would like to find out which of the following mindsets – in your opinion and experience – are most effective in developing and strengthening resilience. Certainly, all of the mindsets explained in the survey section can contribute to a greater or lesser extent to developing and strengthening resilience. We would be interested in knowing which has been the most effective for you personally so that we can all learn from it…

  1. Survey: Which of the following mindsets is most effective for developing and strengthening resilience?

Please select the most effective one (As an English Speaker you may participate on the German version of this Article, just choose and click on the same letter (a. to j.) in the German version)

  1. Actively developing a positive attitude. I consciously focus on the positive aspects of a crisis situation – everybody with a certain amount of life experience knows that there is nothing purely negative. Even the worst situation has positive aspects, even if they may not be completely tangible at the time. I just have to look at it holistically from all angles. Or I can actively practice gratitude by focusing on the good things in my life and trying to be grateful for them from the bottom of my heart. A very effective way to do this is to take a few minutes every day to write a list of all the things I can be grateful for.
  2. Building strong social bonds. I nurture relationships with family and friends by being there for them with advice and support when they need me. I try not to have any expectations of them and enjoy my relationships simply because I enjoy my fellow human beings – without ulterior motives, without an agenda. A strong social network with positive, well-intended and expectation-free people can give me valuable support in difficult times.
  3. Looking after your physical health. I make sure I get enough sleep, eat a balanced, healthy diet and exercise regularly. My physical well-being is essential for my mental and emotional resilience, and I can really disconnect and recharge my mental batteries with sport, which helps me digest problems mentally.
  4. Setting achievable goals. I split larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks and draw motivation from the many small successes along the way to accomplish a larger goal. You can find more background on this strategy in our German article „The forest and the trees in today’s meritocracy – or how to prevent burnout?“ This strategy also involves focusing on what is within my control and accepting that there are things that I must simply accept.
  5. Cultivate adaptability. I accept change as a natural part of life, because after all, the only constant in life is change itself. Nothing lasts forever. With this strategy, I also concentrate on what I can influence in order to best adapt to a major change in my life and again accept that there are many things that fall outside my sphere of influence.
  6. Cultivate self-confidence. I can deliberately recall how I overcame past crises and challenges and remind myself of what I learned from them. In this way, I can use the overcoming of past setbacks as a further opportunity for personal growth and development.
  7. A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. Knowing that I am not the only one who has to cope with and digest a similar crisis. There are always people in comparable situations who are willing to offer help. An exchange of ideas among people with similar fates can immensely contribute to strengthening my very own resilience. On the one hand, I can see that I am not alone in this crisis, and on the other hand, I can benefit from the experiences of others with helpful strategies and thoughts, just as others can benefit from my experiences.
  8. Cultivating a feeling of hope within yourself. Prof. Richter mentions in the interview how „hopeful people“ think. These are people who, in their innermost being, are convinced that everything will work out in the end, that it is right, that it has a purpose and a meaning. They allow themselves to believe and feel that not everything always has to solely depend on themselves. In doing so, they allow themselves to delegate to „the top“, but this does not mean that they fall into passivity; on the contrary, they remain active and work actively and consciously to overcome the situation as far as they can. But they leave the result of this work to a higher dimension or entity that is greater than themselves and which they sense in their innermost being that only means well for them, even if they are not yet able to precisely grasp this dimension and its actions.
  9. Helping others. By consciously concentrating on helping others, I shift my focus away from myself and my problems. My own difficulties fade into the background. I see that many others are much worse off than I am. This puts my troubles into perspective and at the same time it is also rewarding to help others. It helps me realize that we all have our problems, nobody’s life is without difficulties – this is especially helpful when I am at odds with my own fate and thoughts like „I don’t deserve this“ or „Why me?“ keep plaguing me.
  10. None of the answers match my opinion and experience.

None of the answers really fit? Then write to us by email at info@ethica-rationalis.org or use our contact form.


Authors: The Ethica Rationalis editorial team


[1] Similar to our articles „News from happiness research. Happiness that doesn’t get boring“ and „The 7 digital deadly sins„, we would like to start with a short impulse contribution based on the interview with Prof. Richter, and in the subsequent survey section we are looking for your opinion on the effectiveness of different strategies, thoughts and mindsets.