Resilience (Don't Take the Bait)

Nov 16 / Drs. Bryan & Julie Walsh
Choo Choo…the next train is pulling into the Health Bandwagon Station.

Resilience - All Aboard!

And suddenly, we have resilience coaches, resilience training, resilience curriculum, resilience apps, resilience planners, resilience self-help books, and resilience methods.
Before we all start adding “#resilient” to all our social media posts, can we just stop and think for a minute.
Is resilience really what we are after?

We don’t say this to be offensive. And we certainly understand where the idea started.

The word itself is quite catchy – r-e-s-i-l-i-e-n-c-e. It rolls off the tongue, right?

Eh, not so fast. Follow along as we break this down and at the end, let us know if you agree.
Resilience is usually defined as “bouncing back” after some kind of adversity. The root, resilio, means to leap or spring back, recoil, rebound, or shrink (back again). 
But when something bad happens, is that really what we want to do? Spring backward?

Think about the last time something bad happened to you –a financial hardship, a difficulty in a relationship, a sickness.

Now that you’ve made it to the other side, do you wish you could spring back to before it happened? Or are you glad you progressed forward through it? Did it make you stronger and smarter on the other side? Or, do you wish it never happened?
We polled many of our colleagues and clients for this answer, to make sure it wasn’t just us.
We asked them that very question.

In return, they unanimously answered that adversity made them stronger.

That yes, they got knocked down, and sometimes they got knocked down hard.

But, after it passed, they were better for it. They are now a new and improved version of themselves because they moved forward, not back.

Think about a broken bone. It heals stronger than it was before it was broken.

And then there’s this guy.

The Tardigrade. This is the most resilient creature on the planet. It does things like mummify itself to be resilient to environments that most animals can’t survive.

Is this the end goal? You do the resilient courses, hire the coaches, and hashtag resilient moments...for this? To be able to “survive” extremes?

Do we want to be like the tardigrade?

Or do we want to be human? 

Speaking of humans, we each have a unique perspective on what we define as an adverse experience.

For example, this study compared Americans and Japanese populations who experienced a negative event. In this, the Americans had flatter diurnal cortisol and higher inflammatory markers than their Japanese counterparts.

What does this mean? Are Japanese less stressed than Americans? More resilient? Or do they have a different perspective on adversity?

So, right there, this esoteric goal of achieving resilience is another health movement that sounds better than the objective measure and therefore ultimate achievement will ever come to be.

Do we really need something else to feel like we’re not enough in? Do we need something new to chase after? Or blame our life’s problems?

We’d argue no.

That’s not what we need at all.

We need to get down to the bottom of why people feel the way they feel in a way that is measurable, achievable, and realistic.

As humans we are hard-wired to experience this life, in all of it is ups and downs. We are hard-wired to love one another, care about things bigger than just ourselves, and do our part while we’re here to make this place a little better than we found it.

To summarize here’s five reasons why resilience is (once again) not the answer.


Purpose Trumps Resilience – There are mounds of compelling scientific evidence (we cover this in the last module of Level III) on the importance of purpose for health. If you want to improve your health, focus on your purpose


Bouncing Back Is NOT Beneficial – The tide of life drives us to grow, evolve, and move forward. Doing the opposite, bouncing back to the way things used to be, is unnatural.


Hurt is Inevitable – No matter how many “resilience enhancing” gadgets, programs, or potions we take to avoid pain, it’s part of life. It’s futile to spend our money and time trying to run from it. What if we switched the focus to growing, learning, and evolving as much as we can through life's inevitable trials. 


Resilience ≠ Happiness - Certain studies are suggesting a correlation between resilience and happiness, suggesting that the more resilient we are, the happier we are. We’d argue that it’s the opposite. The happier we are, the more resilient we are.


Strength Over "Springy" When we think of resilience and all of its promises of "bouncing back", we picture those toy clowns that when you punch them, they fall, and bounce back into place for another punch. Like the aforementioned tardigrade, is that really what we want to be like? Instead, what if we worked on things like:
  • Fortitude – having courage during pain or adversity
  • Tenacity - being able to grip something firmly
  • Transformation - a thorough or dramatic change