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Strategies to Build Resilience + Process

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If you are reading this, you probably got your survey scores back via your email. So now what? I would suggest looking at the graph and determining two things: 1) your strengths (highest bars) and 2) areas that you can strengthen (lowest bars). Your strengths can help you right away to face adversity and the growth areas can actually be improved, making you stronger all around!

You might be tempted to compare your scores with your classmates, but there’s no point really – you are each unique and the scores show a combination of your experiences, attitudes, culture, and environment – all things that  make you uniquely you! So for now, identify 1-3 strengths and maybe 2 areas of growth that you’d like to strengthen right away, and let’s get started with how to do that!


Think about this whole process as a 2-step operation: 1) Start to build internal resources and strength over the long-term which can help you BE more resilient when hard times come along and 2) Build your strategies toolbelt now with approaches that you can use in the moment when difficulty strikes.

BUILDING INNER STRENGTH: There are many approaches to this. A few that I like are Dr. Rick Hanson’s work on building happiness. One strategy he talks about is called “Taking in the good.” This involves noticing when a positive thing has happened – an interaction with someone or something you’ve enjoyed doing, for example. You stop and think about it for 10-15 seconds to really let it soak in. We often go through our days missing the impact of the good things that happen. So notice it, take it in, and over time, this practice starts to fill in the bucket of happiness inside of you.

Another approach I like along the same lines has to do with instead of noticing good things that have already happened, actually pro-actively creating positive emotions. Let’s face it, some days it can be hard to find the good – so it is empowering to me to know that on those tough days, I can actually make it happen! During a summer insititute at the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Drs. Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simone Thomas talked about the happiness equation – how we can actually CREATE more happiness in our lives. There are three parts to the equation: 1) Generate positive emotions + 2) Make positive connections + 3) Effectively manage your stress levels.  Strategies for each part of the equation abound at their website

One quick strategy is to stop and identify three things for which you are grateful. Write them down, and sit with them in your mind for a minute. Easy, right?! Do that every day for a week, and see if you notice a change in how you feel. You can track them online, too at a site called Thnx4 –

STRATEGIES: These are the tools in your toolbelt that you can use to either build up your growth areas or to use in the moment when difficulties arise. The next sections provide ideas and links to some strategies that you can use anytime you want to be more resilient. If you want to systematically improve your resilience, look at the planning section below.


We can’t really get far without a plan, so let’s start there. Choose one growth area – let’s say it is FOCUS – The Center for Resilience Advisory LLC (CFRA) defines FOCUS as being able to maintain your attention on the matter at hand and being able to minimize distractions. Well, clearly that’s an important skill in college where you might have to listen to a lecture for several hours, take notes, and stay engaged… so that’s a good one to start with! Make a plan to work on that skill for the next month. Before you start, monitor how long it takes during a lecture before you catch yourself drifting off. Note the time and then calmly regain your focus. Track this over the course of several classes and write down your average time before losing focus.  Once you know what your current pattern is, it’s time to apply a strategy to help you improve. At the end of the month, track yourself again, and see if there are any positive changes in your skill!


Paying Attention to your BreathFind out how to do this here –   This style of breathing helps to calm the central nervous system (so it can help if you are anxious or excited and need to focus) By learning to pay attention to your breathing, you can also learn to pay attention to your own level of attention. The trick to getting better is to notice when your attention starts to wane… Then gently bring yourself back. The more you practice, the better you’ll do.

Be Actively Engaged – Whether you are reading or listening to a lecture, DO something to help your mind stay engaged.  Taking notes (by hand) is a great way to not only stay engaged while learning, but it also helps to move material into your memory banks! You’ll still need to study and get it into your long-term memory, but it makes a good start! Make concept maps of the main ideas, think of personal relevant examples that connect the content to you, think of possible test questions as you read or listen. Interacting with the information is a great way to stay focused and to start the learning process!

Don’t Multi-Task!! – We all try to do it (and think we can), but the research is solidly IN – we simply can’t do it and do both things well. In fact, when we try, the quality of either interaction is greatly diminished! So don’t waste your time studying and checking Facebook or texting a friend – this just prolongs the act of studying. Make the most of your study time and turn off the phones and get rid of distractions. You’ll finish in less time with a better result! Want more proof that multi-tasking doesn’t work? Here’s an article by our own Dr. Cora Dzubak, retired Director of the Nittany Success Center at Penn State York.


When you work hard to develop a skill, you will make progress over time! So that’s very good news!

Here is a general video on building resilience with strategies that I did for an IST 111 class in early October. There are plenty of strategies in there to help you get started!

Stay tuned for more strategies here!!

Here is another video which has info on goal setting and also strategies to build resilience. A description of strategies for each area can be found by fast-forwarding to minute 24:00 in the video.

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