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A Fresh Look at Resilience: Outcomes, Inputs, and Processes

Linda L. Hoopes, Ph.D. President, Resilience Alliance

Learn more about the author at  http://resiliencealliance.com/linda-hoopes-phd/

I am writing this article early in the US response to the coronavirus epidemic. Please consider how the ideas below apply to individuals, groups, organizations, and nations as we find our way through this crisis, and also about how we can build more resilience into our systems in the future.

Although I am passionate about helping people thrive in turbulence, I must confess that I sometimes get tired of hearing the word “resilience.” Just about every conversation that takes place about change, stress, crisis, or well-being includes the term, but its definitions vary widely. Here are a few examples:

  • Those who engage in life with hope and humor despite devastating losses.
  • The capacity of a system to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatic change.
  • The maintenance and/or quick recovery of mental health during and after times of adversity.

This means that resilience is a bit of a fuzzy concept, meaning many different things to different people. After more than 25 years of reading, writing, and thinking about resilience, I have found that I can best make sense out of it by thinking of three different angles on the topic:

Outcomes: the benefits or results of resilience—how we know it when we see it

Inputs: the things that contribute to, predict, or enable resilient outcomes

Processes: how these inputs actually work to create resilient outcomes


Although resilience is often defined as “bouncing back” from adversity, I believe that we need to consider a much wider range of outcomes. The health of any system (a person, group, organization, society, etc.) can be evaluated by its survival, renewal, and growth. While recovery is one indicator of resilience, I believe that people and organizations also demonstrate resilience when we:

  • minimize harm (e.g., stay alive, keep bad situations from getting worse, and limit damage),
  • use difficult situations as catalysts for creativity, productivity, and development, and
  • learn from past experiences to increase our readiness for future challenges.


A wide range of mindsets, skill sets, and resources have been linked to achieving resilient outcomes. These can be grouped into several categories:

Individual differences Human tendencies toward optimism, openness to new experiences, social engagement, risk-taking, emotional stability, and other aspects of approaching the world have been linked to resilient outcomes. Although these mindset and behavior patterns tend to be stable and enduring, there is increasing evidence that they are also malleable, and can be shaped through experience and practice in ways that foster increased resilience.

Knowledge and skill People can learn things that help them deal more effectively with challenging situations. These include things like self-awareness, communication, problem-solving, and stress reduction. In addition, specific types of challenges often call for specialized skill sets (e.g. first aid, financial analysis, creative thinking) that can increase the likelihood of resilient outcomes.

Interpersonal relationships Healthy human connections support resilience in multiple ways, including increasing emotional well-being, providing practical support and assistance, and reducing physiological stress levels.

Resources A broad range of resources plays an additional role in enabling resilience. These include such things as money, community support, access to information, physical health, and power and influence (including such things as social status and formal authority).


The most interesting piece of the picture is how these inputs are activated and applied to achieve resilient outcomes. Here are some of the ways resilience comes to life:

Reducing adversity An often-overlooked aspect of resilience is the possibility of avoiding difficulties in the first place or minimizing the impact of challenges. We can take steps to anticipate and guard against potential difficulties (e.g., using humor to avert a fight, washing our hands to avoid infection, quitting a stressful job). When we can’t avoid a challenge entirely, we can take steps to reduce its impact (e.g. buying insurance to guard against future loss, networking in advance of a likely layoff, creating “social distance” to reduce disease transmission, and hiring assistance to deal with an aging parent). Availability of resources often plays an important role here; people who have few connections and limited financial resources often experience much greater impact than those with strong community and ample financial reserves.

Shifting interpretations Not all challenges can be avoided. However, there is clear evidence that how an individual interprets a situation—for example, being able to see a potential opportunity where someone else might see only a threat—can greatly influence their response and their subsequent decisions and actions in a more resilient direction. Individual differences in optimism, skill in “reframing,” and getting new perspectives from others are all examples of how inputs can be used to shift interpretations.

Influencing neurobiology The human brain-body system plays a huge role in our response to adversity. We sense threat and danger quickly and automatically. Social connection, self-regulation, and many other inputs help our brain and autonomic nervous system move through fight/flight/freeze reactions into active engagement in problem-solving and adaptation. In addition, resilience inputs can help shut down negative spirals of stress response. When we experience stress, one set of symptoms—such as physical unease—can activate other symptoms including negative emotions, social discomfort, and impaired performance. This can move us quickly downward into a self-reinforcing system of dysfunction. When we can break this cycle by reaching out for support or by intentionally applying strategies such as reinterpreting situations and actively working to calm ourselves, we can shift these negative spirals into more positive ones, achieving more resilient outcomes.

Solving problems Another huge aspect of resilience has to do with how effectively we solve the problems presented to us by adversity. For example, we may need to figure out how to secure our physical safety in a natural disaster, or how to generate income after job loss. We may need to solve technology challenges related to remote work or emotional challenges related to distance from loved ones. Knowledge and skill play a huge role here—capabilities such as analysis, problem-solving, creative thinking, and collaboration help people generate effective solutions to the difficulties they face.

Conceptualizing resilience in this way—outcomes, inputs, and processes—allows us to be specific about which of the resilience inputs we are seeking to strengthen (for example, we may be seeking to build the skill of mindful awareness) and how and why we believe these improvements will lead to more resilient outcomes (for example, by influencing the processes of shifting interpretations and influencing neurobiology). As you think through the challenges you and those around you are facing, I hope this framework gives you some ideas about how to strengthen resilience, understand how and why your approaches are working, and measure impact by evaluating the outcomes that are achieved. If you’d like to learn more about my work, please check out my book Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World, which outlines strategies for intentionally building “resilience muscles” to deal with a wide range of challenges.

From the Learning Resources for Practitioners (LRP) Committee:

Do you have expertise to share to help practitioners and the larger business community adapt during COVID-19 crisis? Feel free to contact Kimberly Adams, LRP Committee Chair, at kadams6006@gmail.com to discuss your idea and submission details. Thanks!

Find more resources for adapting to work in the age of COVID-19 on SIOP’s new Remote Work page.

Find resources and advice on topics including work-life balance, worker well-being, managing remote teams, employee motivation and engagement, and organizational agility. New resources are being added on a regular basis.


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