In 2005 she gave a lecture for the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being which you can listen to in the audio resources in Optimism. In the lecture she talked about her work on resilience. She recounted that when she first started to study the topic she was convinced that people are either born resilient or not. However, as she and her co-researchers become more involved in the topic they realised that 'resilient people have the ability to stay resilient'. From their research they identified a number of abilities that resilient people are strong in. One of them is humour. However, as there is no known way to encourage people to become more humorous, Reivich et al, dropped this characteristic and focused instead on seven other abilities which she says are 'changeable, learnable skills'. While all of them are important, Reivich argues that Optimism is the most important. She sees it is 'a motivator', it's what keeps people going with faith and hope.
Dr Karen Reivich: The Seven 'Learnable' Skills of Resilience
1. Emotion awareness or regulation.
This is primarily the ability to identify what you are feelings and, when necessary, the ability to control your feelings.
Highly resilient people are able to tolerate ambiguity so they don't rush to make decisions. They sit back and look at things in a thoughtful way before acting.
This means having an optimistic 'explanatory style' (see Optimism chapter). However, it is 'realistic optimism' which is important. Not pie-in-the-sky optimism. People who are blindly optimistic who, for example, stick their heads in the sand, do not have a brand of optimism which facilitates problem solving: in fact it, interferes with it. So for optimism to help resilience, it needs to be 'wed to reality'.
4. Causal analysis
This means the ability to think comprehensively about the problems you confront. Folks who score high in resilience are able to look at problems from many perspectives and consider many factors.
People who score high on emotional awareness and understand their own emotions tend also to score high on empathy - the ability to read and understand the emotions of others. This is important for resilience for two reasons: first, it helps build relationships with others and then this gives social support
This is confidence in your ability to solve problems. This is partly about knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are and relying on your strengths to cope. Reivich stresses that this is different than self esteem. In other words, it is not just about feeling good about yourself, it is what she calls 'a skills based mastery based notion of coping'.
7. Reaching out
By this Reivich means being prepared to take appropriate risk. People who score high on resilience are willing to try things and think failure is a part of life.
Reivich stresses that this is not an exhaustive list, and that you don't need to score high on each of those seven in order to be given the 'stamp of resilience'. Indeed she argues that to increase resiliency people simply need to consider which of the factors on this list they are strong on, and to play to these strengths as much as they can.
She also argues that the importance of empathy in this list is at odds with what people often think about resilient individuals. Reivich argues: 'Contrary to some of the myths around resilience, resilient people don't go it alone, when bad stuff happens they reach out to the people who care about them and they ask for help.' Empathy is vital as it is the glue that keeps social relationships together'.
It is important to reiterate that Reivich argues that while some individuals are naturally inclined to such behaviour and attitudes, everything on this list can be increased by individuals if they put their minds to it and embark on the necessary training or change programmes.
The child who possesses resilience is likely to develop faster and be happier than the child whose ability to bounce back from adversity is low.