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The Five Factor Model of Resilience

Do you remember the ice storm in Toronto from five years ago? It was both devastating and breath-taking. Everything was covered in ice, electric wires broke, trees snapped under the weight of the ice and blocked roads, families lost access to warmth and power. Pictured below are images from my parents' home in the GTA with everything covered in ice.

Why do I bring up the ice storm in a post about resilience? Well, when I think about resilience, I imagine the notion of bending without breaking. In the event of the ice storm, what I saw around me was the prevalence of trees snapping, breaking under pressure, falling over and causing much destruction under the weight of the ice. I contrast this with bamboo trees in tropical climates, that encounter torrential downpours, hurricanes, and tropical storms. Bamboo trees are able to withstand so much, and sway without breaking. Similarly, when we think of resilience in individuals, we recognize an ability not to break under pressure. Resilience describes how well we can adapt to change, adversity, or challenging events in our lives, our ability to bounce back after a storm. It can go a step further and even extend it isn't only adapting, but learning, growing and thriving.

Imagine two people, going through the same thing (e.g. getting let go from their job), and responding in different ways. The first one internalizes the job loss to mean he is worthless, and worries that he will never find another job. He starts drinking, pushes people close to him away, and cannot stop ruminating on what he did wrong, how unfairly he was treated, and feels angry or bitter towards the company and anyone around him who is enjoying their work. He might go on to deal with mental health challenges, and might increasingly feel more hopeless about his situation.

The other also takes the loss as hard, but recognizes different aspects of his environment that also contributed to getting fired. He recognizes a shift in the market, the reduction in the company's profit, and reaches out to his network for support during this time. His ego definitely takes a hit, yet he also recognizes all that he does have in his life, and sometimes he feels excited at the thought of a fresh start. He identifies feelings of hurt, and recognizes he gets scared that he might be let go from future jobs, yet trusts that there is something for him out there, and that fuels him on days he is feeling low.

These are two very different stories. As you were reading this, what came to mind? Did anything trigger you? Resonate with you? Remind you of yourself, or how you reacted in a past situation? Right now, I invite you to pause, and do a quick check-in, to reflect on these questions. When we look at the two situations, the reality is, it is never black-or-white, and one might experience aspects of both situations above. The question remains, is resilience a skill that can be learned, or is it part of who we are?

Research within the field of positive psychology, conducted by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, indicates that our happiness is comprised of three main components; 1) our genetics, 2) our life situation, and 3) our thoughts and behaviours. What was fascinating to me when I first learned about this research was the proportion of each, and how much each impacted our happiness. Our genetics accounts for approximately half of our happiness, but I used to think our life situation (e.g. health, wealth, relationship status) accounted for majority of that other half. In fact, it only accounts for approximately 10%, while the positive thoughts, behaviours and our internal state of mind accounts for approximately 40% of our overall happiness. Let's just take a moment to let that sink in...

So now, the question becomes not IS IT POSSIBLE, but HOW do you lean more towards the latter resilient example in the above scenario, and what tools or skills can strengthen our resilience, and our ability to adopt that perspective, and move more towards those behaviours? Enter the five-factor model of resilience...

Five Factor Model of Resilience

This model was created by Dr. Diana Brecher, who is a clinical psychologist working at Ryerson University. I had the pleasure of working closely with her, and learning from her during the last school year, and I am constantly inspired by her hard work, and perseverance. She has created and implemented a program at Ryerson called ThriveRU, to share tools and techniques with Ryerson students, staff and TAs that will improve their resilience. I supported Dr. Brecher and Dr. Deena Kara Shaffer during their weekly Thriving in Action resilience course, combining learning strategies and resilience training for students. What we noticed over the course of the program was the students' ability to adopt these principles, and start to shift their mindset and perspective. This in turn positively impacted their grades, their social interactions, their self-esteem. Additionally, even when challenges came up (let's be real, we can never get rid of life's challenges), their perspective, the way they fundamentally experienced the situation changed.

Below are the factors that comprise this model, and a brief description of what it is:

  1. Gratitude - a recognition of the aspects in one's life that they are thankful for,

  2. Mindfulness - a nonjudgmental awareness of their present moments,

  3. Optimism - the lens in which they view and understand the world that is constructive and positive,

  4. Self-Compassion - extending kindness, understanding and compassion towards oneself, and

  5. Grit - perseverance, sticking to one's habits, and not giving up.

Training with them during the duration of the program, for two full intakes demonstrated to me the power of incorporating these aspects into our lives. And yes, resilience IS something you can strengthen, grow, and enhance in your life. It is not something you have (or don't have). It is NOT who you are (or are not). Our thoughts and actions influence our lives, and our happiness. The essence of this belief is what fuels me during my tough days, and what fuels my drive to positively impact my clients. To empower them, to empower YOU to keep going, to try a new strategy, a new technique, to shift your experience of life in a way that you CHOOSE.

Here are a few suggestions you can implement TODAY if you would like that are inspired by the Five Factor Model of Resilience:

1 ) write down 3 things you are thankful for at the end of each day,

2) reflect on what went well during your day, and why,

3) download Insight Timer and try out a body scan, or breathing meditation,

4) when you notice yourself being critical towards yourself, ask yourself what you might say to someone you cared for, or what someone who cares about you might tell you in this moment, and try to say that message to yourself,

5) when something bad happens to you, remind yourself that it will not last forever, it does not define you, and it will not take over all aspects of your life, and

6) when goal-setting, make your goals realistic and specific, write them down, decide when you'll do them in the day, have a way of measuring your success, and if it's helpful, find an accountability partner.

These suggestions are simple, but not easy. New research suggests that change is possible (literally, our brains can change based on our habits), but it is NOT easy. It takes perseverance, and effort. It is up to you to make and set these into motion, but sometimes, it can be helpful to have some support along the way.

Connect with me if you are interested in learning more, want resources to read/watch, or are curious about working with me.

#psychology #positivepsychology #resilience #optimism #mindfulness #grit #gratitude #compassion #happiness


Toronto, ON