How to Overcome Obstacles in Your Life: Resilience

Medically Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 26, 2014

Some people seem to be born with the ability to overcome setbacks with relative ease. It’s a trait that experts call resilience.

People with resilience have a greater sense of control over their lives, says psychologist Robert Brooks, PhD. That makes them more willing to take risks.

“Also, because of their optimistic outlook, they are more likely to develop and maintain positive relationships with others,” as well as live more meaningful lives, Brooks says. He co-wrote The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life.

So, how do you make yourself more resilient? Here are 10 things to focus on:

1. Stay Flexible. Resilient people expect to face challenges at different points in their lives. They are able to adjust their goals and find ways to adapt.

2. Learn Lessons. “When you have a negative experience, focus on the positive lessons you can learn from it,” says Ani Kalayjian, EdD, DSc, DDL, a psychologist in New York City. When a tough situation arises, don’t focus on who is to blame. Let go of asking “Why me?” and feeling like a victim. Ask yourself what you could do differently next time to have a better result.

3. Take Action. Think about what you can do to improve your situation, and then do it. “Resilient people work on solving a problem rather than letting themselves get paralyzed by negativity," Brooks says. For example, if your boss cuts back your hours at work, you could look at it as a chance to explore other job options. In the long run, it could bring about career growth.

4. Stay Connected. Nurture your relationships with friends and family. When you’re going through a hard time, don’t withdraw from other people. Accept help from those who care about you. Resilient people have at least one or two people in their lives they can turn to for support, Brooks says.

5. Release Tension. Make sure you have outlets to express your emotions and let go of tension. Kalayjian recommends these:

  • Write in a journal.
  • Draw.
  • Meditate.
  • Talk with a friend or counselor.

6. Have a Sense of Purpose. Do things that bring meaning to your life. That may be spending time with your family, but volunteering or other work for a cause can also make you feel stronger. People who've had a serious illness often find that being in a marathon or walk to raise money for a health-related charity makes them feel better. “Volunteering can help … by giving you a sense of purpose and often a feeling of mastery,” Brooks says.

7. Learn Healthy Habits. You’ll manage stressful times better if you:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Take time to rest.

"People who stay physically strong tend to be more emotionally resilient," Kalayjian says.

8. Believe in Yourself. Take pride in your abilities and what you’ve done. Recognize your personal strengths.

9. Keep Laughing. Hold on to your sense of humor even when times are tough. Laughter relieves stress and helps you keep things in check.

10. Be Optimistic. A positive, hopeful outlook will make you much more resilient. Remember that many of the problems you’ll face in life are temporary, and that you have overcome setbacks in the past.

Show Sources


Robert Brooks, PhD, psychologist; co-author, The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Ani Kalayjian, EdD, DSc, DDL, BC-RN, psychologist; adjunct professor of psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Wu, G. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, published online Feb. 15, 2013.

American Psychological Association: “The Road to Resilience.”

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