July 13, 2012 in True Strength, Resilience, My thoughts

What is resilience?

In the first blog post of this series, I asked whether you’re working too hard and now I want to look at what it means to be resilient.

When things go wrong in my life, it generally doesn’t take me a long time to get back to normal.

… is adapted from a question on resilience posed by the University of Cambridge Well-being Institute and provides us with a really helpful definition of resilience in terms of bounce-back-ability.

Resilience isn’t about having a rock-like quality to cope with whatever pressure comes your way without showing any sign of weakness. It is the ability to bounce back quickly.

There’s a common illustration of resilience which compares a tennis ball with a table tennis ball.








If you’re resilient, then you’re a bit like the tennis ball in this illustration; You can cope with the pressure that is being applied to you and, even thought it might be having an impact on you at the moment, you will quickly bounce back as soon as the pressure is removed.

If you’re struggling with your resilience, then you might be more like the table tennis ball in this illustration. To the outside observer, you appear to be rock-solid. However, when the pressure reaches a certain point, it makes a big impact and the bigger problem is that even when the pressure is removed, you stay ‘dented’ and don’t bounce back to normal.


‘Permanently dented’ might sound a bit extreme but it isn’t uncommon and I’ve worked with plenty of clients who’ve needed some support to bounce back after difficult times and prolonged periods of pressure. If you’ll forgive a brief rant, I’m always incredibly disappointed that as organisations and leaders, we let people become dented. This doesn’t happen overnight and often plays out slowly over a period of time. It isn’t a sudden accident, but a series of poor choices and missed opportunities to make things different. If we believe that ‘people are our greatest asset’ then we can’t stand by and watch people become dented. That said, we each need to take responsibility for our own resilience, and more of that in the next blog post.


For now, I want to finish by listing some of the early warning signs that we might look out for in ourselves and others. This isn’t intended as a checklist diagnosis, but to provide some things to watch out for:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Having constant colds
  • Dropping healthy habits like exercise, good diet, and getting plenty of sleep and replacing them with unhealthy habits (like eating junk food and drinking too much coffee and/or alcohol)
  • Becoming less sociable and disengaging from those around you
  • Feeling out of control and compromising on your own values to please others
  • Feeling frustrated and that you’re never doing enough
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Grumpier than normal
  • A general feeling of negativity and gloominess


In the next blog post in this series, I’ll look at some ways to be more resilient. In the meantime, my challenge to you is to pay more attention to resilience and notice some things. How are you doing; Absolutely fine? A bit compressed but in good shape to bounce back? On the way to being dented? And what about people around you; how are they doing?


This post is part 2 of a series on Personal Resilience. Other posts are:

1 – Are you working too hard?

3 – How to stay resilient


  1. July 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Kev Wyke

    Nice post Ian

    I like the tennis v table tennis ball analogy, table tennis balls bounce really high but have a fragility about them, a vulnerability that needs to be taken into account even when you play with them as intended. Tennis balls don’t bounce so high but are nigh on indestructible when being used for tennis, but give it a different challenge like my loopy Labrador and, given a little time, the tennis ball can be taken apart completely.

    1. July 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Ian Pettigrew

      Thanks Kev, and you have really embraced the metaphor! You might have inspired me to write a blog post on that very topic (unless you want to write a guest post on it?).
      Personally, I’m trying to take some very complex, well-researched topics and simplify them into things that we can remember when it counts. That’s what I need and I hope it works for others!

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