Everything you need to know about resilience

Article By
James Cumming
James Cumming
Posted On3rd August 2020
Posted On3rd August 2020

Our feature blog this week is from Fran Costello, she runs a business called Aha Moment. Fran is an organisational psychologist and resilience expert, here she gives us her advice on resilience and what it is in reality.

Is the word resilience overused?

As resilience has no operationalised definition it’s difficult to say categorically what it is, but it’s recognised as dynamic process between risk and protective factors, i.e. the ability to bounce back from adversity and maintain normal functioning in adverse conditions. Through the enhancement of protective factors, individual cognitive and emotional ability can be strengthened to mitigate trauma and can have a huge impact on subjective wellbeing, psychosocial ability and performance energy levels.

What are protective factors?

Change agility

In developing greater workforce agility or adaptive capacity, organisations can manage both moderate and rapid change and experience competitive advantage. Modern organisations require a flexible base that can adapt quickly to customer need and organisational change. In understanding change readiness, by sharing understanding and knowledge that prevents individual agility, organisations can deal with change in a more positive way.

Physical Energy

The enhancement of physical resilience falls into three categories: sleep, nutrition and exercise.

  • Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation creates increased blood pressure, cortisol, insulin and proinflammatory cytokines leading to depressive symptoms affecting mood and wellbeing. A direct correlation has been found between improved sleep and physical and emotional wellbeing, achieving rapid eye movement sleep increases the ability to recover from stress and trauma. The loss of just one night’s sleep can result in compromised emotional regulation.

  • Nutrition

Nutrition affects both physical and cognitive performance, resilient people have healthier dietary habits including eating more fruit, vegetables, fish and dietary fibre than those who have lower resilience levels. Diets rich in saturated fats, refined sugars, animal products, low vegetable and fruit consumption have a negative impact on cortisol levels, micronutrient interventions which include greens, beans, fruit, protein foods, seafood and plant proteins, fatty acids and refined grains are found to reduce stress and anxiety in positively affecting cortisol levels.

  • Exercise

Active people have greater resilience than those who lead a sedentary life, have less stress and improved mental health. Physical exercise is a protective factor with an effect on overall resilience, research shows that exercising just once a week has an outcome of decreased emotional stress, and has a neurotrophic factor protecting the neurons in the striatum and hippocampus.


Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive, access and generate emotion, have clarity in thinking and regulate and reflect upon emotions allowing motivational and intellectual growth. Emotional intelligence is highly correlated with individual advancement within organisations and individuals with highly developed emotional intelligence are found to have higher resilience and motivation levels when under pressure


Multitasking has been found to have a direct negative influence on the retention of information and working memory (WM) and this has been found to be greater in older adults, (those over 30) integration recovery failure manifests in the inability to dynamically switch between functional brain networks, losing approximately twenty minutes  each time we try to change tasks. In focusing on key tasks and staying with them until competition our mental resilience builds as perceived work overload decreases.


Inner Voice

Our inner voice, inner speech or verbal thoughts are essential to thinking, self-awareness, self-regulation, problem solving, motivation, calculation, memory and cognitive tasks occupying a quarter of humans waking life. However, this internal commentary or dysfunction of inner speech is identified as a risk factor for depression, anxiety and mental resilience levels.

A direct link has been found between increased executive functioning and self-regulation of thoughts, negative inner speech impairing performance and controlled inner speech enhancing mental resilience.


Purpose in Life

An association can be found between individuals understanding their purpose in life and reduction of age-related conditions such as stroke, disability, and cardiovascular events. Purpose in life is also regarded as a protective factor against biological risks such as inflammatory markers, cognitive aging and dementia. Higher purpose in life scores correlate positively with increased executive function, memory and cognitive performance across the full adult population acting as a protective factor against stress.



Recovery in all dimensions, agility, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and recovery are dependent on the creation of new individual habits. Habits are defined as actions that are triggered in response to contextual cues associated with performance. Making one small change can increase overall resilience, whether focusing on how we feel during change, getting the right information and help, moving towards a better diet, exercising more, sleeping well, stopping multi-tasking and controlling the voice in our head, choosing to use our respons(ability) (EQ), or thinking about our purpose in life, can have a significant impact on protective factors that enhance our overall resilience.


Fran Costello is an organisational psychologist and resilience expert, she works worldwide delivering resilience and behavioural change programmes increasing personal and organisational performance, diagnosing, designing, delivering and embedding organisational change. You can find out more about what she does on her website.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. Please get in contact with him directly to discuss any of these topics further.

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