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The 4 traits of resilient people – adaptability

Today we offer our final installment in our series on The 4 Traits of Resilient People. You can find the previous three installments here:

Part 1: Confidence

Part 2: Purpose

Part 3: Social Support


The final trait we will be discussing in this series is: Adaptability.

This is perhaps what we most associate with resilient people—their ability to adapt to any situation no matter how difficult and their ability to persist in the face of the greatest odds. This is why we so admire them. It seems that nothing can bring them down. To put it simply, we admire the strength of their spirit.

This particular trait tends to exhibit itself in the following ways:


  • Flexibility and adaptability to changing situations which are beyond our control
  • Coping well with change (recovery from its impact tends to be quicker)
  • Optimism and seeing opportunity


What it comes down to is this: resilient people are adaptable and flexible. They understand that some things are beyond their control, and they choose their battles wisely. They cope well with change because they see it as part of life’s journey, and they embrace it rather than fight it.

Optimism plays a key part in that adaptability. It keeps people focused on what is going right in life rather than on the negative. It is also important to note that when we are optimistic and operating from a positive emotional state, we are more resourceful. We solve problems more effectively, and we have better access to our higher order thinking capacity. This allows us to see opportunities and look for the chance to take action in change. On the flip side, when we are feeling negative, we are not resourceful at all because our focus shifts to everything that is going wrong.

When I think about people in my life who I consider resilient and who particularly demonstrated the adaptability trait, the key person who comes to mind for me is my grandfather. He was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain who was shot down by a German bomber early in the battle. He described the event as “feeling like I had been kicked in the shin…then I looked down and saw my foot dangling from tendons.” As his plane was critically damaged, he bailed out (no ejector seats in those days) and managed to get free of the aircraft as it plummeted to earth.

He realised as his parachute deployed that he would bleed to death long before reaching the ground, so he utilised the radio cable from his helmet to tie a tourniquet around his thigh and slow the blood loss. When he landed, a lad ran up to him and tried to stab him with a pitchfork (thinking he was German) and then ran off. My Pop crawled to the road and flagged down a passing car for a ride to the hospital. When told that his leg had to be amputated, his first question was, “how soon can I play Rugby again?”

He never let his disability stop him from doing anything. He swam almost daily, skied for many years (taking advantage of free ski lift tickets once he turned 65) and performed in a Scottish Dancing Troupe well into his 90s. He passed away at age 97.

What’s the difference between someone who withstands change of any kind and someone who falls apart and crumbles at the first glimpse of hardship? Adaptability and optimism have a lot to do with it. My Pop could have easily fallen into a depression after losing his leg. He could have become bitter, he could have resorted to substance abuse to numb the emotional pain, he could have isolated himself and wished to have nothing to do with the world.

Instead, he decided early on that his setback was not going to deter him from living his life to the fullest. He chose to see only the positive, and as a result, he was able to derive fulfillment and pleasure from his experiences. Most importantly, he lived a very long and happy life, and continues to stand as a role model for those who admired him.

Do you tend to see the glass as half-empty or as half-full? It may just determine whether or not you’re able to adapt to change and bounce back on a quicker timeline. The next time change enters your life and brings what seems like bad news with it, reframe the situation. What are the positive things that you can still lay claim to? How are you still powerful? What are you still able to do? What hasn’t changed? Focus on those things, and in them, you will find the strength to rise above the negative.

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