Why Cultivating Resilience Helps You Reach Graduation Without Losing Yourself Along the Way

The demands of earning a doctorate will change you. That is the purpose of a doctoral program, to mold you into a scholar-practitioner. What you may not realize is that not all the changes may be ones that you want.

If you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of your program while simultaneously trying to meet all the professional, personal, and familial obligations you have, you may find yourself reinforcing undesirable attitudes and behaviors along with learning your disciplinary knowledge.

If you’re prone to dreading your assignments, have trouble sticking to a writing schedule, or procrastinate doing the things you know you need to get done to reach graduation, then you are at risk of burning out. You could even end up ABD if you let things go too far.

The problem is you might not see how to climb out of the rut of undesirable thinking patterns you’ve gotten stuck into.

That’s where resilience comes to the rescue. Resilience is the antidote to burnout.

Resilience is…

Everybody has an idea of what resilience means. I like to think of resilience as the ability to emerge stronger from your struggles. Having emotional fortitude, adapting to difficult life experiences, and adjusting to internal and external demands are examples of resilience.

What resilience is not, is being immune to struggle. We all struggle. That’s the human condition. The struggle is what spotlights your resilience (when you have it). Resilience is a way of coping with adversity to end up no worse off, and in many cases better for it in terms of growth. A quote by Maya Angelou sums up resilience beautifully, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

In my experience, earning a doctorate requires a lot of resilience to persist and thrive through graduation, and the good news is that resilience is a set of traits that can be learned, practiced, developed, and strengthened.

Primary components of resilience

The primary components of resilience include self-control, adaptability, optimism, self-sufficiency, and persistence. Each person’s resilience pattern will be unique to their blend of these components. Being high in some components and low in others will influence under what conditions and in which situations you are resilient.

Self-control includes your ability to make rational decisions, suspend judgment, maintain composure, and act (rather than react). It captures your ability to cope with your emotions in the face of adversity.

Adaptability is your ability to improvise when necessary, be creative, and bring innovative solutions to problems. It highlights your flexibility and ability to make the best use of feedback.

Optimism is your ability to maintain a realistic and healthy positive outlook in the face of your circumstances. It showcases your ability to find the opportunity to grow within every situation.

Self-Sufficiency is your ability to trust your talents. It facilitates basing your confidence on your abilities rather than on past performance.

Persistence is having a never-give-up attitude and a willingness to continue working on something even after the initial excitement has worn off. It characterizes your willingness to experience discomfort to achieve your aims.

Resilient people

Resilient people meet the demands of their academic, work, and personal lives by dealing with challenges, problems, and setbacks instead of procrastinating, worrying or avoiding them.

  • They seek support and assistance when they need it.
  • They know when to stop, rest, and replenish inner resources.
  • They have a sense of independence, self-efficacy, and self-worth.
  • They form and maintain positive, respectful relationships with others.
  • And they have a sense of purpose and goals for the future.

How many of these characteristics do you have?

Resilience is all about what you do when something goes wrong.

Do you tend to bounce back quickly or completely fall apart?

You will inevitably experience some kind of hardship during your doctoral studies. Think about it. When is the last time in your adult life that you had a challenge-free three to five years?

That’s why raising your resilience is so important. Because you will face challenges, regularly.

In the first year of my program, unexpectedly my father was hospitalized and died within a week. I was devastated. But I was also resilient. My resilience capacity enabled me to continue my studies while grieving. But it wasn’t easy.

That experience raised my resilience capacity to deal with more challenges because I was intentional about being resilient. Good thing, too. Because more challenges came!

Assess your resilience

If you want to raise your resilience, it’s a good idea to know where you are starting from, so take a few minutes to assess your resilience with this reflection exercise. This exercise is not a definitive assessment of your resilience capacity, it’s just a tool to help you acquire awareness.

There are a lot of psychometrically validated resilience tests available on the internet, and if you are curious, you could investigate further. For example, the Academic Resilience Scale (ARS-30) measures academic resilience.

Resilience capacity reflection:

Ask yourself these five questions.

  1. How long does it take you to recover from a stressful event?
  2. How confident are you that you will succeed when taking on a new task?
  3. Does encountering difficulty cause you to quickly lose interest in your goal?
  4. Do you find it easy to ask for help?
  5. How much do you worry about issues that you have no control over?

Your answers to these questions will help you determine how resilient you are.

When I asked these questions, did you like your answers?

There is no need to worry if you think you aren’t as resilient as you would like to be because resilience skills can be learned.

If you noticed aspects of resilience you would like to improve, I’ve got you covered. In upcoming resilience posts, I’ll share with you easy exercises to boost 9 resilience skills.

But, if you’d like personal assistance to raise your resilience capacity right now, so you can conquer your doctoral challenges, then coach with me. More details about coaching are at Work With Me. But if reading isn’t your thing, you can book 15 minutes to chat with me instead.