The Three Types of Resilience

We define resilience as the ability to positively adapt to change. But did you know there are three types of resilience and one is easier to cultivate than the other two?
We all think of something different when we hear the word resilience. You may think of someone who thrives naturally, or you might think of someone who inspires you because they’ve overcome many difficulties in their life. But these are only two types of resilience. The third type of resilience can make a massive difference to your performance, growth and wellbeing.

1. Natural resilience

Natural resilience is the resilience you were born with. Our human nature. Those with natural resilience tend to approach change with enthusiasm, optimism and positive emotion. We all have a natural resilience to some extent. Think of young children and how they tend to approach growth and life in general.

Researchers have also discovered genetic insight. For example, people who have two long alleles genes tend to cope better with extreme adversity. People who have short alleles tend to fare more poorly.

Simply put, resilience is a naturally occurring tool that most of us have to some extent. It can be influenced by circumstances and the environment.

2. Adaptive resilience

Adaptive resilience is resilience borne from adversity. It’s the sort of resilience people are referring to when they say, “I learnt the hard way”, or “survival of the fittest.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is another expression of this type of resilience and often associated with strength of character.

In an organisational setting, research identifies a cluster of factors that produce adaptive resilience. Four of these are particularly important – effective leadership, a culture where people are valued, established collaborative ways, and a genuine commitment to collective learning. Notice the emphasis on social processes and culture. The elements of adaptive resilience are not complicated, “extra” competencies for an emergency. They are elements that raise day-to-day performance and contribute to a more energised and effective workplace.

Yet, simply being exposed to adversity is not enough to guarantee adaptive resilience. Only working through these events successfully and finding meaning in them can strengthen resilience.

3.Restored resilience

Restored resilience is the third type of resilience and it is learned. We can all learn skills and techniques to build on our natural resilience and draw on it in all aspects of life. This means we can all learn to become more resilient and restored resilience skills can be utilised to deal with past, present or future obstacles and opportunities.

Think of natural, adaptive and restored resilience as energy tanks

It makes sense to be strong in all three types of resilience as one form can compensate for a drop in the others. Think of these as “resilience tanks” or, if you prefer, “batteries.” If one is low, but the others are full, the person remains able to perform, grow and be well. When all three tanks are low, the person becomes vulnerable.

Three types of resilience
If one is low, but the others are full, the person remains able to perform, grow and be well. When all three tanks are low, the person becomes vulnerable.

Stop for a moment and consider your three tanks.

On a scale of one to ten, rate your resilience across the three tanks. How would you rate your natural, adaptive, and restored resilience, with one low and ten high?

If you scored your restored resilience as low, you would be like most people before they experience our programmes. This is why it’s essential to know how to refill the restorative tank. It’s the gap that many people have as we are generally not taught these skills. We have to rely on our natural resilience or build adaptive resilience the hard way.

Interestingly because restored resilience is skills-based, it is the easiest one to build.

Everyday life, constant challenge, personal adversity and organisational change tend to lower resilience.

For example, repetitive, unfulfilling and consistent boredom or burnout can lower resilience temporarily – or if left unchecked, for a lifetime.

For example, being stuck in a “bullsh*t job” can cause boredom. Stuck in an always switched on environment with no rest and recovery can cause burnout. Stuck in a poor environment, in a culture that goes against your values, can impact your growth, performance and wellbeing. Left unchecked, it can make you ill.

Like most things in life, the three types of resilience are about balance. Utilising your strength but not underplaying or overplaying it. When resilience is low, you may feel down, depressed, empty, frustrated, disappointed, at odds with life. In other words, you feel very much unlike yourself.

But your resilience can be restored.

All of the skills in our programmes are designed to give you a toolkit to restore your resilience. 

We have many ways to measure success in our programmes and no matter how you cut it, we have an enviable success rate of people improving aspects of their resilience. 

That’s because our resilience skills get them unstuck. The programme gives people a toolkit to apply to all aspects of their lives and create conditions to thrive. This is why the programme works so quickly and effectively. It is why it is award-winning. 

The restoration of resilience is a by-product of a skills base, a shared language and a resilient mindset. These are some ways our programmes restore resilience and give you the skills to adapt to change positively. Any change.


And finally, can resilience solve a poor environment? Yes and no.

The no bit.

It is easy to frame a lack of resilience as a self-care or boundary issue. In organisations, it puts the responsibility on the individuals least in power to overcome the explicit and implicit pressures and often do more than is possible. 

This is because we believe that all of our personal resilience is under our control when in reality, it is not. As soon as your personal resilience meets your environment, factors in your environment are not in your control. These factors left unaddressed can undermine your natural and adaptive resilience. 

Now, suppose you have learned the skills of restored resilience. In that case, you may be able to stick it out or adapt your thoughts and feelings, but in my experience, this is a temporary fix. Sometimes, if you’ve tried changing and you are still getting the same result, it’s time to change your environment rather than shutting up or putting up.

The yes bit.

Although there are some things in your environment that you cannot change, there are many things in your environment that people coming together can change. If they have the skills to do so. That’s why our programmes change restored resilience at a team and organisational level. Everyone gains the skills they need to make changes individually and at a community level. Shared skills and language bridge the gap between personal resilience and culture. Our programmes move people from self-care to we care and give them the skills to do just that. Together.

The summary: Three types of resilience

  • We define resilience as the ability to positively adapt to change.
  • There are three types of resilience.
  • Think of the three types of resilience as energy tanks. 
  • Everyday life at home and work can reduce resilience.
  • Resilience can be restored with a skills base.
  • Resilience skills are not a cure for a poor environment, although they can help you survive. 
  • Resilience skills developed at a team level can change a culture.

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