More and more research is demonstrating that the differences in personality seen between people contribute to a range of health and wellbeing outcomes. These range from how diligent we are at following advice, how engaged we tend to be at work, our satisfaction in and the longevity of our romantic relationships, rates of heart disease, and even how long our lives are! These findings could lead those of us with less naturally resilient personalities to feel despondent! However, recent scientific findings are helping us to understand why these differences exist and how best to tailor our resilience strategies to our personality style in order to help us all shift toward greater flourishing. Personality is also less fixed in adulthood than was previously thought, meaning that we are all able to develop more resilient personalities with the things we do regularly.
Research on the relationship between personality and wellbeing suggests that most of us adopt one of three broad styles. We’ll introduce you to the three styles below, and what they mean for your resilience. It’s important to note that these are simply styles, you may identify more strongly with one, or you may feel that you move across a couple of them. See what you think:
High innate resilience and lower learned resilience
As the name suggests, “naturally” resilient people have a personality style that facilitates wellbeing without substantial, deliberate, daily effort. This style is characterised by emotional stability, a tendency to be warm and sociable with others, reflective and open to new ideas and options, and to be organised and industrious. That’s quite a list, so it’s unsurprising that this style translates into an approach to life and behaviours which assist resilience. These individuals tend to ride over small mishaps, and they anticipate stress and challenges ahead of time and work to mitigate them.
A good example may be President Obama, who managed to stay cool and unemotional most of the time, and who was conscientious in managing his physical fitness.
These “naturals” are flexible and open to trying different strategies to cope with tough things. They are also more conscientious in looking after their physical health, translating into further wellbeing benefits. However, these naturally resilient people are not immune to challenges, and they can be a little too optimistic, assuming everything will work out. Because they may be so used to coping well without a lot of deliberate effort, they may not have developed a thorough arsenal of wellbeing tools for when life gets really hard. Unexpected or uncontrollable stressors are especially challenging for these naturally resilient people, as this type of stressor does not allow them to use one of their main coping strategies – pre-empting and getting ahead of the stress. As a result, when they experience substantial stressors (for example, health problems, loss of a loved one), their coping resources can be overwhelmed.
Low innate resilience, greater reliance on learned resilience
The second style is a little less naturally resilient. These people are predisposed to more frequent and stronger emotional reactions which make them more easily irritable and volatile (up and down). Perhaps due to experiencing more challenging emotions, they tend to come across as intense and more self-critical, but also more impulsive. As a result, these individuals have a harder time with resilience and may be more likely to keep to themselves, cutting social supports at critical times. They have more emotional reactivity to regulate, and their tendency to react can drive them toward ways of coping which may give them short-term relief, such as avoidance and suppressing emotions, but which ultimately are unhelpful. Resilience takes conscious effort for these people with a “low protective” style, and accumulating a toolkit of helpful wellbeing strategies, while recognising and minimising their use of unhelpful strategies, are important resilience goals.
Balanced innate and learned resilience
The third style falls somewhere in-between the first two. Although these people do not have the natural resilience of the first group, research shows that they have the most active resilience strategies of the three styles. Individuals with this “moderately protective” style tend to have similar challenges with emotional volatility and impulsiveness as those with the low protective style and, although at times somewhat hostile or disagreeable in interpersonal relationships, at their best, they are extraverted and can be gregarious. They tend to be more open-minded in trying new things than those in the second group. While their personalities may make them vulnerable to lower wellbeing, their well-developed resilience skills help to protect them, enabling them to cope well most of the time.
If you recognised yourself in one of these styles, you might be interested in learning more about how best to enhance your resilience based on your style. For some ideas, have a read of this article. These styles may also sound like members of your team. Interested in learning how best to tailor your leadership support to these personality styles? Have a read of our coaching tips for leaders here.