The Secret To Real Life Resilience

Trauma therapist, Lisa Young, teaches you the truth about resilience from working with emergency responders who have been through it all.

Terra Frma Resilience

People love stories of resilience.

It made national news when employees at a Mexican bakery in Houston were trapped at work for two days during Hurricane Harvey and decided to spend their time baking nonstop, staying open late and providing bread for the community that could no longer access a grocery store.

During the Montecito Mudslides, a man who had climbed to his roof to wait out the landslide heard a faint cry and was able to direct emergency personnel to rescue a baby girl trapped in the mud and debris.

Then there were the neighbors who formed a human chain after Hurricane Harvey to move a woman in labor out of the flood zone to get proper medical care for her delivery.

We love hearing these stories. We yearn for these stories.

Stories of strangers finding connection. Stories of overcoming fear. Stories of unlikely heroes beating overwhelming odds to save those they love. Stories of connecting to humanity. Stories of resilience in the face of adversity.

We listen for these stories because we hope we can have that strength, that perspective, that ability to overcome our own challenges. Dr. Scott T Allison Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond, says hero stories simultaneously comfort us and elevate us to our own heroism. When we see average people displaying extraordinary resilience, we think we can become that resilient, too.

Guess what? We can be.

What Resilience Really Is (Most People Get This Wrong)

Here’s a secret about resilience. Resilience is not a character trait (or even an adjective).

Resilience is the capacity to recover from or adjust quickly to
difficulties. First responders understand this well. Our survival instincts are just that – innate instincts. Resilience involves thoughts, behaviors and actions that can be developed in each of us. Resilience is learning to maintain perspective, manage strong thoughts and emotions while accepting what is difficult and taking direct actions towards a goal. Resilience is quite ordinary, actually, though we see others’ resilience as heroic.

So, here’s the secret: Resilience is not the absence of fear, pain or distress. Each story above is about individuals caught in terrifying circumstances and highlights their continued ability to move and respond. Take the bakery employees in Houston for example. They were trapped and then adjusted by focusing on what they could do, and in that, stay connected to their community.

How Resilience Works In Real Time

Resilience in action means staying flexible and clear in your thoughts, behaviors and actions. Remember, resilience is not an inflated sense of confidence or avoiding what scares us most. Resilience means taking stock of what is in front of us, seeing a situation clearly without deleting or inflating the hard stuff, then managing strong emotions and taking action.


Imagine yourself standing in the doorway between two rooms. In one room are your fear and survival instincts. In the second room are your abilities, strength and courage. With your feet firmly planted on the threshold, you listen to your fears and concerns calling from one side while you hear calming words of strength, clarity and encouragement from the other. Both rooms are vying for your attention. Both messages are valid and important

Resilience is the movement of attention back and forth between these rooms, like the inhale and exhale of your breath. On one side you can acknowledge your internal alarm system, broadcasting fear and concern to alert you to potential danger. You take in the intensity of the experience. On the other side you have a sense of support and confidence, the ability to move forward. You focus on what you do have control over and you begin to see opportunities for action. You note the subtle ways that you are okay and/or capable, allowing those ideas to drive your continued movement.  

When we are face-to-face with adversity, we can sometimes get stuck in the room dominated by fear. We may feel paralyzed by paying too much attention to the awfulness or to our feelings of powerlessness. Or we may turn quickly to self-criticism (“Why didn’t I...? Should I have...?) Perhaps we get caught feeling shame about the challenges we are facing, a notoriously demotivating emotion. This is where the other room is essential; there are small steps we can take internally that can help us begin to access the realistic, the courageous, and the strength within. Remember, resilience is tending to both sides, allowing us to manage these powerful emotions in order to continue forward.

Preparing for adversity or developing resilience means deliberately paying attention to that which scares us and that which means most to us. Taking the time now, when not under direct threat, allows us to acknowledge the fear and practice ways to keep ourselves from getting stuck.  However we choose to do this preparation, (it will be personal to us) is how we build and gain greater access to our own resilience.

You can be resilient. We are here to help you build resilience for yourself, your
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Lisa Young Terra Frma

About the author:

Lisa Young is a trauma and first responder therapist and serves on Terra Frma’s advisory board. She is trained in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work with additional training in Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems model.

How to Reframe Your Reality

Trauma therapist Lisa Young and Terra Frma CEO Allison Barnard team up to explain how reframing your reality can enhance your resilience mindset

When we talk about reframing our reality, we are talking about creating actual changes in the brain. Pretty cool, huh? Despite the common assumption that we are unable to change how we respond to the world, over the past 60 years (though the concept dates back to the late 1890s) neuroscientists have researched and identified neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new neural networks throughout life. This plasticity allows the brain to adjust in response to changes in the environment.  There are several ways to challenge and change the way our brains respond each and every day – mindfulness studies, meditation, reciting mantras, and therapy are just a few. Given the right continual stimulation, a brain can go through great shifts after an injury, a trauma, or even simply a long-worn pattern of thinking.  Let’s focus here on how a simple shift in our internal language can support the firing of new neural networks (ie activate the brain for peak performance!) and enhance our resilience mindset.

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We’ve learned that negative thinking or perceptions can bring stress to the brain and, in turn, our whole nervous system. How so? Consider this example of a common negative thought: “This [negative thing] always happens to me.”  In telling ourselves that all stressful or terrible occurrences happen to us, we shift ourselves to a state in which we are constantly under threat and that we are helpless to stop it. The brain responds and produces the appropriate stress hormones to prepare ourselves for the next perceived attack. Under stress like this, our capacity for new learning and ability to make changes becomes compromised. We are braced for the next hit.  

Shifting these persistent thought patterns towards a positive, hopeful and simply more realistic perspective can release serotonin (the feel good hormone) and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.  When these hormones are in natural balance, we have a greater sense of wellbeing and thus our brains and bodies function together and with greater ease. These particular strategies work on shifting our focus towards mobility, flexibility and forward movement – in other words, resilience.

We all are guilty of occasionally succumbing to negative tendencies or practices so with a little focus and intention you can begin the transition into a default of a resilient mindset.  We want to practice now so that our brains are wired toward positivity and action. In the event of hard times, we will need this positive outlook to keep us moving. Think of this as a workout for your resilience muscle.  

3 Simple Shifts to Create a Resilience Mindset

Just DO it: Too often we focus on what we don’t want to happen. Or even harder, we focus on what we can’t control. Making the shift to focus on what we can do and what is possible leads to greater chances that we will reach our desired outcome. Here are some examples of shifting language choices from a negative to positive mindset

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Yes, and: In the same way that we are often drawn to what we don’t want to happen, we are drawn to to word “no”.  No, I can’t do that. No, I don’t want to. No, that can’t be happening. It’s our internal way of denying something that feels bigger or scarier than we can tolerate.  

The shift to “yes” is inspired by the world of improv comedy.  One of the many rules of improv is “yes, and...” In order to keep a scene moving from start to finish, each actor must inhabit a spirit of yes, and then build on. An actor or player can say something, anything,  and the response must inhabit the “yes, and” rule. This builds the scene and keeps movement. Allison teaches this skill when coaching her clients. 

Resilience is the ability to bounce back or recovery quickly from difficulty. By internalizing the “yes, and” rule, we are more able to accept the situation before us and then kick-start the process of shifting, moving or solving it. It doesn’t cancel out reality, but it opens opportunities. This matters. All the time, and definitely in times of stress.

Here are a few examples of “yes, and” after a disaster takes place:

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Start with a yes and see where it takes you. Often you will find that after making the shift to “yes, and,” the next sentence often offers a next step or something we can do (remember #1).

Step Away from Extremes: One way we surely get ourselves into a mental trap is using what is called “all or nothing thinking.” Things are either all good or all bad, perfection or failure, yes or no. Whenever you hear yourself using extreme words like the examples below, take that as a cue to check what’s really going on:

Always -- Nothing always happens. But it can happen often or frequently.  “This happens so much, something needs to change”

Never -- Ask yourself, “Is this true?” Similar to always, while there are concrete truths that exist around always and never, we usually use these terms in a context where it isn’t really true and only serves to make us feel stuck in a situation.

Only.  “This is the only way to do this”  --  “There must be another way to do this”

Perfect --  What is perfect anyway?  

Failure --  “That did not work out the way I wanted/needed/expected and that feels terrible.  Now what can I do differently this time?”

All  “All of those people act this way”  --  Is this true? There are exceptions to every extreme statement. If we accept that everyone or everything in one group is unchanging, we lose the possibility of change.

Nothing -- Similar to always and never, pay attention to when you say “nothing” – how does adding “nothing” into your sentence alter how you feel about a situation?

Where do I begin?  

Choose an area of your life that you tend to lean towards the negative or find yourself in any of the traps discussed above. Is it in relationships, at school or work, in the news, or at home? Where would you like to experience a shift?

Keep it simple

Pick one of the above strategies and give it a try. For the next two weeks, or maybe month, incorporate one of these options into your speaking and notice what is able to shift as a result. When you’re ready, add another. Practice these shifts when it is easy so it’s easy when times are hard. This is how we build a resilience mindset.



Lisa Young is a trauma and first responder therapist and serves on Terra Frma’s advisory board. She is trained in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work with additional training in Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems model.

Lisa Young is a trauma and first responder therapist and serves on Terra Frma’s advisory board. She is trained in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work with additional training in Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems model.

Allison is a seasoned entrepreneur, certified life coach and consultant having held leadership positions in marketing and retail management.  Allison has opened two successful small businesses and developed coaching programs that focus on resistance and resilience.

Allison is a seasoned entrepreneur, certified life coach and consultant having held leadership positions in marketing and retail management.

Allison has opened two successful small businesses and developed coaching programs that focus on resistance and resilience.

Why You Resist What's Good for You

Terra Frma advisor and trauma therapist, Lisa Young, breaks down psychological resistance – how it works and what you can do to rise above it.



Why do you resist what’s good for you?

Maybe you want to exercise more but can always find reasons not to. Maybe you know you need to spend less time checking email and more time with your family but continue to find yourself distracted.

Preparing for natural disasters makes sense. It’s important and makes a huge difference when the unexpected occurs. Yet, could you truly say you’re prepared for a natural disaster?

When we know we should do something but haven’t, what holds us back?

Why You Resist Even When You Know Better

Each of us works from an intelligent, natural design for health, survival and healing. This is important to remember because this design and the functions of the design are always at play.

People often ask me, “Why do I do this when I know better?” This invisible wall we run into, or quicksand that keeps us from doing what we know we should do, is called resistance.

Resistance is actually part of our psychological anatomy. It serves an important purpose, in part, as our internal alarm system. Survival is our internal system’s primary agenda. Resistance is part of our psychological anatomy to help us survive. 

We often stop short when we begin to feel it. We think, “Oooh, I don’t want to do that” and then turn around, go in a new direction without further exploration. Sometimes the logical side of us begins to nag and we hear ourselves saying, I know I need to get this done, but I just can’t talk myself into it.

Imagine that snakes are a known issue around your home. You walk around the house and see something that looks like a snake on the ground. You jump back, ready to run and then realize it’s a hose. It’s the same hose that’s been there all summer. Rational? No. But that’s our survival instinct taking over.

The same goes for preparing for the unexpected. You know you should organize your documents. They’re sitting right there. But you avoid them because the task feels uncomfortable, even scary, so your internal alarm system protects you from the uncomfortable, from the snake in the grass.

If you know you want to be more prepared for an emergency but can’t seem to make yourself do anything about it, you may be facing resistance. But you don’t have to get stuck there.

Here’s what you can do.

4 Steps to Rise Above Resistance and Be Ready for the Next Natural Disaster

Committing to preparing your home and family for a natural disaster means being willing to think about the worst-case scenario. It is natural to want to avoid feelings of powerlessness, fear and loss, even if it’s a hypothetical situation. 

Remember, building resilience with Terra Frma is not about thinking about future tragedy and trauma.  This is about preparing for emergencies so you can maneuver through them and practice self-awareness in case an event happens. This is about acknowledging fear, but not letting it dictate your actions.

Next time you feel the itch to avoid, procrastinate or deny, grab a pen and paper, friend, voice memo or clean mental slate and write down the tasks you know you should be doing, but haven’t. Discuss or list why these things are easy to avoid and get ready to rise above your resistance.


Hit The Pause Button- Acknowledge the Resistance

  • Next time you feel the tell tale signs of resistance, instead of immediately redirecting your attention elsewhere, take a moment to stop and breath.

  • Here are some clues you may be resisting: When you notice yourself clamming up, thinking things like, “I’ll do that later,” or “I can’t do that,” or some shade of denial like, “That’s too extreme” or “That won’t happen to me.”

  • If you catch yourself in one of these thought spirals, pause. Remember the protective intent of this uncomfortable feeling so you can work with it, not against it.

Get Curious- Ask ‘Why?’

  • That resistant thought or feeling you were having? Listen to it. Replay it in your mind and ask Why do I think this? It’s important to hear both sides of this conversation. You can have your own inner dialogue, or write out the questions from the perspective of this protective internal guard called resistance.

  • You can turn to a trusted friend who can ask “Why?” without triggering defensiveness. Defensiveness will squash the curiosity.

  • Ask yourself and answer: What would happen if I do the very thing I’m resisting?

  • What is my resistance afraid will happen if I face this task? What does my resistance want me to consider first? What does my fear need to know in order to relax and let me move forward with this task?


Reflect - Reread your answers

  • If you wrote down your dialogue from step two, read it aloud or silently back to yourself. It’s often much easier to be impartial when the message is coming from a notebook, a voice memo or a friend rather than your own mind.

  • Whichever media you prefer to journal your thoughts, repeat it back to yourself 3-5 times. You may have more to add. You may immediately see some inconsistencies in the conclusions you drew in step two. Just listen.


Snake or Hose - Ask ‘Is this true?’

  • We can all come up with very compelling excuses to avoid doing what we’re supposed to do.  When we dig deeper (steps two and three) we start uncovering fears and false beliefs we have about what might happen if we do take action. This step is where we challenge those thoughts, beliefs or fears.

  • Ask yourself, is it true?  If you take the action you are resisting, will the outcome you fear really happen? Is the excuse you are giving yourself valid? What fear is behind the excuse? Is this fear based in reality or is this just your brain making a hose into a snake?

Expect resistance during this process. If you find yourself focusing on the potential of future tragedy and trauma,remind yourself that this is about preparing for disaster scenarios so that you can maneuver through them to the best of your ability.

 Acknowledge the fear. It’s okay to admit that you’re afraid. It helps, actually. Acknowledging fear prevents fear from dictating your actions.

Remember to seek relief. Instead of treating a preparedness task like something to be afraid of, remember that following through can be the exact thing that may bring you relief.


Listen to Your Resistance

If you really want to stop getting in your own way, you must start by listening to the resistance. Resistance has a lot to teach you.

As you start the Terra Frma Method of planning and preparing for natural disasters, be present and notice anything that tries to stop your momentum. Remember, your resistance is born out of a protective intent to avoid feelings of powerlessness, terror, shame or vulnerability.  

If know you should be ready, but haven’t taken important emergency preparedness steps, you might be treating a preparedness task like a snake when it’s really a hose.

Here’s an easy opportunity to practice. Equipped with the four steps to moving past resistance, download the Free Emergency Numbers Sheet – an easy first step towards readiness and resilience – and see what comes up for you.

 You’ve Got This.



Lisa Young is a trauma and first responder therapist and serves on Terra Frma’s advisory board. She is trained in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work with additional training in Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems model.



5 Minutes to Build Resilience

Resilience Expert Shares the Tools for Real Life Resilience

Five minutes—the time it takes to make a pot of coffee, drive through a carwash, load the dishwasher. Our lives are full of little five minute segments. Every day they tick-tock by. Mundane. Average. Ordinary.

Now, imagine your life changing. Forever.
In 5 minutes.

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Imagine a windstorm knocks down a tree that lands on your house or a tornado levels the business where you work. Imagine a flash flood inundating your neighborhood, a wildfire destroying the summer cabin that’s been in your family for three generations or a landslide closing the highway you drive to get your kids to school. Imagine an earthquake, out of the blue, altering your community forever. It could happen in the span of five minutes.

What would that look like? How would you respond? What would it take for you, for your family, to recover?

With so many natural disasters happening recently, the word resilience is showing up in many places these days. From local news reports to federal policy documents, being “resilient” is something we are being increasingly encouraged to develop, build or achieve. So what does it mean? How can it apply to you?

In the context of natural disaster events and other emergencies, resilience is the ability to bounce back from whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Simply stated, resilience is the ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to and recover from life disruptions.

Easy to say, harder to do. Developing resilience does not happen overnight. Resilience is not something you simply acquire; it is something you have to build and maintain. Like a muscle, resilience must be developed through regular exercise, use and nourishment.


First, it’s important to maintain.

Multiple backup options. Counting on a single source of water, evacuation route or emergency contact is insufficient. Operate on the assumption that if it can go wrong, it will. Then plan to have one or more alternatives available. Until a natural disaster happens, you won’t really know exactly what you’re going to need. For this principle, variety really is the spice of life.

Make a commitment to learn. How many times have you turned on the TV after a disaster to hear someone say some version of, “We never expected something like this to happen here.” While some things truly are unexpected, the vast majority of disasters happen in areas where those events are known to occur. Take the time to find out the types of disasters your area is vulnerable to. You might be surprised.


Get involved. Never canned food before? Sign up for a food preservation class through your local community college or university extension office. Live in a wildfire area and have concerns about the lack of defensible space in your neighborhood? Attend a neighborhood meeting and suggest starting an annual yard cleanup program. Unsure about the evacuation and release procedures at your child’s school? Make an appointment with the principal or attend a parent-teacher meeting. Broadening your participation can expose you to perspectives, information and knowledge that will benefit you down the road. In addition, your involvement may increase the capacity of your community to be resilient as well.

Connect with others. The more people you know, trust and can count on, the more resilient you’ll be. Get to know your neighbors. Talk to friends across town. Maintain relationships with family and friends who live farther away. You never know when you might need help from someone next door or in the next state over.

5 minutes: The time it takes to write down ten important phone numbers on a
card to stick in your purse or wallet.

5 minutes: The time it takes to find that old pair of sneakers and camp light to
put next to your bed.

5 minutes: The time it takes to fill up an extra propane tank the next time you
head down to the gas station.

5 minutes: The time it takes to show your kids how to turn off the water and
gas mains in your house.

Take the time.

Making regular investments in yourself, your family and your community will
pay dividends.

No matter what happens, you’ve got this!

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Josh Bruce is program director at the Community Service Center - Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience at the University of Oregon. He serves as a legislative and policy affairs committee member in the American Planning Association (Oregon Chapter), member of the board with the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup and advisor to Terra Frma.