Here's Why Some People Are More Resilient Than Others

Editor’s note: This answer appeared on Quora in response to the question, “Why are some people more resilient than others?” We have republished it with permission from the author, Sandra Liu Huang, a Quora product manager who’s active on the site.

Stanford Department of Psychology professor Carol Dweck has done extensive research on what she calls “mindsets” and there are two primary types:

  1. Fixed mindset: people who believe abilities are innate. You are just talented in an area or you’re not.
  2. Growth mindset: people who believe abilities are developed. You can learn and grow yourself.

People with a growth mindset are more resilient to challenges related to their abilities and performance than those with a fixed mindset.

As to what leads people to these different perspectives, a lot of media in recent years has cited Dweck’s work on this with respect to parenting. In the American culture of positive reinforcement, praise is often the main socially acceptable way to encourage your kids. However, Dweck’s studies have suggested that the type of praise you receive can strongly impact whether you end up with a fixed or growth mindset.

An excerpt where Dweck references one of her earlier papers on effects of praising innate qualities versus effort and process:

People can also learn these self-theories from the kind of praise they receive (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Ironically, when students are praised for their intelligence, they move toward a fixed theory. Far from raising their self-esteem, this praise makes them challenge-avoidant and vulnerable, such that when they hit obstacles their confidence, enjoyment, and performance decline. When students are praised for their effort or strategies (their process), they instead take on a more malleable theory — they are eager to learn and highly resilient in the face of difficulty.

Thus self-theories play an important (and causal role) in challenge seeking, self-regulation, and resilience, and changing self-theories appears to result in important real-world changes in how people function.

People who were praised more for their innate skills can end up focused on maintaining this “self-image” [and are] afraid to fail. These aren’t …[afraid to fail] value [growth] and become resilient.

Another excerpt from an article Dweck writes about mindsets and coping with setbacks:

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