How To Build Resilience

Jan Styka (1858–1925) : Dream of Polish volunteers in French trenches
Jan Styka (1858–1925) : Dream of Polish volunteers in French trenches

By Murray Johannsen, October 12, 2014. Feel free to connect with the author by  Linkedin,  Google+,  or by  email through Legacee.

“Suffer through defeat, but be never defeated.” — Murray Johannsen 

Resilience is exemplified by the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Its the key trait of both a successful entrepreneur and a transformational leader.   

This page focuses on a trait lacked by many: resilience. Other names for this are persistence, perseverance and mental toughness. 

It’s a necessary mental state, one seemingly magically installed in great transformational leaders and entrepreneurs; but really, like most traits, it can be learned.  

The Importance of Resilience

Some think that all you need to know, all that must be learned is gained from listening to the lecture, can be captured by writing papers, is remembered by regurgitating knowledge by taking tests. After all, it’s the degree that counts. Indeed, some people pay a lot of money for them.

Reading books helps, immensely help, to reduce the one’s ignorance. But if reading books would make you stronger, librarians would be the greatest champions on the planet. I don’t imagine most of you have heard this, “Don’t mess with that librarian, she’ll kick your ass half way to the moon.”

Believe me, despite the fact that this individual received three degrees, none of his professors ever taught him the essence of success. None mentioned the importance of resilience and the mental processes one must develop to overcome challenge and adversity. You would think, that this would be something psychology programs and business schools might be interested in.

It is thought by some that today’s young are more spoiled and be less resilient than their parents and their grandparents. (Listen to the Interview: Are American  Kids Spoiled Rotten?)

Defining Resilience

You have seen the dictionary definition of something. It typically goes something like, “leadership is the act of leading or management is all about managing.”

This definition is different, it provides a list of characteristics so that you can check off to see if you are a wimp or not. More than than, you will find that a number of environmental facts that help get through difficult times.

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Generally speaking, cultivating resilience and mental toughness gives you a psychological edge is both good times and bad. For example, one has the ability to cope better and perform better than opponents. One can be more determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

My father once told me that I was too dumb to quit and this would be ultimately the secret of success. This does not mean being rigid in doing the same thing the same way, despite the fact that is no longer working. That is sometimes known as managerial insanity—something you frequently see in government and the corporate sector. One also does not do not undertake a mission impossible.

Sisyphys by Titian (1548–49) , Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
Titian (1548–49): The Labors of Sisyphus. A famous story from Greek mythology describing the joys and frustrations of resilience focused on a hopeless task.


Great woman and great men understand the nature of resilience. A resilient leader is someone who overcomes bone crushing defeat, a defeat that would break a lessor human being . This is a most important concept to study since everyone has problems that must be overcome. And rather solving these challenges, they just give up.

When bad things happen, they don’t jump into victim mode and do a “woe is me” routine that lasts for a week before one goes to the doctor for the magic pill that will make the psychological pain go away.

performing one of his labors as he forces a bull to the ground. Engraving by B. Picart in 1731
Hercules performing one of his labors as he forces a bull to the ground. Engraving by B. Picart in 1731. You must have a reasonable ability to control events. After all, it was given to Hercules 12 labors of immense difficulty, beyond the ability of mere mortals, but he was capable of success.

Resiliency Characteristics

Resilience has been of great interest to sport’s psychologist and coaches as a key mental factor that discriminates between the job of victory and the agony of defeat. So it is useful to pierce the veil and see what is important in this context. What occurs can be described as a number of different abilities. These include (Jones, 2002):

• Ability to stay focused,

• Push physical/emotional pain boundaries while maintaining technique/effort

• Unshakable belief in self

• Drive to achieve goals and succeed

• Resilience—the ability to bounce back from set-backs

• Thriving under pressure.

Actually, you must have a reasonably ability to control events. After all, it was given to Hercules 12 labors of immense difficulty, beyond the ability of mere mortals, but he was capable of success. Sounds better than the 12 failures of Hercules.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President, summed it up nicely when he said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Ten Ways To Build Resilience

As mentioned in the article, “Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.” That’s the good part. However, it does not mean that you can necessary avoidance suffering and mental anguish.

Like many states of mind, this one can be enhanced through personal action. You will find a ten-point checklist that you can use to assess whether you are getting through the tough times.

The Truth About Grit

This article starts out with an interesting attention getter which goes, “Modern science builds the case for an old-fashioned virtue – and uncovers new secrets to success.” So it ought to appeal to both conservatives and liberals. It starts out with a story: one you no doubt heard when you were a child-that of an apple falling on Newton’s head and in an instant he has discovered gravity.

However, it most likely didn’t happen that way, most likely Newton also had an astonishing ability to persist in the face of obstacles, to stick with the same stubborn mystery. In other words he was willing to persistent. So what you can learn from this story? The virtue of persistence.  

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A Case: In Pictures: How to Recover From Failure

It is inherent in leadership that one is bound to fail. One hopes that this not a “fatal” one. The important question to ask ourselves is not how to avoid failure, it what we do after it happens. 

Do we became a victim-alternating between the states of helplessness and hopelessness? Do we look for a savior, a handsome prince or fair princess who will take the misery away? Or do we instead rise from the ashes, like a phoenix and go on and prosper from the train wreck. 

This article presents 12 short cases of methods others have used to recover. There is bound to be one that you might try when (heaven forbid) something goes wrong.

To View

Promoting Psychological Resilience

Image by: Bjoetvedt. Nils Forsberg (1842-1934), painting titled, “Death of a Hero”

This article is a little different. It takes the view of a parent and then asks what might one do to install mental toughness in a child. The author also provides a list of associated skills, none of which are that easy to teach. For example, being in control of ones emotions is something most adults can’t do. Still, the best advice is for parents who have children competing in sports.

Read the Article

Take Action: Get On the Dual Track

This is a video trailer that looks at developing mental toughness, perseverance and resilience.


Aggerholm, Kenneth (2014). Talent Development, Existential Philosophy and Sport: On Becoming an Elite Athlete. Routledge

Bloom (1985) Developing talent in young people.

Côté (1999) The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport.

Csikszentmihalyi et al., (1996) Talented teenagers: The roots of success and failure. Cambridge University Press. 

Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002). Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14 (3), 172-204.

Leadership Skill Development