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How To Build Resilience

Updated on April 23, 2015

Building Resilience To Bounce Back Quickly From Setbacks

"The Beauty of Life surrounds me,

the Joy of Life uplifts me,

and the Resilience of Life protects me.

It is enough."

—Laura Teresa Marquez

I'm thankful for my resiliency, for my ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks, and to stay up in down times.

I wasn't always this way.

During a long and difficult period of my life I was down, depressed, feeling helpless and hopeless about my future. But, learning how to build resilience enabled me to overcome my pessimism and become realistically optimistic.

Things have gone much better for me ever since.

Two things helped me to develop that realistic optimism:

1) the capacity to create results that matter to me, and

2) building resilience, my ability to bounce back quickly from losses and setbacks.

"Emotional resilience says stress counselor Elizabeth Scott, "refers to one’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. More resilient people are able to "roll with the punches" and adapt to adversity without lasting difficulties; less resilient people have a harder time with stress and life changes, both major and minor.

"It’s been found that those who deal with minor stresses more easily can also manage major crises with greater ease, so resiliency has its benefits for daily life as well as for the rare major catastrophe."

Learning how to recover after loss, failure, or other adversity is key to building resilience, and to achieving successful results in life, work, and relationships.

Resilience means able to bounce back from setbacks!
Resilience means able to bounce back from setbacks!

Getting Back Up: Learning From Failure

“Suppose you have tried and failed again and again,” said actress Mary Pickford. “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Ms Pickford makes a distinction between the act of failing and the conclusions you draw about that act. Those who stay down judge that they have failed. They generalize from their act to the illogical conclusion, “I am a failure.”

Worse, they may go even further, and generalize to, “I always fail.”

Thus, they assume, there is no point in getting up. Viewing themselves as victims of circumstances, they stay down, don't act, and don't learn from their experience.

But making mistakes—and correcting them—is key to creating, and resilience. There is no failure in learning, only feedback. Fail fast; learn quickly.

Edison failed hundreds, even thousands of times, before he found a reliable filament for light bulbs. But did you know that giants such as Henry Ford and Walt Disney suffered multiple bankruptcies before they achieved lasting success.

Paralyzed from the waist down, "Man In Motion" Rick Hansen wheeled around the globe, raising millions for spinal cord research. Cyclist Lance Armstrong overcame major, mid-career cancer to win Le Tour de France seven times.

Daily, millions of people get up after being knocked down. Unwilling to adopt a victim story, they keep trying, and learning. They take power from adversity, and place it in their own hands, increasing their "sense of control."

Control, along with ownership of results, is key to building resiliency. "Resilience," says Paul Stoltz, author of Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities, "is the single greatest factor in driving change, improvement, and results."

Owning The Results You Want to Create

Faced with adversity, don't blame yourself, circumstances, or other people. The origin of adversity is not nearly as important as owning the results you want to create—in spite of who or what caused the difficulty.

If you suffer a loss—physically, emotionally, or financially—focusing on that loss, how it happened, or who was responsible will make it harder for you to get beyond it, and create the results you want.

"Experience," said Aldous Huxley, "is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you."

If you lose a job, don't focus on the injustice, or inconvenience. Focus on the kind and quality of job you most want. If you lose a friend or lover, don't just grieve the loss. Focus on improving friendships, or finding new friends. If you suffer a business loss, regroup, revsision your business, and focus on the results you truly want to create.

You won't be able to do so instantly. Even minor losses, such as losing your car keys, provoke a temporary sense of helplessness. But, with practice, you can shorten the helpless period. You can learn to grieve loss, accept the new reality, and move on.

Before I learned to respond effectively to adversity, I often got frustrated, angry, and quit if something did not go as I thought it should. I was not resilient. I was not able to bounce back from setbacks, or losses.

Embrace Adversity, Own Your Results, Control Your Actions

As I learned to embrace adversity, own my results, and take action on what I could control, I built up my resilency, bounced back quicker and easier, and created better results.

Once, for example, when hired to give a 90-minute keynote presentation to 1000 people at a prestigious conference, three setbacks stacked one on top of the other threatened to overwhelm me.

First, the agenda drifted off schedule. Three times during the morning of my presentation, organizers asked me to shorten it: first to 60 minutes, then 45, and finally to 30. I agreed, but with each change I grew more edgy.

When I took the stage, my podium was at the side, but my overhead projector was in the middle. To talk and show my graphics—without trotting back and forth across the stage—I had to unfasten my mic from the podium, hold it in one hand, and my notes in the other. I spoke from beside the projector and changed slides with my third hand. (That's how it felt!) Not only did this frustrate me, it cut another five minutes off my talk.

Finally, when I started to speak, the sound system did not work. But the sound booth techs assured me I was "live." Each time I looked to the booth for help, the techs gave me a frustrated "you're live" sign. I was confused, and irritated. My 30-minute session had now shrunk to 20 minutes. A large part of me wanted to throw up my hands in frustration, and say, "What's the point?"

Instead, I visualized the results I wanted: an impactful, professional talk, an impressed audience, happy organizers, a reputation for being resilient, and my $1000 speaker's fee. Owing those results, I sucked it up and shouted the highlights of my talk. When the organizers announced lunch, I offered to stay and take questions. About half the audience crowded around the front of the stage, and we had a great Q&A session.

In the end, the audience was happy, the organizers were delighted, and I got paid. The techs apologized because they hadn't realized a TV crew had unplugged the feed to the auditorium. The best thing was, over the next couple of days, I got a myriad of compliments from audience members on how well I'd handled a difficult situation. And two new good-paying gigs!

Had I focused on what happened, why, and who was to blame, I would have walked off the stage in disgust—and suffered the consequences. But I owned my results, took control of what I could, and did a professional job—in spite of the adversity and multiple setbacks.

Should you experience adversity and setbacks, don’t focus on the adversity and/or why it happened. Instead, acknowledge and accept the reality, and then focus on the results you want to create. Own your results—in spite of the difficulties you face.

To focus, ask yourself these kinds of questions:
* What result do I want? Is it worth working for?
* Am I willing to do what it takes to create it?
* Where am I starting, and what do I have to work with?
* What actions can I take to bring my result into being?

Once you're clear about the answers to these questions, you'll be ready to take action, learn from your experience, build momentum, and move toward the results you want to create.

As you do, you'll build competence and resilience. You will feel up, energized, and confident that you can deal with whatever life throws at you.

More of Bruce Elkin's writing on his hub pages profile.

> If you like this hub, please give it a "thumbs up" below. And share it with friends on Digg, Facebook etc… via the "share it" button. Thanks!

Skills For Building Resilience


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    • profile image

      ho shiu kwan 

      8 years ago

      I am right now in the midst of a minor loss and wonder why i feel hard to overcome it. So i typed online to search for some ways and i read this sharing. It does help me and it's really nice. Especially the fact that i have to focus on the result i want to create rather than the loss itself. Thanks a lot!

    • Sylvia Leong profile image

      Sylvia Leong 

      8 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

      I love this Hub! When I read the example of your speaking engagement, I wanted to throw my hands up, walk off the stage & leave the building. Your reaction was professional & proof that a negative situation can be turned around to coax out the best result. Very inspirational!

      I voted it up & shared on my fb page.


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      yeah i agree with mandy and i also like the way you write

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      THank you, Mandy. I appreciate the feedback and the support. All the best!

    • Mandy76 profile image


      10 years ago from Mount Shasta, California

      Great photo and subject, especially during these dark economics times. I like what you write!

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks for your comment. I wish you well! Cheers!

    • Cellar Door profile image

      Cellar Door 

      10 years ago from South East UK

      The Mary Pickford quote really speaks to me, i won't go into too much detail but ill say this, i am going to keep it in mind.

      thanks for writing this Bruce Elkin


    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hi, LaughingMom. THanks for your feedback and support. I appreciate it. I try to be positive and update, and, most of the time, I succeed. But, being human, I often (daily) have to practice what I preach. And people do appreciate that. Cheers!

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 

      10 years ago

      I especially liked the part about how we all fall down, but we don't all stay down. I like how you explain that this "bounce back" is a learned, and not necessarily one that comes natural to us.

      You have such a great personal story. You handled yourself so well in front of all of those people, and showed a true part of your character. Positive, upbeat people, in even the face of conflict, are such a pleasure to be around. I would imagine people are drawn to you.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks, Cris. I appreciate the feedback and support. All the best!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      10 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Another contemplative hub. Your words inspire despite the straighforwardedness of the way they are pieced together. Thanks for sharing another great hub :D

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks, Sandy. You're too kind. But thanks for the feedback and encouragement. Much appreciated!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Bruce, you're a great writer and resilient too. Thanks for sharing your inspiration.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hi ccdurinsa! Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your support.

    • ccdursina profile image

      Carolina Dursina 

      10 years ago from Spring Green WI

      Great hub, good reading info; in these days you do have sometimes to start all fresh!

    • Dottie1 profile image


      10 years ago from MA, USA

      Excellent information Bruce. The example of your presentation with a multitude of things gone wrong and how you handled it, what you focused on and the results you achieved were simply amazing. Good for you, thank you and thumbs up for an invaluable hub.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom rubenoff 

      10 years ago from United States

      From testimonial to personal experience, your case for resilience is eloquently and succinctly expressed. All the best to you, Bruce!

    • VioletSun profile image


      10 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Bruce: I confess when I was reading the part where you were on stage and your talk was shrinking by the minute due to obstacles, that I felt a reaction in my solar plexus, just imagining myself in your situation with over 1,000 people in the audience. Your example of how you turned this around is inspiring!

      Your approach to the topic of resilience is one that will reach people from different demographics, not just the spiritually inclined.

      Thumbs up!


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