4 Habits Of The Most Resilient People

When the going gets tough, what makes some bounce back while others fizzle out? Firing the naysayers in your head, surrounding yourself with a “board of advisors,” get cozy with the unknown.

4 Habits Of The Most Resilient People
[Image: Flickr user Janet Ramsden]

The sad truth is, nobody’s life is perfect. When the going gets tough, what separates those who can hold their own and keep going, from everyone else? A few years ago, two former business school professors of mine, Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power, and Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, did an informal study of my Stanford MBA classmates to discern what factors were the most influential in determining which students had “made it” and which had not.


They were not looking for those who had made it as measured by dollars earned, but those who were most successful all around in achieving their goals and dreams. After eliminating many different factors, they landed on resilience as the one defining skill and behavior that allowed some to stand out from the rest.

After all, it wasn’t that none of us faced adversity–we all did. But some were able to pick themselves up and brush themselves off and move on, while others were not. Resilience is what counts–we must nurture our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; our mental (and often physical) toughness in the face of adversity.

What can you do to stay on track, get back on track, and stay motivated when things don’t go your way? Here are four things I’ve noticed that the most resilient people do:

1. They don’t listen to the negative voices in their heads

We all have them: those voices in our heads that essentially tell us that we are never going to be successful, so why start anyway? One of my clients calls this her ‘itty-bitty-shitty-committee’ and she regularly practices “firing” them. Another client thinks of it as two wolves inside her–one that is fighting to take on new challenges and another that is fighting against her success. She believes that the one that will win is the one that she feeds.

If she keeps reinforcing the negative voices, then the bad wolf wins; but if she can focus on everything she has accomplished in the past, then she believes in herself and moves forward. Do you need to fire your own negative voices this year?

2. They Have a Personal Board of Directors

Years ago, a mentor of mine, Eunice Azzani of the executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry, recommended I build my own personal board of directors. This type of trusted advisory group works well for startups and Fortune 500 CEOs, she advised, so why can’t you have one of your very own?


My personal board’s members don’t really know they are part of a team; they likely each think they are the only one I call when I need a sounding board. I have never convened them as a group or introduced one of them to the others. But together they have provided excellent advice on career and life decisions or have been a shoulder to cry on. Of course you can hire a coach or a therapist (and for long-term issues, I highly recommend it), but for the day-to-day decisions and challenges that we all face, a personal board of directors is more efficient.

My board includes the husband of a friend of mine, who is exceptionally good at negotiating anything, a former boss who shares my career interests and pushes me outside my comfort zone, and a former colleague who is extremely well connected. I do not call each of them for every decision, but I perhaps most regret those times when I did not make a call that I should have.

As with a real board, you’ll receive contradictory advice from the members of your personal board of directors. When I decided to switch careers and join a political campaign for a year, my board members did not unanimously acclaim this as the right direction. (Looking back, I wish I’d paid more attention to those who tried to dissuade me!) It will always be up to you whether you take the advice you receive. Just don’t hesitate to ask for it. Who belongs on your personal board of directors?

3. They are comfortable not knowing

Kathleen Harren has progressed from director of nursing, to chief nurse executive, to regional director of the Nursing Institute at the Mary Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. She believes in order to progress everyone needs “to [be able to] speak on any particular issue without being fully prepared. To be flexible and articulate and confident enough,” even when you don’t know everything, because “we can’t know everything.”

How do you get comfortable not knowing? Harren advises you take courses on how to be an effective storyteller as well as media training in order to improve your skills and confidence in front of the microphone. Others recommend taking an improvisation class: in theater, music or dance. Since improvisation is defined as a state of being and creating action without pre-planning, those skills can come in handy when the going gets tough. What can you do this year to be ready even when you’re not fully prepared?

4. They Let Go of the “Yeah, But…”

Even as you’re reading this article, I can hear you thinking, ‘yeah, but’…Yeah, but who would join my personal board of directors? I don’t have anyone who I trust to go to for advice. Or you’re saying, the negative voices in my head are really, really loud.


We all have our “Yeah, but… ” Yours might be related to being too old or too young, you might come from a culture that encourages you not to step into the spotlight or from a family that tells you it’s not polite to brag. You might think you don’t have a college education, or you may be worried that others won’t like you if you stand out from the crowd or say something controversial. Or you may have watched other leaders get attacked or vilified for their ideas and worry the same might happen to you.

We all have our “Yeah, but… ” Don’t let yours take you out of the game.

This article is an adapted excerpt from Ready to be a Thought Leader?, reprinted with permission.

Denise Brosseauis the founder and chief executive officer of Thought Leadership Lab whose clients include leaders from Apple, Genentech and Morgan Stanley as well as startup CEOs. She is the author of [i]Ready to be a Thought Leader? published this month by Jossey-Bass. Denise has an MBA from Stanford and in 2012 she was honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change”.[/i]