How to be Successful by Practicing Resilience

by Stephen Mills on March 20, 2009


Note from Stephen:  This is the first article in a series that will examine the characteristic traits of successful people.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. –Robert Francis Kennedy

Resilience: The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.

In Brief…

The most important characteristic of successful people may be their resilience. In life’s journey there will be many challenges, difficulties, and failures.  A successful life will see many wins but also many disappointments and failures.  To be counted among those successful people, you must have the resilience to bounce back “truly alive” as Bob Proctor says:

Resilience is the ability to come back after great disappointment or pain, after great loss or failure, and be truly alive.  — Bob Proctor

The thrill of victory is only made possible by the agony of defeat. 

Developing Resilience

  • Build a strong network of positive relationships with family and friends.
  • Ask for help.
  • Laugh.
  • Take your next action.
  • Keep your eye on the prize.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be positive.
  • Focus on the good in yourself.

In Depth…

  • Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 and it had metastasized into his lungs, stomach, and brain.  Three years later in 1999, he won the first of what was to become a record-breaking seven straight Tour de France victories.
  • Donald Trump declared bankruptcy in his business and also had almost one billion dollars in personal debt.  Trump bounced back from this failure to become one of the most recognizable real-estate and business moguls in the world today.
  • Joanna K. Hill lost 12 members of her family in a four-year period.  It started with her husband and ended with her son.  Yet throughout it all she looks for the positive and gives thanks for what she does have.
  • Thomas Edison tried nearly 10,000 times before succeeding with the electric light bulb.  At 67 years old his factory went up in flames.  Looking at the ruins he said “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”
  • Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series that has sold over 100,000,000 copies, relates how they failed with publishers 149 times before finding one that was willing to publish their first book.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by film schools three times.
  • Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper for lacking in ideas.

There are tens of thousands of similar stories of struggle and failure in the lives of the successful.  Most successful people will say that they learned more from their failures than they did from their success.

Failure is not falling down, it is staying down.  Do not fear failure.  Embrace failure and learn from it.  Achievers do not saturate themselves with thoughts of failure.  A successful person will analyze the risk and yet still walk to the edge and let go.

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. –Thomas Edison

You can choose to cultivate resilience and join the 3% of the population doing what they love and succeeding at it. Or you can keep doing what got you nowhere.  It’s your choice.

How to Build and Maintain Resilience

  • Build a strong network of positive relationships with family and friends. These relationships will support you through the tough times.  Being connected to others will help you sustain your resilience.
  • Ask for help.  Use your own resources, but when you get stuck do not be afraid to ask for help.  You are reading this on the Internet.  It’s a good place to start connecting with people who may be able to help.  Use your network of in-person relationships for those really tough times.
  • Laugh.  When something goes wrong laugh.  Laugh out loud and laugh hard.  I got this idea from Bob Proctor and I tried it.  It works!
  • Take your next action.  Figure out what you need to do next and do it.  Don’t wallow in self-pity.  Get up and move!
  • Keep your eye on the prize.  Maintain focus on your ultimate benefit. I’m not talking about immediate benefits like more money, but the final destination.  You may want financial independence in order to be able to have free time so you can pursue your dream in order to be happy.  Financial independence is not the prize.  Happiness is the prize.  Focus on your dream and how happy it will make you.
  • Learn from your mistakes.  Resilient people will look, and sometimes you have to look hard, for the lesson to be derived from the experience.
  • Be flexible.  Anticipate challenges, problems, and failures.  Know from the start that you will have to change along the way, adjust to the unexpected, and pick yourself up from defeat.
  • Be positive.  A general characteristic of positivity may be the most important thing you can do.  Negative self-talk is a downward spiral.  Positive self-talk is an upward spiral.  Spiral upwards please!
  • Focus on the good in yourself.  No matter what happens your life is full of success and you need to focus on that success when you are feeling discouraged or defeated.  Write down every win you can think of that you have had in your life.  Get yourself excited about what you know you can do.

What do you think?  Subscribe to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or to a reader in the top left sidebar.  I would love to have you aboard.

{ 4 trackbacks }

How to be Successful by Taking Responsibility — The Rat Race Trap
March 22, 2009 at 8:43 am
17 Ways to Achieve Heroic Goals — The Rat Race Trap
March 24, 2009 at 9:24 am
How to Be Successful by Believing in Your Dream — The Rat Race Trap
March 29, 2009 at 7:39 am
Let’s Get Some Perspective — The Rat Race Trap
July 21, 2009 at 5:33 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy March 20, 2009 at 11:01 am

You’re right, being resilient is incredibly important. I’ll be honest and say it doesn’t come naturally to me, but every day I work on it and every day I improve. Heh, I guess it’s pretty resilient of me to continue working on something I didn’t master in the first 10 minutes.


CathD March 20, 2009 at 11:26 am

Great post, and very relevant to our world today, where we’re all getting slapped around a bit by recent world events.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously” – that’s my mantra that’s built resilience for me when I’ve been faced with disappointments and obstacles. That mantra, and laughing, running and breathing, and being loved unconditionally by another person: those are the things that have built my resilience.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 21, 2009 at 12:08 am

@Tracy, I’m pretty sure you go past 10 minutes :-). I pretty impatient myself.

@CathD, good for you. Those are terrific things to add!


Derek March 21, 2009 at 1:09 am

Thanks for the post! I always try to keep things in perspective. I usually use the metaphor of being a grain of sand in the middle of the Sahara. That grain represents me in terms of both time and space. If something goes wrong in my life, ultimately it is insignificant to the cosmic order of things. However, I have to balance that view with the fact that we can have a profound effect on our lives and the lives of those around us. The first stance causes me to lighten up and the second stance is what motivates me to try in the first place. If I am in 2 when I would be better served by 1, I will cause myself pain. If I am in 1 when I would be better served by 2, I will sell myself short.

I just kind of choose whatever perspective serves me the best in that moment. I call it “fickle mind”. 😉


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 21, 2009 at 6:30 am

@Derek, that is a very insightful. Perspective is extremely important. As you say it is a very useful tool to get yourself motivated no matter what the situation. You are meaningless to the universe, but you mean a great deal to yourself and to the lives of those you touch. Some people reach farther than others, but we all reach out and touch a few people. We have massive impact on one person – ourselves. Thus nobody can say they don’t matter to anyone – they always matter to themselves.


kirwin March 21, 2009 at 9:27 am

Great post. As a mom of two young children, it’s becoming very evident to me that I need to find creative ways to teach resiliency to my children. To teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s it’s okay for them to not master something on the first attempt. This would be my “Do as I say, not as I do” sort of thing. (I’m working on the resiliency thing, myself.)



Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 21, 2009 at 12:48 pm

@kirwin, thank you so much for commenting. Bob Proctor says to laugh. It works great. You simply cannot feel bad when you laugh, especially out loud and hard. It’s weird but forcing a smile or laughing in a bad situation does wonders for my mood and perspective. Maybe you can teach your children to laugh at themselves.


Giovanna Garcia March 22, 2009 at 1:01 am

Great post, you gave a lot of great tips on being resilience. My favorite is “Focus on the good in yourself” This is an important message.
Thank you,
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action


Dennis Dalton March 22, 2009 at 8:58 am

“Failure is not falling down, it is staying down.” I love that quote, its perfect! Excellent article. Thanks


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 22, 2009 at 2:01 pm

@Giovanna, thanks for your support as always!

@Dennis, that is one of my very favorite ideas. Thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you here again.


Rose September 2, 2009 at 4:02 am

Stephen- You shine so bright that you make me want to shine that brightly & with my light I will unconsiously make another person want to shine and they will make another…and on and on.. Kinda like the Dr Pepper Im a Pepper too
You must have a great life. I know maybe you have had your tough times, but I am thinking this:
1- With seemingly vast knowledge on life’s curve balls, you sure seem like you have “the edge” as Tony Robbins would market it.
2- Why arent you as known as Deepak Chopra or Wayne Dyer? (if you are, I apologize, but I have not ever heard of you before last week)
3- I am in finance (when I am actually working) and I have so many visions (free to you of course) on how to market & bottle up your wisdom.
4-Figuring value of a daily dosage to start any given day would be worth $2/cup. Yup one of my ideas is to market you, 1 cup at time. YOU are more addicting than coffee.
I force myself to stop reading so I could let it sink in..
Thanks from One of your #1 Fans-

I am still awake and am forcing myself to sleep…


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