You can learn to build resilience

What is resilience? It is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; it is mental and emotional toughness.

It is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

It is the mental reservoir of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry them through without falling apart.

Dealing with change or loss is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (missing a train or bus ride), while others are impactful on a much larger scale (think about recent fires in Hout Bay/Knysna).

Why is it important?

According to Dr Russ Newman, doctor of preventative medicine, “research has shown that resilience is not an extraordinary thing but is rather ordinary and can be learned by most anyone”.

Psychological resilience does not involve any specific set of behaviours or actions, but can vary dramatically from one person to the next.

In the last 12 years, I have interacted with over 200 entrepreneurs, business owners and managers within public and private enterprises. Some of these were start-ups, while others had been running their own business or managing a role for quite some time. What I have noticed is that no one is exempt from curve balls; challenges and constraints. No one is exempt from the effects of stress.

I also noted that not all clients or beneficiaries responded equally to trying times. Some seemed to weather the inevitable storms in a far “cooler” manner.

Resilient people harness their strengths and skills differently in order to bounce back from persistent problems.

I have seen a variety of serious problems that came to entrepreneurs at the most inopportune times. From financial stress, to marital or relational challenges and even serious health problems.

Somehow, many of these entrepreneurs didn’t become overwhelmed and swamped by the issue or challenge. As Winston Churchill quipped, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Is it possible to learn how to be resilient; to bounce back faster; to get up quickly after being knocked down with regularity? It appears so!

There is a lot of research and reading material on resilience and building it.

Here are five characteristics I have seen and experienced:

Grow a support network

Successful entrepreneurs were asked what they attribute their success to.

They gave expected answers like “Seeing and taking opportunities”; “Gathering the resources to take on new opportunities”; managing the risks and fears associated with the new venture”.

What was quite surprising was how they generally all acknowledged the role that a strong supportive environment gave.

Incubators, accelerators and business mentors/coaches can provide invaluable support, so be purposeful in building your own support network to include such resources where possible.

Learn to manage emotions

“We are all a little broken. But the last time I checked, broken crayons still colour the same,” says motivational speaker Trent Shelton.

We are all subject to emotions and situations that impact these emotions. We do have different personalities and process and demonstrate emotions differently. Yet it is the emotionally stronger person that is able to bounce back faster, where they have learnt to process and manage their emotions, and not to be managed and constrained by their emotions.

Emotional Intelligence measures our ability to perceive our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, and to manage them in a productive and healthy way.

When facing crises or stressful situations, practice responding, rather than reacting. Reacting is an unconscious process where we experience an emotional trigger, and behave in an unconscious way that expresses or relieves that emotion. Responding, is a conscious process that involves noticing how you feel, then deciding how you want to behave.

Owning vision, purpose and goals

I have noticed that being passionate about your business and life and having an unwavering commitment to personal growth appears to be a strong antidote to discouragement, anxiety and a host of other draining emotions that can shipwreck your dream.

Entrepreneurs who have pushed through to three, five and seven year milestones, all seem to display this focus and passion. They also know when they are “leaking” and pull out the stops to attend to this.

“If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it,” says illustrator Mary Engelbreit.

Find people who challenge you

I have tried to live by this maxim, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read” – Charlie “Tremendous” Jones.

In times of discouragement and feeling overwhelmed, I have found very real help through the words of a good book, or the conversation and presence of a mentor. At times, I needed to be challenged in my thinking and perspective, as I began to run out of options and a solutions-finding mentality.

On occasions the words I heard or read were not easy to embrace, but once I had got over myself, the shift happened and I was grateful for the challenge.

Reframe failure and stress

Failure is going to happen. All entrepreneurs need to understand this. Clients are going to say no. The bank manager is going to say no. You will struggle for cash flow.

But, as an entrepreneur, you need to be resilient. Resilience is the ability to get knocked down 99 times and get up 100. Learn to fail forward, in other words, let the failure inform which mistakes you will not be making again. Get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

A handy method to build confidence and resilience is to remind yourself of some of your past successes and how you managed to successfully navigate the journey to achieve the success.

Steve Reid is the manager of the CFE at False Bay College. Email or visit for more about the CFE.