Resilience: The One ‘Secret’ All Successful Students Know

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There have been plenty of newspaper columns, courses, and self-help books, which promise to deliver that elusive ‘secret of success’, but psychologists tend to agree that, among other things, the key to success for individuals, managers, entrepreneurs, or students, often resides in the ability to develop resilience.

Think about a time when you faced some kind of tragedy or setback, whether it was part of your professional life, your personal life, or while you were completing your studies? How did you cope and what did you do to get through it? Did you lose your job, miss out on a promotion that you thought should have been yours, or end up dropping a course that you should have completed? Did you set up your dream business, only to see it fold a few months later with your hopes in tatters and a mountain of debts to pay?

Failures and setback stalk all of us at some point in our lives, but it is how we choose to react to it which may determine how and whether we bounce back from disaster. Some people accept what has happened, count their losses, learn from the experience and move on.  Whereas others find it hard to reconcile themselves to what has occurred and slip from misery to despair.

How does resilience link to success?

But if we all confront failure at some point during our lives, then we need to be able to establish mechanisms and practices that enable us to overcome that failure. And if we are all going to face failure, then it stands to reason that those who are more resilient in the face of reversals are more likely to enjoy success, whether in their business, career, or personal lives. Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you about the string of failures that preceded their ultimate success, whereas a failed entrepreneur might only have one story to tell.

What is resilience?

Resilience is often defined as:

“The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.”


“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.”

Leading psychologist and best-selling author on the topic of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, has said of resilience and management:

“Enhancing mental toughness, highlighting and honing strengths, and fostering strong relationships are core competencies for any successful manager.”

So, resilience, whether you are a manager, entrepreneur, student, or just an individual facing challenges, is about springing back into shape, recovering quickly, and demonstrating enhanced mental toughness.

But is this innate? Are we just naturally made that way, or can it be developed and learned, and can science help us develop that ability to ‘bounce back’?

So how can science help us to develop resilience?

Fortunately, science tells us that resilience is not just a fixed personality trait that is possessed by only a select few, instead it is a set of behaviors and actions that anyone of us can be taught and develop to face a set of circumstances.

To help us develop those behaviors, and take the right actions, the American Psychological Association (APA), has, after extensive research, developed a 10-point plan to assist in building resilience:

#1: Make Connections – Forge valuable relationships, whether that is with family, friends, colleagues or others in the community.

#2: Avoid Seeing Crises as Insurmountable – Don’t see the present situation as extending into the future, instead focus upon a better tomorrow, beyond your current circumstances.

#3: Accept Change – Acknowledge that change is as constant as the seasons, so embrace it and work with it.

#4: Develop Realistic Goals – If you don’t know what you want, or where you are going, then you need to develop some realistic and achievable goals towards which you can work. Goal-directed behavior is a hallmark of successful people.

#5: Take Decisive Action – When adversity comes calling, do not bury your head in the sand! Instead seek advice and help from your connections, if necessary, but make sure that you take actions to address it, rather than ignore it.

#6: Embrace Self-discovery – At times of loss we often find out more about ourselves than when things are going well. Embrace it and take the opportunity to grow and develop as a person, as they say, “what doesn’t kill you, makes your stronger.”

#7: Trust Yourself – Nurture a more positive attitude towards your own abilities and instincts, so be less inclined to doubt yourself too readily.

#8: Keep Perspective – Keep a sense of proportion, so take a longer view of what has happened and don’t feel inclined to make more inconsequential things bigger than they really are: “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

#9: Stay Hopeful – Retain a positive and hopeful outlook, which should feed into your overall demeanor and your attitude to what is happening. Attitudes breed behavior, so if you adopt a pessimistic outlook, then you are going to see nothing but negativity around you. Remember, “misery likes a crowd”.

#10: Take Care of Yourself – Keep physically and mentally fit, so take regular and modest exercise and challenge yourself to keep your brain in trim.

Resilience of itself is not the only guarantee of success, but working on some of these points will certainly help you to face and challenge the setbacks that we all encounter at some point in our lives and particularly during the years that we are studying.

Resilience is not inborn and you can develop the attitudes and behaviors that will help you achieve the success that you crave by working upon the 10 points recommended by the APA.  And if you are able to develop resilience, then you will have learned the one ‘secret’ that all successful students know.


Will Trevor is Faculty Program Director for Marketing at Excelsior College.


Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.