10 Life Lessons in ResilienceIt’s an unspoken rule among all humans that the way to achieve a happy and successful life is to avoid the “bad stuff.”

Avoid pain.

Avoid failure.

But what if we stopped using so much mental and emotional energy running from these and realized that they’re integral parts of a happy and successful life? Pain and failure are just bumps along the way. Life gets a lot easier when we change our mindset to expect and even embrace them.

Building a Resilient Brain is Key

It’s a built-in survival instinct of your brain to avoid pain – emotional or physical – to ensure your safety and survival.  A part of your brain, the amygdala, learns from painful and fearful experiences so that it can steer you clear of anything it perceives as a danger in the future.

Research shows that the amygdala plays a crucial role in the formation and storage of emotional memories, resulting in what’s called “emotional learning.” While both positive and negative emotional memory storage is facilitated by the amygdala, studies confirm that it pays special attention to what it considers threats, which leads to “fear conditioning.” In order to build a more resilient brain, you have to teach it to consciously override this fear conditioning. You might choose to do this through life coaching, for example

Because your brain is actually built to resist efforts to unlearn the fear response, changing these patterns isn’t easy, but it can be done. Becoming more mindful, getting comfortable with uncertainty, and even welcoming and leaning into “the bad” as suggested above can help your brain learn new ways of responding.

Resilience Is a Skill You Can Learn

Resilience is one of the necessary skills Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske cite in their book The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success needed to develop a winner’s brain and live a happy life. They depict a resilient brain as one that:

…recovers from life’s challenges by dealing with shortcomings, misfires and failures whether they are self generated or brought on by circumstances beyond one’s control.”

Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress,  such as family or relationship problems, serious health challenges, or workplace and financial issues. It means “bouncing back” from difficult life experiences.

In the book, the authors explain that resilient brains understand and embrace pain and failure and realize that they don’t predict the future.  The ability to get up, come back, and try again determines the future.

Winners reframe failures so that they work to their advantage and recognize that when things don’t go according to plan the journey isn’t necessarily over – and, in fact, failure is often a new opportunity in disguise.”  

Real-Life Resilient Brains

One strategy they suggest to aid in developing and strengthening resilience in yourself is to find a “failure role model.” Current culture and history are full of them:

  • Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison tried more than 9,000 experiments before he created the first successful light bulb.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team.
  • Albert Einstein had very poor grades in school and was thought to be mentally retarded.
  • Steven Spielberg was placed in learning-disabled classes in high school then dropped out forever.
  • John Grisham‘s first novel was rejected by sixteen agents and twelve publishing houses.
  • Abraham Lincoln had 12 major political failures before he was elected the 16th President of the United States of America.

Dr. Jeff Browne and Dr. Marke Fenske, in their book, The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success, go on to say:

Contrary to popular belief, winning in life has little to do with IQ, your circumstances, your financial resources, or even luck.  But, it has everything to do with creating a failure-resistant brain.  Every time you think a thought, feel an emotion or execute a behavior, your neuro-circuitry changes, and the good news is you can take charge of this process.”

Resilience is not a trait that you either have or don’t have. It includes behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed. When you break it down to the physical level in your brain, resilience is a neuroplastic process.

10 Life Lessons in Resilience

10 Life Lessons in Resilience

Here’s some wisdom to help you begin to change your perspective about life’s “bad things” and help you adopt a more resilient mindset:

J.K Rowling

It’s impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might have not lived at all — in which case you fail by default. Now I’m not going to tell you that failure is fun. [But] the knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

Michelle Kwan

I started figure skating at the age of five, and the first thing my coach taught me was how to fall. I remember gazing up at him with a puzzled expression thinking ‘Shouldn’t I be learning how to skate?’ Looking back, I realize that my coach was very smart. She knew I was bound to fall many times throughout my career and that I’d need to learn how to handle it.”

Debbie Hampton

Pain, trauma, and adversity can be weapons of self-destruction or opportunities for growth, depending on how we respond to and use them.  As cliché as it sounds, it really is up to us to determine whether the challenges we are faced with become stumbling blocks or stepping stones.”

Yasmin Mogahed

Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.     

Rachel Simmons

Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do it gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge.

Michael Jordan

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 

Laura Linney

As the late great Jack Lemmon once said ‘Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.’ You will never achieve a deeper understanding of your work, or learn the tough lessons, if you are liked or comfortable all the time.”

Victor Frankl

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity —  even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

Bob Richards

It may sound strange, but many champions are made champions by setbacks.”

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  1. This resilience thing is interesting Debbie. I noticed the other day that I was disappointed in something I was told and my mind kept circling around thoughts of disappointment, creating feelings sadness. Until I told my mind, it was okay to feel disappointment and it was okay to feel sad.

    And my mind became still. This isn’t quite what you were talking about…but maybe another piece of supporting ourselves to be more resilient in the face of disappointment or failure. 🙂

  2. I love the inspiration in this post Debbie. This is what really stuck out for me: “it has everything to do with creating a failure-resistant brain.”

  3. What a superb line up of examples of resilience, Debbie. I agree that unless we face hardships we never develop inner strength. Thanks for a motivating post! After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants!

  4. Most of the time we worry about what others think of us. Funny thing is it’s all in our heads, most people don’t really notice what what we think they do. So when you make a mistake or come into something that doesn’t work out remeber you see it way worse than others do. Take the experience to learn about yourself and realize your only uncomfortable for a few moments. The lesson you learn can help you for the rest of your life.

    • You are so right, Matt. I realized this much too late in life, but better late than never, eh?! Thanks for our thoughts. 🙂

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