RESILIENCE: The Fifth Trait Of Mental Toughness

"Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy

How quick are you to give up? Are you willing to give up or give in when the going gets tough? Your resilience is your unwillingness to give up. Myself and many of my military friends have a saying; never give in, never give up, never surrender. The thing about this saying is even after years since getting out of the military it remains relevant in my life. It’s something I continue to live by.


Many of the challenges most of us face in life are not life or death situations even though they might seem so at the time. However, many of the situations are very difficult at best and many can be life changing with profound effects on who we are. Having the ability to take on and face these challenges, bounce back from setbacks or failures and continue to move towards your goals has everything to do with your resilience or persistence to succeed.

Those who are successful in life and accomplish challenging goals are those who are willing to keep pushing forward through the heartache, hardships, pain, and self-doubt until they succeed. They are simply willing to never give in, never give up and never surrender.

There is a special forces instructor that tells a story about candidates reporting to special forces training. Before a required forced march with full gear, candidates would often tell him that they were triathlon competitors, marathon runners, have black belts in martial arts and that they would finish at the front of the group. When the candidates were done predicting where they would finish the instructor would simply say, “That’s impressive. We’ll have to find out if you can do it when your socks are wet.”

After looking at thirty years of who made it through the program and who didn’t the instructor had found that 50% of the candidates dropped out after the forced march that included an overnight march through wetlands where the candidate’s socks got wet.

In other words, it doesn't matter what your prior experiences are, your achievements, your physical conditioning or your level of endurance rather, what matters is your willingness to persist, your level of resilience, your ability to bounce back after setbacks like wet socks.

In my life, I have learned that most people stop working at the first sign of fatigue or challenge. They simply quit. However, an unusual thing happens when they decide to keep pushing forward even when they are totally spent out. The fatigue that was so debilitating seems to disappear, they get a second, third and fourth wind allowing them to continue. Individuals who are resilient find they have stockpiles of energy they can call on when they demand it. The ability to call on this energy to continue is where many of us fall short.

Only a very few ever make serious demands of themselves. We see this in business, in sports, in education, in relationships and just about everywhere we look. A great many of us miss succeeding at the greater accomplishments we can achieve because we give up too soon. We sit down, we give in, we give up, we surrender at the first signs of anything hard or challenging.

Resilience is the glue that binds motivation, confidence, focus, and composure together providing you undeniable mental toughness. If you are unwilling to bounce back after a setback, it doesn't matter how developed your other mental toughness traits are, you fail. Vince Lombardi said it best when he said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

Resilience is the trait that enables some people to be knocked down and come back even stronger. Instead of letting setbacks and failures overcome them and take their resolve, resilient people find a way to get back up. Here are four keys to building strong resilience in your life:

  • Have a positive attitude - a positive attitude gets you half way to the finish. A negative attitude kills your start.
  • Be optimistic – see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
  • Control your emotions – when you respond or react to difficult challenges with emotions you never win. You will fail to think your response through when you leave it to your emotions.
  • See failures and setbacks - as a form of helpful feedback rather than defeat.

Even after the most significant of misfortunes, resilient people can change course and continue moving towards achieving what they set out to achieve.

You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 99.