How to be resilient when things go wrong

Mary McGuire sets out the principles which she believes are the building blocks to not only survival, but success

Resilience is the art of bouncing back when setbacks or challenges come our way. There will be many times in our life when we are beset by failures, painful situations or conflicting priorities and these can really undermine our self-confidence and belief. Yet resilience is like a muscle that we need to build and test over time so that we can become more and more honed in life’s forge, like a master blacksmith will temper a great sword, so that we can arise stronger each time.

Sometimes when we are in the midst of hardship it is hard to see any silver lining, yet if we persistently focus on the negative and reinforce our undermining self-talk, we are likely to find our self-confidence dwindling before our eyes.

Growing up as I did in inner-city Birmingham, attending a secondary modern school and living in a poor and rough neighbourhood, I found from a very young age that I had to fight my own corner. Even if I was not as strong as those who might bully me, I believed that I had to hold my own, or else what little self-worth I had would be taken away and ripped up in my face.

Over time and through making positive life choices, my self-confidence grew and with it my resilience. This has led to great success in both my business and personal life. Even in my most desperate hours, when life appeared very bleak, I could hang onto the belief that things would get better, that no matter how great the hardships, they would pass. I survived a childhood with very low expectations from parents, who accepted failure as part of the fabric of their life, and I have been the victim of childhood and workplace bullies. Yet despite all of this, I have succeeded. I have learned that for every knock back, there is an opportunity to grow, to reflect and to decide on a different path going forward. We can use these challenges to power us forward towards success by building up our resilience.


The building blocks to resilience

Having a healthy belief in ourselves
This is the cornerstone to building resilience. We cannot achieve anything if we do not believe in who we are and what we stand for. Without this clarity, our self-worth is scattered to the four corners of the world by the winds of fortune, forever running this way and that, without a proper compass to guide our efforts. If you find it difficult to identify what is important to you, start by writing down your goals and dreams for the next two to three years. If it helps, build a vision board, using pictures to paint an idea of what you want to achieve. Resilience arises from having clarity about what we want from life, so make a start on your vision today.

Staying connected to the present moment
Resilience comes from understanding that the only moment that is real is the present moment. By connecting to this through our breathing and through our awareness that all moments will pass, including the present one, we can learn to release difficult and painful experiences more easily. We can understand that our efforts are more effective when undertaken mindfully and with a proper perspective of the bigger picture. As soon as we connect to the present moment, we can quieten our negative self-talk, release our fears and step out of the drama that our thoughts might be creating.

Learn to take criticism well
Nobody likes being told that their idea is rubbish or their plan is unrealistic and if we are caught up in the excitement of our own ideas we tend to shy away from getting any realistic feedback. Yet criticism, when offered constructively, can help us to avoid pitfalls and failures which come down to our own lack of experience. Criticism can help us to flatten our learning curve and make progress faster. We need to feel comfortable not knowing it all and be gracious enough to accept criticism when offered by an experienced person in a helpful manner.

Be realistic
In our keenness to try out a new idea, we might be over-optimistic about how smoothly everything will go and how easily resources will become available to us. At the other extreme, we might find ourselves being hyper-critical when we are looking back on mistakes we have made that might seem blindingly obvious after the fact. Somewhere between the rose-coloured spectacles and the bleak shades of grey we can find what is the most likely or probable outcome. Learn to be more self-accepting and more gentle with your inner thoughts. A harsh inner critic is hardly motivating if you are trying to pick up the pieces and move on. Self-love will be a much kinder way to move forward.

If you want to start building your resilience today, start by connecting to what really excites you in life and build your ideas around something that matters to you. Your own belief and passion will take you further and help you to cope with setbacks better than anything else.

  • Mary McGuire holds an MBA and MSc in human resources. Her early career as a social worker led on to her becoming chief executive of a charity for people with autism. For the last 20 years she has worked as an international business consultant. Her first book Coming Home to You is available on and on Amazon. Email