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Bend, Not Break: 9 Powerful Traits of Resilient People

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The noun resilience stems from the Latin resiliens "to rebound, recoil." As a character trait, resilience is a person's mental ability to recover quickly from misfortune, illness or depression.

For most, life eventually throws us a major curve ball. Like millions, I have had my share of adversity. Growing up in Bangladesh, I have seen war, famine, and inhumane poverty. As an entrepreneur, technologist, and author, I have faced many professional and personal failures and rejections. I had to learn the art of resiliency to survive and then thrive.

Resilient people develop a mental capacity that allows them to adapt with ease during adversity, bending like bamboo instead of breaking. They possess a set of powerful traits. I've shared some of these traits separately in my previous posts; in this article, I wanted to bring them all together.

They Protect Their Soul

Dusting ourselves off every time we fall requires disciplining our inner energy and drive to protect our soul.

1. They Control Their Destiny. It is difficult to understand how you can control your destiny when the very nature of adversity takes away your control. Destiny results from "intention" -- our spiritual will, something that drives us to do what seems impossible.

Laurence Gonzales, author of SURVIVING SURVIVAL: The Art and Science of Resilience, in an article writes:

Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls "locus of control." Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience -- i.e., they have an internal locus of control.

This internal locus allows us to create options and scenarios based on instinct, the situation, and foresight. It allows us to create alternative plans in anticipation or in the midst of adversity.

2. They Accept Their Battle. As humans, our instincts are to fight bitterly against adversity. The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it.

On my desk is a copy of "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. Very few have talked about embracing adversity like him. A professor at Carnegie Mellon and a husband and father of three, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. He gave his Last Lecture on Sept. 18, 2007. His story, and particularly this final lecture, are a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life ... If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you. -- Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Randy decided to accept his situation and live out the days he had remaining by making a difference. He died on July 25, 2008, and now he lives on not only through his family but also through the millions he inspired. I am certainly one of them.

If you haven't seen the "Last Lecture" or read the book, then you must.

Once we accept our situation and let go of the outcome, it allows us to adapt and even thrive in the face of adversity.

3. They Use Adversity As Their Compass.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. -- Helen Keller

Sometimes, if we pay close attention, we see that adversity can come into our life to guide us to our true destiny. It certainly did for Helen Keller.

Helen Keller fell ill, lost her sight, her hearing and fell mute while she was a child. Today, her name is known around the world as a symbol of courage, strength and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Through the tutelage of her teacher, Ms. Annie Sullivan, and other great supporters, she used her adversity to find her vision, her voice, and a calling for herself that led to great benefits to others.

They Learn to Suffer Well

Adversity inherently invokes pain, suffering, and disappointments. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. This is hardly easy. Like any other skill, learning to suffer well requires conscious practice and learning.

4. They Practice Patience. The realization of the power of patience was most obvious to me during my visit to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan. There, I stood in front of a famous Japanese calligraphy, a quote by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

It says: "The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience."

Over time, I have found that the practice of patience begins with:

  • Compassion -- The Dalai Lama says, "a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you." It is perhaps one of the hardest things to practice, yet there's no substitute for compassion.
  • Gratitude -- When life turns upside down, staying in an attitude of genuine thankfulness helps us realize what we have.

5. They Let Go. Fear is a protective emotion signaling danger and helps us to prepare for and cope with it. Fear perhaps is the key fundamental emotion that holds us back -- fear of failure, losing people, success, the unknown, and fear of moving forward or making a change. Emotional pain is another key factor that often holds us back. Although others can cause pain for us, our pain can also be caused by our own actions, including our inability to achieve a desired aspiration.

The physical reaction to fear and pain is called the "fight or flight" response. Letting go is the inner action that stops resisting fear and pain, allowing us to restore our ability to see clearly. Letting go comes from having a "nonjudgmental" outlook toward life and people. It allows us to forgive others and ourselves equally for mistakes and incompatibility. We must be willing to let go of fear, pain, anger, and people. It is the ability to let go that drives a constant process of change -- it is what makes us flexible and adaptable. This is hardly easy, takes a conscious effort, and is something I know I struggle with every day.

6. They Live in the Moment. Being truly in the moment allows us to escape from adversity and conserve our inner energy. Living in the moment doesn't mean we don't care about the past or future. It means that when we make a choice to do something, we focus on solely doing it, rather than letting our mind wander into the future (or the past).

It's been said that the only two jobs of a Zen monk are sitting zazen (meditation) and sweeping. Cleaning is one of the most important daily rituals of a Zen monk. They sweep or rake, and they try to do nothing else in that moment. The next time you're doing housework, try concentrating on the housework -- on the dust, the motion, the sensation. Cooking and cleaning are often seen as boring chores, but actually they are both great ways to practice mindfulness -- something I ritualistically try to do at least once or twice a week. Sounds simple -- but it's actually pretty hard.

They Lead From Within

Despite our darkest moments, it is our duty to stay connected to our core intention. Resilient people reach their highest potential by taking risks that are consistent with their ethos and purpose. They lead themselves by constantly standing on an uncomfortable ledge.

7. They Develop Flexibility. Lao Tzu said, "Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong."

Our ability to effectively survive, thrive and lead comes from flexibly riding out our ups and downs. An authentic journey does not always come from blasting through rocks and impediments, rather from having the faith, resilience and adaptability to cope with harsh realities of life.

8. They Find the Right Traveling Partners. The people we surround ourselves with make the difference between failure and success. It's not only whom we surround ourselves with that matters, but also how we interact with them that make the difference. It is important to avoid people who bring us down, waste our time, take us backward, and have no interest in our suffering. While we cannot always avoid them, at a minimum we can choose to not allow them to weaken us. And sometimes the right companion shows up through chance encounters.

In life's journey there are many encounters. Some are planned; some are by accident; and some by divine intervention. I have had many amazing "Chance Encounters," where it seems the universe rallied to come to my aid when I needed the help most. They have occurred when least expected -- and many of the people I've encountered have become friends and family. And whenever those encounters initially left me with a "negative" experience, they turned out to be much-needed lessons for me.

9. They Take the Next Step Forward. The ability to visualize our dreams creates a mindset that makes our ambitions possible. Understanding exactly what we want is the foundation for our success. But executing that success requires taking the next step, every day, no matter how hard it may be.

Author Joseph Marshall III shares Native American wisdom on taking the step in his book Keep Going.

It means letting the tears flow through the grief; it means to keep looking for the answer though the darkness of despair is all around. Each step takes you closer to the top of the hill, closer to the light of the next sunrise, and the promise of a new day.

Serial entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque is the founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Author of several books, his newest book is "Everything Connects - How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability" (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014). Copyright (c) 2014 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.

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