How to Build Resilience for the Year Ahead

Man walking along open road at twilight

Image by Kevron2001 via BigStock

When a pristine new year is laid out before you, it’s a great opportunity to think big and set yourself exciting goals. I hope and trust you are doing just that.

And let’s not kid ourselves it’s going to be easy.

Look back at last year, and like me, I’m sure you had to deal with plenty of difficult challenges. Same goes for the years before that. Which means there’s no reason to suppose 2013 will give us an easier ride.

So if you are serious about making your dreams happen for real, then you need to find a way to persist in the face of challenges and obstacles – by developing resilience.

This is my definition of resilience, from my book of the same name:

Resilience means the ability to keep pursuing your goals in spite of adversity. It is driven by passion, the fuel that keeps you going in spite of disappointment, rejection, and criticism. And because it is an ability, you can learn it and improve with practice, just like any other skill.

(Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success)

Here are six practical ways to develop your skill at resilience, to help you rise to the challenges of the next twelve months and turn your big dreams into big achievements.

1. Remember why you’re doing this

It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of getting things done on a daily basis that you can forget the ‘why’ that makes it all worthwhile.

A new year is a great opportunity to pause and reconnect with your original intentions and aspirations.

For example:

  • Purpose – the difference it will make if when you succeed – to your own development, to other people and to the wider world.
  • Joy – if you’re doing anything creative, the joy of work is one of the purest and most powerful motivations you can have. It’s also one of your surest guarantors of producing great work.
  • Rewards – all the things you stand to gain by succeeding, including money, fame and new opportunities. These extrinsic motivations can be dangerous if you daydream about them while you should be focused on your work. But when you pause to reflect at the start of a new year, focusing on them can be a great way to boost your motivation.


1. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ and write down as many answers as you can think of.

2. Circle the answers that give you a buzz of energy when you look at them.

3. Write these ‘buzzing’ answers down on a card and keep them handy – in your wallet or pinned above the desk – so that you can look at them on days when you need to remind yourself why you are pursuing this path.

2. Plan ahead

Yes, life is often, as John Lennon sang (and others have said), what happens when you were busy making other plans.

But look at the outstanding achievers in your field and the chances are they didn’t get where they are by winging it all the way. They thought ahead about what they wanted and how to make it happen. They had a gameplan.


Start with your end (goal) in mind and then work backwards:

  • What do you need to do to make this happen?
  • When is your final deadline? When are the milestones along the way?
  • Do you need funds? If so, how will you raise them?
  • What help will you need? How will you get it?
  • Do you need to beef up your knowledge or skills? How will you do that?

3. Anticipate the worst

Here are two of the most common questions I ask coaching clients who are facing a difficult challenge:

1. What’s the worst that could happen?

2. If the worst happened, what would you do next?

People typically look ‘down’ when answering the first question, but they brighten up when they focus on the second one.

Nobody is happy with the worst-case scenario, but it’s empowering to realise it won’t be the end of the world, you will still have options, and you will be able to do something to keep moving forward.


Ask yourself the two questions above and see how you feel. If it helps you remember, make a note of your answer to the second one.

4. Change your mind

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.

(Dhammapada – The Teachings of the Buddha, Translated by Thomas Byrom)

If you want to go beyond your previous limits, you may need to abandon some cherished ideas – about yourself, about other people, or about what is possible or impossible, acceptable or unacceptable.

Looking back at the times when I’ve made a big change in my life or achieved something I was proud of, I invariably had to let go of some limiting ideas that had passed their ‘sell by date’.


1. If you could think of a reason – any reason – why you CAN’T or SHOULDN’T succeed at your goal, what would it be? Write it down.

Here are some typical limiting ideas:

“I could never do X.”

“Nice people don’t do Y.”

“I don’t have enough confidence/talent/charisma/whatever to succeed.”

2. Now destroy the idea by tearing up the paper – or burning it or throwing it away, whatever feels most effective for you.

3. Any time you notice this idea is holding you back – stop, write the idea down and destroy it again.

5. Build your network

“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Two of the most powerful sources of resilience are the support and encouragement of people around you – who ‘get’ what you are trying to do and are there for you when things get tough.

And having a rich network of friends, colleagues and contacts massively increases the chances of a great opportunity appearing ‘out of the blue’ when you need it most.

But support networks don’t come from nowhere. They take time to build and nurture. So starting this week, make an effort to reach out to others – meeting new people and helping those you already know.

Remember, the purpose of networking is to build your network – not to trade favours with individuals. Look for opportunities to help others regardless of whether they are likely (or even able) to pay you back. Build your network right and it will be there for you when you need it.

You build resilience for yourself by building it for others.


1. Set up a system for managing the important contacts in your working life. You could use an online service like LinkedIn, a user-friendly database like Bento, or make the most of the ‘Contacts’ section of your smartphone.

This is NOT about ‘list building’ but reminding yourself who’s important to you, and how you can reach them.

2. Look through your contacts, and use these questions to start helping people in your network:

  • Who have you not spoken to in a while?
  • Who might need some help?
  • Who could benefit from an introduction to someone else you know?

3. Make an effort to meet new people:

6. Don’t forget the fun!

Changing the world and achieving your ambitions is hard work. It’s easy to get ground down by rejection, criticism, inertia, hostility and other obstacles.

So remember your sense of fun – it’s a fantastic source of resilience. If you’re not enjoying at least part of what you do every day, what’s the point doing it? πŸ™‚


1. Each day when you sit down to write your to-do list, make a mental note to have some fun today – by doing at least one thing, or spending one hour, doing the kind of work that makes your heart sing.

If you don’t get much chance to do this in your day job, carve out some time in the morning or evening for your own pet project. It will make the rest of your day a little easier.

2. Whatever you’re doing, remember to see the funny side of it. If you’re struggling to do this, spend some time with silly friends – the kind who love you dearly but don’t let you take yourself too seriously.

Over to you

Which of these ways of building resilience sounds most relevant to you?

How else do you build resilience?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach and the author of Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

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Responses to this Post


  1. Focusing on my purpose always helps me bounce back when things aren’t going well.

    My faith is also a great source of resilience for me, because I believe that even when I fail, God is able to redeem my mistakes and generate some good out of them. (Romans 8:28) This falls under No. 4 above, “Change your mind.” Prayer and scripture reading are good ways of reprogramming your brain.

    People who don’t have a faith tradition could adapt this practice by meditating on meaningful philosophical or inspirational teachings.

    • Yes, focusing on something bigger than yourself – whatever that means to you – is a great way of building resilience.

      Hope 2013 is a great one for you. πŸ™‚

  2. They all seem pretty important, but numbers 4 and 5 really resonate. As someone who has ADHD, I have always struggled with starting and finishing projects!

    I’m sure having a coach would help my resilience, however, there are so many out there… how do you choose?

    Great article. Happy New Year!

    • How about Mark McGuiness, Mel?;-)

      • Shucks that’s nice of you. πŸ™‚

        It really is a personal thing though. So if someone isn’t sure, it’s worth drawing up a short-list and contacting a few coaches to get a sense of what each of them would be like to work with.

    • Re finishing projects, making yourself accountable to someone else is a great way to get yourself to ‘go the last mile’ and actually finish.

      A coach is one person who could help with this, but you could also tell your goal to a friend or colleague and ask them to hold you accountable – they don’t need to do much, just ask you how you’re getting on at an agreed date.

      Re choosing a coach, it’s a very personal thing. Obviously you want to make sure they have the relevant skills and experience, but it’s as much about their personality and whether they feel like the ‘right’ person for you. So I’d go on the feeling you get from their website, and their response to your initial email. And it’s perfectly fine to book a single session at first, to see how well you work together.

  3. Before I had read your very nice post, I had already spelled out my new year resolutions for 2013 and they seem very much in line with the advices you give us.

    *Writing more to build my self-confidence in writing in English.

    *Connecting more, because this is one of the things I like the most.

    *Asserting more, because I need to work on this basic skill to build and feel grounded.

  4. I love that you bring up the importance of having fun. I can dig my heels in and focus on the ‘why’ behind my work, but I often need reminders that all of this is supposed to be fun. I can’t share joy with others if I have none of my own. Thank you.

  5. Very great Mark, last year I almost reach my goal to losing weight, but stress got me back to square one. I wish I keep going on my eating plan, instead of using food as a tool to cope with my stress. Resilience is definitely a skill we need to master.

    • If stress is the trigger for eating more, a good next step is to find other ways to cope with the stress.

      The more you build resilience, the better you will handle the stress, and the easier it should be to stick to your eating plan.

  6. Last week of every year, Best Beloved and I celebrate our wedding anniversary by doing a post mortem on the previous year, and planning for the next. Hey, it works for us.

    I was surprised, as we listened through Seth Godin’s Startup School, that the thing I need most to be more resilient this year is better planning. In the past, I would have expected it to be something more emotional; one of the other points you make. But I’m there, with all of them. Great network. Constant reminders why I do this. All that good stuff.

    And way, way too much winging it.

    We’re in good shape, planning the year, and planning to revisit the plan regularly so we can trim the sails and check the compass.

    Also, I’m gonna get this excellent new book by that guy McGuinness that I keep forgetting to download.

  7. Great timing for your post Mark and thanks for the reminder to see the funny side of things as a way to keep things in perspective as we look toward the new year.

    When we are creating anything new – those who are benefiting from the status quo will provide resistance. I’ve learned that their criticism is often about their own self preservation and not a reason to become discouraged.

  8. Hi Mark!

    One thing in particular caught my attention and I thought I might have something worthwhile to share. You say: “Start with your end (goal) in mind and then work backwards.” What I’ve found in practice is that this approach works well only when the end goal is 1) clear, 2) tangible, and 3) you know how to get there.

    It’s been a long time since I wrote the post about Ultradian Rhythms for Lateral Action and life has moved on. Currently I work in a university, doing research on experimentation-driven innovation. Now this is an approach that I’m sure would resonate with many of your readers: What if you have an idea of a goal, or a feeling, but can’t really articulate it specifically? Or what if the goal feels more like a dream? Or what if you have absolutely no idea how to reach that goal – even when trying to work backwards?

    For example, I have dreams related to changing the way organizations approach well-being of employees and really start to look into ways of maximizing the human potential they have. And I have absolutely no idea what that goal would look like when realized. There’s no way I could reasonably start moving backwards from it and create a plan.

    Enter experimentation-driven approach: I don’t need to know how to reach my goal. Nor do I even need to have one. A dream or a vision that serves as a beacon is enough. The hard part is to identify the first small step I can take towards that dream. The path usually is not straight. The role of the dream is to make sure that you’re at least going to the right general direction. By taking the first, second, third step and so on you build momentum. You’re going towards that goals.

    Most importantly, taking small steps requires action. You will fail, but you will also learn. Fast. The path usually is not the one you imagined it to be, but only by taking steps, failing and learning you will become able to identify what the path is. This is what we call experimentation-driven. Each small step is an experiment with a goal to learn how to get the to the final destination.

    There was no clear plan about how to get a man on the moon. There was the goal and the vision and a huge number of failed experiments that taught the people involved how the vision could be realised. Movember and the $100+ million it raised in 2011 did not happen because the founders had a goal to create the biggest charity for promoting mens health. It happened because the guys had a drunken idea about growing moustaches, and courage to take subsequent small steps and see where they take them.

    So, I guess what I want to say is that it is often impossible to create a plan, and even when it is possible it is likely that the plan won’t work. If we are talking about anything related to complex systems (such as human behaviour), we have to take into account so many assumptions that the chance of some of them being wrong becomes almost a certainty.

    I have this great Bruce Lee quote: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” This should be continued with something profound about the importance of taking small steps towards that goal πŸ˜‰