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Developing the resilience “muscle”

Article written by by Pieter Scholtz (Award-winning Executive and Business Coach & Country Partner for ActionCOACH)

Much is written about South Africans’ high level of resilience, our never-say-die attitude or as they say in Afrikaans – ‘n boer maak ‘n plan. Research has shown that we have a higher level of resilience than many nations around the world, however, do we know what resilience is and how do we cultivate or develop resilience when faced with so many challenges.

I really love Maya Angelou’s quote: 

“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it”

What is resilience? 

It is difficult to truly define resilience because it is dynamic and multidimensional.  However, resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. It is the ability to spring back into shape, or the level of our elasticity.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience stress, emotional turmoil, and or suffering of any sort. Resilience involves the ability to work through the difficult situations, with a belief that you will grow through the experience and come out on the other side on track. 

Resilient people generally display the following characteristics


Seeing the issue for what it is. It is important to recognize that resilience does not mean naïve optimism. Resilient people are clear about the nature of the issue that they are facing – neither overly optimistic or pessimistic. They have developed a world view that allows them to distinguish between blind optimism, emotions, and opinions versus the facts of the situation.  


Resilient people very often display a deep sense of purpose, clarity about why they are on this planet, and what they want to achieve in life and business.  Whilst they recognize that there will be obstacles along the way, they never lose sight of their purpose or personal calling.


This is the ability to adjust the sails to the prevailing winds that are blowing at the time, without losing sight of the end goal or destination. As we have often said before, never change the goal, however, you might need to change the plan to achieve the goal. 

If these are the general characteristics of resilience, how do we practice this.

Focusing on the four areas below will help to build the resilience “muscle” that is required to succeed in today’s challenging world.

  1. Surround yourself with wise counsel, people that can carry you through the challenge that you are facing now. 
  2. Identify coping strategies that worked for you in the past.
  3. Find or read material that will serve to inspire you, to give you guidance, wisdom, and strength to deal with the situation before you. Make this an intentional practice and document the learnings and insights from this.
  4. Identify behaviours that can be applied or worked on, either from reviewing behaviours that worked for you in the past, advice from wise counsel or material that you are reading that provides you with the insight to deal with the current situation.  

The steps above should be intentional, and time should be put aside daily to work on these aspects. As you work through these steps, you will most likely find that you have successfully dealt with similar situations in the past, and that you could apply similar techniques to deal with the current situation. Developing a plan for the current situation will increase your ability to deal with the stress, emotional turmoil or suffering that you may be facing. The last thing you can afford to do in this situation is to do nothing. If, however, you are feeling overwhelmed by the situation, it is important to seek professional help.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts –  Winston Churchill

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