How to Boost Your Resilience When Things Go Wrong

Resilience can help you overcome adversity and setbacks. Studies show that people can become more resilient at any age.

Navy SEALs and freelancers don’t seem to have much in common. But if setbacks and adversity make you want to hide under your desk instead of motivating you to be more successful, Navy SEALs and other people who thrive under pressure they can teach you a lot about resilience.

Navy SEALS face extreme physical and mental challenges during training and on missions. They plan their missions meticulously, and try to succeed against all odds. Failing is usually deadly. The challenges of freelancers are minor compared to the challenges faced by Navy SEALS.

Resilience Helps Freelancers Overcome Adversity and Setbacks

But both Navy SEALS and freelancers face adversity and setbacks. Navy SEALS have the ability to meet adversity head-on, and to bounce back. They’re resilient.

You can be resilient too—because people can learn resilience at any age.

Resilient people are rarely born that way. They develop resilience over time. Studies have shown that people can overcome adversity and become better than ever.

You can also become less resilient over time. If you consider adversity a challenge and deal with it, you’ll grow. But if you consider adversity a threat, it may become a problem that never goes away. And you’ll lose resilience.

Ingredients of Personal Resilience

In Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, a stress management expert, an entrepreneur, and a Navy SEAL identify five factors (which I’m calling ingredients) of resilience or “psychological body armor,” that successful people share.

The book is based on four decades of research, including original research, reviews of published research, personal experiences, clinical observations, and interviews with nearly 1,000 highly resilient people, including Navy SEALS. The authors are George S. Everly Jr., PhD (the stress management expert), Douglas A. Strouse, PhD (the entrepreneur), and Dennis McCormack, PhD (one of the original Navy SEALs).

Having a moral compass means using “honor, integrity, fidelity, and ethical behavior to guide your decisions under challenging circumstances.” While freelancers should always behave ethically and with integrity, a moral compass isn’t as relevant for us as it is for Navy SEALS, corporate executives, star athletes, etc.

So I’ll focus on the other four ingredients of resilience. The prescriptions for achieving each ingredient of resilience are a combination of tips from Stronger and tips from other Mighty Marketer blog posts on the mindset for success.

Achieve Resilience through Active Optimism

“Optimism is more than a belief, it’s a mandate for change. It’s the inclination to move forward when others are retreating,” says Stronger.

Active optimism is similar to positive thinking. When bad things happen, you “take the most positive or hopeful view,” says Stronger, and look for ways to make the best of the situation.

Optimistic people are more likely to keep going when things are tough than pessimistic people. Along with being more resilient, Stronger says that optimistic people:

  • Deal with adversity better
  • Are more focused on accomplishing tasks
  • Are more committed to success.

Stronger separates active optimists from passive optimists. Active optimists take actions that will increase the chances that things will turn out well, while passive optimists just hope and believe that things will go their way.

Active optimists and positive thinkers believe in their ability to turn challenges into opportunities.  This, says Stronger, makes them. good problem solvers.

“If you think you will succeed at something, you are likely to attempt the task with greater effort, enthusiasm, and tenacity,” says Stronger.

 Prescription for Building Active Optimism

Research strongly suggest that you can increase active optimism by:

  • Doing something—even if it’s a small thing—successfully
  • Watching other people succeed in what you want to do, in this case freelancing
  • Seeking and accepting support and supporting other people
  • Using self-control to stay calm when bad things happen (that is, when you face adversity).

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Achieve Resilience through Decisive Action

Decisive and quick action helps you rebound from adversity. “Taking that first step is empowering and tends to result in other successes,” says Stronger.

Being decisive and taking responsibility for your actions will set you apart from most people and empower you to be more successful. Other people tend to see:

  • Decisiveness as evidence of “courage, strength, and desirability,” says Stronger
  • Taking responsibility for your actions as evidence of “honesty and trustworthiness.”

Prescription for Taking Decisive Action and Accepting Personal Responsibility

There are many reasons for not taking decisive action and accepting personal responsibility, including:

  • Fear of failing
  • Procrastination
  • Being overwhelmed.

Fear of Failing

“Anything worth having is worth failing for,” says Stronger. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes lead to failure. But failure can be a stepping-stone to success. And it’s an opportunity to try again.

So get out there and take action. If it doesn’t work, try something different.


People wait too long to take action for many reasons, including wanting to be certain they make the right decision or fear of making a mistake or failing. But the more you procrastinate, the harder it is to get started. And “. . . almost all opportunities come with time limits,” says Stronger.

Set goals and break them down into small, easily achievable mini-goals and actions (or tasks). Do one task at a time. Do the easiest tasks first and fast.

Being Overwhelmed

We all get overwhelmed, which is another reason for procrastination. Most of the time, we have too much to do and too little time to do it in both our professional and personal lives.

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Achieve Resilience through Relentless Tenacity

Stronger defines tenacity as “steady perseverance in a purposeful course of action, especially in spite of difficulties, adversity, or discouragement.” Tenacity is a synonym for grit, determination, and mental toughness.

Freelancers who succeed aren’t luckier or smarter than freelancers who struggle. We’re simply determined to succeed and to push through the obstacles that all freelancers face. We have grit.

Prescription for Building Tenacity

Stronger offers this advice for building tenacity:

  • Choose a goal you can achieve simply by taking action.


  • Goal: Develop a list of 25 prospective clients and send them direct emails over the next 30 days.

Instead of:

  • Get 3 new clients in 30 days.

You have no control over how fast you can get new clients, but you can control the actions you take that are likely to result in new clients in the future.

I call this achieving small wins. Stronger also recommends that you:

  • Watch other people who are tenacious
  • Seek and accept support from others.

Achieve Resilience through Interpersonal Support

Having “a network of social support” helps you build resilience and avoid self-defeating thoughts and actions, says Stronger. Build a network of people—freelancers, friends, and family—who share your values and can support you when things aren’t going well. Having a network of freelance friends is especially important. “Knowing when to rely on the strength of others is a sign of strength and wisdom,” says Stronger.

A strong professional network has many benefits along with support, including getting more referrals, and learning best practices for dealing with difficult clients and running your freelance business.

But you have to earn supportive relationships. “Give to others. Be supportive without any expectation of return,” says Stronger.  I call this giving more than you take, and research shows doing this helps people succeed.

Prescription for Building Support

  • Find the right people. Professional associations are a great way to meet and build relationships with freelance colleagues. Look for professional and personal role models.
  • Show gratitude. Thank the people who support you and show them that you appreciate their support. Be there for them too. Stronger sums this up nicely: “Work hard and be nice.”
  • Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Don’t take things personally. People are often inconsiderate and may say and do things that aren’t based on anything you did or said.
  • Listen more than you speak. Ask about the other person’s work and interests.

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Learn More About Resilience

George Everly Jr,. Douglas Strouse, andDennis McCormack, Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed

Stronger has a lot more information about resilience, along with empowering stories, self-assessments, and prescriptions to help you become more resilient.

Content from The Mighty Marketer

FREE TOOL: The Ultimate Guide to the Freelance Success Mindset

Being Resilient Helped JoAnna Pendergrass Overcome Setbacks and Make More Money

4 Ways to Become a More Positive Thinker

9 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and What Happens When You Do

The Superhero Power You Need to Know About: Grit

Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say

What Happens When You Play Nice (Give More, Take Less)

Why Other Freelancers Should Be Your Best Friends