Building Your Resiliency: Part I – An Introduction

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 19, 2010 · 58 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

How did you do on the hardihood quiz?

Not so hot? Well join the club.

There are a lot of virtues lacking in the current generation of men, but I think an argument can be made that our lack of resiliency is the most critical.

And I say that as a man who has himself struggled to live this virtue.

In law school, I engaged in a pathetic routine each semester. After finishing my finals, I would initially feel pretty confident in how I did. But then I would sit and think about the exams in detail, remembering questions that I missed, issues that I failed to raise. My confidence would quickly evaporate, replaced by a sense of utter doom and despair. I would become convinced that I had gotten a C or even failed the test. I wouldn’t get my grades back for several weeks, but I would spend that time in a state my wife called “logging out,” which, as the name suggests, involved me laying on the couch like a depressed log.

When my grades would finally come in, I would be relieved to find I hadn’t flunked out, Kate would chide me for my irrational behavior, and I would swear that I wouldn’t waste my time doing that again. But come finals time the next semester, the The Log Man would make another appearance.

I was in serious need of some resiliency. And I still am. For reasons I’ll explain in future posts, law school really did a number on my resiliency, and I’ve had to go to work on regaining my hardihood. So I decided to do some research on the subject and share it with others who might be struggling to be resilient too.

What is Resiliency?

Studies have shown that boosting your resilience increases your resistance to stress and can greatly lower your chances of becoming depressed. It can even reduce the chances of getting PTSD. You may not be living in a war zone, but the trials of life, even the weight of many little setbacks, can leave a man feeling shell-shocked.

We all have times when life makes us want to crawl into a hole; resiliency is what helps us dust ourselves off and climb back into the saddle instead. But just what is resiliency, anyway?

Resiliency is a quality that helps us both act and react in appropriate and productive ways. Let’s take a look at both of these areas.

Resiliency as a Reactive Quality

Resiliency is the ability to face setbacks, failures, crises, and pain (both emotional and physical) with confidence and courage.

It is the ability to quickly bounce back from our trials and tragedies.

It’s the quality that keeps us from giving up, even when the going gets rough. It’s the ability to stick with something through thick and thin and the power to overcome the temptation to bail put when things stop being easy.

Resilient men don’t let their worry about the future, about things that may or may not come to pass keep them in a funk. And they don’t let mistakes from their past eat them up inside. Instead, they concentrate on the present and the things that they do have control over.

Resilient men take personal responsibility for their actions. They don’t whine and blame others. And yet they do not blame themselves so much that shame and guilt paralyze them from moving forward and trying again.

We see resiliency in the guy who gets cancer but remains optimistic and upbeat. In the man who gets a divorce, but doesn’t get bitter. In the guy who is fired from his prestigious job, but is able to make the best of becoming a stay-at-home dad. He’s the rock who keeps his composure when bad news hits and is able to take care of his loved ones when everything’s going to pot. He’s both strong and flexible.

Resiliency is a quality that not only helps with the big crises of life, but also allows you to weather the mundane daily annoyances that threaten to grind out your vitality. Resilient is the man who can face his annoying co-worker without anger, argue with his wife without exploding, and have his kid disappoint him without flipping out.

Resiliency as an Active Quality

While we most often think of resiliency as a quality that helps us react to challenges, resiliency is also essential to the proactive aspects of our lives. It is the virtue that allows us to face the world head on like daring adventurers, to strike out into the unknown like courageous explorers. It is the quality that enables us to take risks, to reach out to others, and to live deeply and powerfully.

Without resiliency we forever dwell on our setbacks instead of making progress in our lives. The hurt from our past disappointments (or even the hurt we imagine could befall us) is so debilitating that we cannot muster up the courage and desire to take chances and seize opportunities; we’re afraid of experiencing pain and embarrassment. Without resiliency we become content to play it small; we hide from the world, keeping ourselves from hurt but also removing our chances of joy, excitement, and satisfaction. The fear of trying something and failing looms large in our minds. Yet we ignore the even bigger failure-the failure to make an attempt, to try and to risk.

Every man wants to know the secret of the man who is able to walk up to any woman and strike up a conversation. Who can saunter into his boss’ office and ask for a raise. Who takes the trip everyone else says is crazy. Their secret is resilience. They’ve got a thick skin; they don’t walk around feeling like the next disappointment might be a fatal blow, a wound to their ego and happiness that will take forever to recover from. They’re not crippled by fear of embarrassment. They know that if they get rejected, if things don’t work out, they’ll hardly miss a beat; they know they won’t shrivel up like a daisy; they’ll simply take the setback in stride and keep on truckin. They don’t shrink from forming relationships in fear of the potential pain of a break-up; they know that pain is a possibility but they are confident in their ability to manage it and move on.

Do you want to be a man that lives with gusto, seeing the world as your oyster instead of a minefield? Well, good news: It’s possible for every man to develop iron-clad resiliency.

While some men may have been born more resilient than others, or had parents that helped them develop this quality, it, like all virtues, is like a muscle that can be strengthened by regular exercise.

Building resiliency among men is such a vital and important topic, that we decided to turn it into a multi-part series. During the next several weeks, we’ll be giving you the knowledge and skills necessary to boost your resiliency. Stay tuned.
Building Your Resiliency: Part I – An Introduction
Building Your Resiliency: Part II – Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style
Building Your Resiliency: Part III – Taking Control of Your Life
Building Your Resiliency: Part IV – Iceberg Ahead!
Building Your Resiliency: Part V – Recognizing and Utilizing Your Signature Strengths
Building Your Resiliency: Part VI – Quit Catastrophizing
Building Your Resiliency: Part VII – Building Your Children’s Resiliency

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sam Graebner January 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

This sounds fantastic. As a college man who is actively attempting to make the most out of his education opportunity instead of squandering it on video games and “adult adolescence”, I completely understand the need for resiliency to be paired with enthusiasm for getting work done. I’m looking forward to this series a great deal.

2 Helen January 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I like the term “logging out”..seems that happened in high school as well…

3 Leo January 19, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Excellent article, I really like this. I’ve always thought I was somewhat resilient, at least against things like stress from studying or working. But the fact that I find it more than a little difficult just walk up to women without a bit of dutch courage has forced me to face this new weakness. Thank you for opening my eyes, especially to the idea of proactive resilience. Something to work on.

4 Nate @ Practical Manliness January 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I agree that resiliency is an important quality. In fact, it can even be said that resiliency has built our nation.

Without it, Thomas Edison never would have invented the battery. After trying and failing, a friend asked him about his progress. Edison replied that he had found 10,000 ways not to make a battery. What if he had given up?

If we wish to continue advancing as a nation, we must become resilient.

Thanks for the great post!

5 Tyler Logan January 20, 2010 at 3:42 am

Resilience is up there in my favourite traits, definitely something that leads success.

Good point Nate, I’ve always admired Edison’s story – it fits well in this context.

6 Richard | January 20, 2010 at 4:24 am

If you build the resiliency to bounce back that is basically the holy grail of personal development. That is unless you are doing the same thing over and over again which is the hold grail of being an idiot :). Great post. Loved it.

7 Graham Hutson January 20, 2010 at 6:08 am

Excellent post, and one to refer back to during times of the pitfalls you mention. I’ll be bookmarking this page.

8 Eden Wynter January 20, 2010 at 7:20 am

Excellent excellent article. A person can change and become more resilient with practice and determination. Becoming more resilient has always been a goal of mine, and I am slowly getting better and more confident. I relate to everything in this article.

9 Hans Hageman January 20, 2010 at 8:12 am

I look forward to the series. Building this in my children is something I have to stay on top of constantly. There are too many other societal influences pushing them the other way.

10 Wesley January 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

Is it weird that I got psyched up reading this? :)

11 Steve Benjamins January 20, 2010 at 9:34 am

This seems like a great series.

I’ve been thinking a lot about resiliance and it feels like something that is cultivated by experience– by working through things, fighting through obstacles etc. What worries me is that in our society it can be possible to go through life without ever really pushing through something, there’s always an easy way out. So maybe I need to actively seek out the experiences that cultivate resiliance– either way looking forward to the articles!

12 Nicholas January 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

Looks like another great AoM series ahead. I think I am not too low on the resiliency scale; on the flip side, perhaps some would consider me rash or foolhardy at times, rushing into things without everything thought out. So perhaps one of the following articles could also touch on possible excesses in this.

13 Beau January 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

I think a key part of having resiliency is in having confidence in your desires.

I see courage and confidence to be wildly different things.

You don’t have to be confident that you’ll get a certain outcome to be Courageous.
-Being confident in your desire is enough.
… “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I KNOW I want to talk to that woman… so I’m gonna do it, because it’s what I want.”

14 Nick Moore January 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

fantastic stuff Brett. looking forward to the series. This blog has been a good tool for me over the last year or so. Thanks very much for the hard work.

My boss just passed on some advice yesterday that the thing that separates the engineers who get promoted to leadership and those who don’t is what he termed self management. Being able to control your reactions and also to deal effectively with people. I think he is on the same train of thought as saying a hardy, well adjusted, in control man is more respected and appealing than a wimpy complaining but otherwise brilliant one. It’s not about being a brute who is overly confident but about being positive in any situation and not losing perspective. One of the most resilient person’s I’ve ever know was not a brute, she wasn’t even a man. My grandma battled Parkinson’s disease for over 10 years. And that whole time she never made one complaint about her plot. That takes courage and resiliency.

15 Scott Apple January 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

Great article. I identify with the cycles talked about. I’m looking forward to the articles to come on developing resiliency…..this article already has laid it out well. Good stuff. Keep it coming.

16 Dr. Rod Berger January 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

You folks have me thinkin some more :) Yes resiliency is important and lacking in our country and more specifically our gender. And, you know what we better get a move on because research released today shows how resilient we are going to need to be to compete at work and home. The link below is my most recent post…should you say autopsy of the findings:

We absolutely need to understand more about ourselves and our gender before we can be resilient moving forward.
Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

17 phil west January 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

fantastic article. So much of a persons character is built on this attribute that its importance cannot be underestimated. Looking forward to the whole series.

18 Nick January 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Looking forward to the rest of this article.

19 bostonhud January 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I have a strong feeling and hope that this relates to being a better disciplined man in ’10.

20 Lesley January 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Excellent article! “Personal Responsibility” is absolutely a virtue for all and makes a tremendous difference in one’s life.

21 MIke Anderson January 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Great series Brett & Kate. I’m really looking forward to the next several weeks on this subject.

22 Hugh Foist January 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm

As always a good article. This site is like hanging out in the garage with a buddy or like bread for a starving man. This article makes me think of my dad single handedly building our garage or how my grandfather decided he needed a basement under the house and hand dug the thing in his spare time. I’m old enough that many of my realitives were around for the depression so I’ve had the luxury of hearing their stories and learning of all the things they did to get by and make things better. The same grandfather decided to put an upstairs room in their house. I was amazed as a kid to watch him decide to do it one day, take a circular saw and proceed to cut part of the ceiling out for the stairwell. Their wasn’t any fear or doubt about the decision, he just knew he could figure it out and got about doing it. My father had a knee replacement and several months after that was up tearing his lake cottage to the ground and rebuilding it. They had resiliency

23 Hosan January 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Love your blog, love your book, and especially love this post. I find a lot of what you have to say applicable and relevant to both men AND women (I am the latter). These are traits that everyone should strive towards to become better human beings.

24 Todd Helmkamp January 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I know I need more hardihood and resiliency. I want to be Teddy’s “man in the arena”! I’ve faced some criticism about the knives I’ve been making, and this site has helped me get over it and keep doing what I love. Thanks for such a much-needed message!

25 Jamie January 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm

This is something that I never had and at this moment I need a truckload of where do I get some.

26 hector January 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm

“Stay tuned” ? ya for about 10 sec, where’s the link or haven’t you written anything else yet?

27 Brett McKay January 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm


This is the first part of a series. Every couple of weeks we’ll post another article in the series. That’s why you have to stay tuned.

28 King January 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm


I got pretty amped reading this too. Physically, I may be tough and open to challenges, but as far as living in the moment, and standing up to external pressure, I need to change it asap. Looking forward to this for sure.

29 Craig January 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Great read! I look forward to part two!

30 Billy January 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Thank you for bringing up law school. The single greatest resiliency-killer on EARTH! Those three years are emotionally draining, energy sucking years. And the fears for many in the law field have now been realized: there are no attorney jobs. As an unemployed lawyer, I have failed to be resilient and it’s becoming a bore to deal with (my wife agrees). Looking back on it, I regret the law experience not because of my degree or my license, but because of how they deconstruct your thinking process and put it back together. Resiliency is absent. They prefer you that way.

Thank you for the posting. I look forward to the next parts of your resiliency post. Love the site.

31 Jefferson Dean January 20, 2010 at 8:56 pm

“Think And Grow Rich” By Napoleon Hill zones in on this topic a bit. Grab a copy and give it a read- it will seriously change your world!

32 Heartbroken January 20, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Great post.

“They don’t shrink from forming relationships in fear of the potential pain of a break-up…”

Dealing with the heartbreak after a painful break up is really relevant to me and my own expereince.

As men we seem to have trouble properly venting this stuff… I know I have. The difference between how resiliancy can be “reactive” or “active” is a great distinction by the way.

You would happen to have read anything by David Deida have you? If you havent check The Way of The Superior Man.

Right up your alley.

33 The Counselor January 21, 2010 at 7:36 am

@ Billy-

As an unemployed, newly-licensed attorney myself, I concur with your assessment of the challenges our profession faces. By all objective measures, employment in the legal industry hasn’t been this bad since the early 1930s. I graduated near the top of my class from a good school, served on two law journals, represented my university in a few international moot court tournaments, and I’m still receiving rejection letters by the dozen. So far I’m up to about eighty rejections in total.

I think what this series is getting at is the importance of applying to that next firm even though all your previous efforts have failed. To be sure, there comes a point when it starts to look a bit futile, but I would submit that there were likely many points when George Washington thought America wouldn’t win its independence, when it seemed impossible for NASA to send a man to the moon, and when it would have been far easier to give up on creating the internet than to write the lines of code that made it work. In each of these situations, resiliency allowed those daring souls to prevail—and it is this same spirit which will one day help you secure the job you deserve.

The men (and women) who read this site and take its practical advice to heart will be the ones who shape the world in the twenty-first century. Whether you lead an army into the heart of battle, take charge of an employee development group at work, or simply (if not most importantly) be a good example to your spouse and children, being a resilient and honourable person will transform you into a force to be reckoned with. The world needs respectable examples of resilience, integrity and character, and people like you and I will be the ones who provide it.

34 Jake January 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Wow, what a fantastic idea. I can’t wait for this!

Right now, I’m in a pretty serious situation and I don’t know the outcome. I just have to wait… and wait… and wait to see what happens. I’ve stayed pretty strong, but I feel it taxing me. I look forward to your advice.

35 Travis Sevilla January 22, 2010 at 1:38 am

great post. I was working a great full time teaching job just out of grad school when my wife and I got pregnant. I left my safe secure job for another good opportunity that would afford me the ability to stay home with my son his first year. Long story short, that job fell through after a year and now I don’t have a job. I stay home with my son. I can say first hand that being resilient is very difficult. I look forward to the coming posts.

36 Nick Minerva January 22, 2010 at 3:16 am

Great post, thanks!

37 Dan L January 23, 2010 at 11:13 am

Great timing on this topic. For those who are interested in other literature, Harvard Business Review is running an article this month about managerial resilience. Check it out. This stuff isn’t just good for your personal life, but for your professional life as well.

38 Nikhil Suri January 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Excellent Post.
Put the spring in my step the whole of today.
Read the article three times already and also archived the link.
But there was one thing that stuck me at various points while reading your article. All of ‘personal responsibility’, and the various facets of resilience require tremendous self discipline to work. To KNOW that you cannot go through any obstruction without suffering due to any pain that you might experience, you have to have tremendous self discipline. Pain and discomfort you cannot avoid, but whether you suffer because of it depends totally on how good your mental discipline is.

Keep up the good work!!!

39 Core January 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I only have a little Resiliency after reading that other related article/quiz to this one.

Looking back on my childhood… I was put in an environment where, I was constantly stomped on figuratively…@24 years old I am already wishing I could re-live my life. Haha.. It’s pitiful.
I have made a lot of progress in a sense, if I had a better environment I could be so much further now, and if I go by what Albert Einstein said, it will only take me another 14 years to be fully corrected. I’ll do it quicker than that though if I can help it.

Anyways, I look forward to these future articles you guys write about this topic. I hope I can learn a few things from them, that may inspire or motivate me.

Also good article.

40 Chris Nelson January 24, 2010 at 3:29 am

Crap…of all the qualities I thought I should be cultivating, how on earth did this one skip my mind? I gnash my teeth with both envy and admiration that you thought to write about it, Brett.

Of course, a resilient man would know how to push past his disappointment with himself….so naturally, I’ll be reading.

41 Dominic January 24, 2010 at 4:58 am

Life aint all sunshine and rainbows. I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you their perminantly if you let it. Nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But It aint about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. You gotta be able to take the hits and not pointing fingers saying you aint where you want to be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you, your better than that!
- Rocky Balboa aka The Embodiment of Resilient

42 Playstead January 25, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Great topic and well written article. Looking forward to the series on how to build resiliency. In a disposable society where people tend to blame others, it’s an underused skill.

43 Greg January 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

“All the adversity i’ve had in my life, all my trouble and obstacles, have strenghtened me….You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Walt Disney

44 Biz January 28, 2010 at 5:57 am

Great topic. If one wants to be resilient, one has to actively work to attain it. And you have to eep on working to keep this quality, though I must say that once you see how being resilient improves your quality of life the upkeep is pretty much automatic.

A book that came to me at an interesting moment in my youth was “Meditations”, written by the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius. If you were emperor of one of the largest empires in the world, where politics and war went hand in hand I bet you would be somewhat stressed out. So was Aurelius and he wrote Meditations as a way of building and keeping up his resilience. Check out the book, I believe it is available for free on the net somewhere as well.

45 Bill February 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Definitely true stuff, I vouch for it. This isn’t exclusive for males though, everyone needs some of this resiliency stuff. :)

46 Tony April 2, 2010 at 3:46 am

@Nate… that’s not the battery, it’s the light bulb. .

47 Brian April 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm


“Meditations” will not only teach you resiliency, but also humility. It’s amazing how grounded and humble Aurelius was, despite controlling such a massive empire.

48 cassidy summers April 14, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I really enjoyed this introduction. I plan to read the rest of the resiliency articles posted. I never even knew what resilience was until I read this article. I’m excited to learn more about it. This topic goes perfectly with how I am feeling at the moment.

49 Matthew F. April 22, 2010 at 10:36 am

This is such a great article. Everything beyond this article is fantastic as well. Everything you mentioned is something that I want and need as a man. I also believe deeply that this article is one that men all over this country need to read and to take a hold of and learn. It just gives that boost to people that want to see something real and to see a true man. Every man wants to be tough but to actually be that type of man is so hard sometimes and with this article it helps those men become better for their family, friends and most of all for themselves.

50 Will Charpentier July 26, 2010 at 9:28 am

A friend of mine, a Navy chaplain, was aboard USS Iowa when one of her forward gun turrets exploding, killing 43 men. There was a great hue and cry in the news about what was done wrong and what should have been done better–all the usual media noise.

I asked how he handled the sudden influx of “customers” that routinely follows such an event among a close-knit crew. This gentle Baptist preacher’s reply surprised me: he said, “Sometimes, you just have to have a little s**t in your blood.”

That might be the very essence of resiliency: not that you won’t eventually be overwhelmed, but that you won’t be beaten. Thus endeth the lesson….

51 Benjamin Hatton November 7, 2012 at 6:07 am

I came here tonight searching for how to fix my life with my GF. I found what I needed in about ten articles on here. This one above happened to Mention PTSD. I spent over two years in Iraq, 05 to 07 and was wounded twice. The below is a list I made tonight and these are the real gods honest things that I either want to or really do think.

This is what I know for sure..
1. I know everyone thinks I am rad.
2. I know I am really rad.
3. I am a sexy man.
4. My GF is even sexier.
5. My daughter is the best period.
6. My family and friends love me.
7. I am a really kind person.
8. I am very smart.
9. I am driven and can literally do anything.
10. I am lucky to have everything i do.
11. I have been afforded many great opportunities in my life.
12. There will be many more of #11.
13. I got plenty of cash for anythting i could ever want.
14. You(GF) are beautiful and you love me.
15. I am beautiful and I love you.
16. I do deserve good and happy things.
17. I did what I had to do, not my fault.
18. I am not a mean person, I hate violence
19, I love to hunt, fish and tinker.
20. I am Ben and I am cool.



There, that is PTSD Ben logic style
barneyed to the lowest level
that is the best I can possibly explain it.

So I know I have all the reason in the world to be awesome,yet at every turn I cannot just be “good”

I’ve got a permanent 100 percent disabled status because of this..

So I seem to have that word, but I live in a shadow of my former self.

52 Nathan November 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I feel for you. I’ve seen someone lose their PTSD while being ever so lightly “tapped” on according to an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) protocol and have known people to feel ever so much better after applying the Tapas Acupuncture Technique, the instructions for which are on a free download featured at TatLive.c…
I hope this helps.
@ article: Yeah this is good stuff. Thanks to all the commenters also. Being so honest and open about yourselves gives the rest of us additional “permission” to forgive and recognize our shortcomings – and that helps our healing. Thank you all so very much!

53 Nathan November 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Ooops! the above reference should have been TatLife.c.., with an “f” in it instead of a “v”.

54 Stave March 31, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Brett, Kate…

I know I’m a little late to the party, yet I wanted to take a moment to thank you for starting this series. Like a “God Shot” it is what I have needed.

Just turned 40 and my resiliency has/had taken a dive and this series has reminded me what it is I need to do and what it takes.

Thank you again…

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