Plastic, Elastic – Bouncing Back to Success

Emotional Resilience is closely linked to success. In fact, some argue that success is reliant on it, for example US psychologist Angela Duckworth believes that the prime gauge of achievement isn’t IQ or talent, but the possession of what she calls “grit”, aka resilience. But success is not the only benefit that resilience brings, research links it with mental health, physical health, ability to learn, to innovate, to deal with failure and to thrive in spite of tragedy or daily life stressors.

It’s not news that those who make it, those who win medals, entrepreneurs whose businesses succeed against the odds, all have resilience. When it comes to achieving despite the odds, the same famous role-models are quoted e.g.

  • J.K. Rowling who went from being a single parent battling depression, rejected by 12 publishers to the world’s best-selling children’s author.
  • Oprah Winfrey born into poverty and suffering many hardships as a child who has become one of the most influential women in the world.
  • Walt Disney among other trials was fired from a newspaper for “not being creative enough” and told Mickey Mouse would fail because the character would terrify women. He went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards, winning 32.

When we’re at our lowest point these inspirational examples are given in good faith and we’re told to ‘never give up, keep trying’. But if it was that easy wouldn’t we all just carry on regardless to fulfil our dreams? Wouldn’t we all be OK irrespective of what life throws at us?

So, what’s their magic?

Over the centuries many people have tried to figure out what distinguishes those who keep trying from those who give up. Churchill said “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And courage is one facet of personality that has been linked to resilience. However this belief reflects a more outdated understanding of resilience, as something you’re simply born with or not, something straight forward and one dimensional. More recent research has revealed that resilience is a complex and dynamic process of interacting systems involving our genes, personality, social support system and cultural background.

With an updated view, academics have proposed definitions of resilience such as ‘a process to harness resources to sustain well-being’. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. Thousands of years ago we lived in egalitarian tribes where we were dependent on one another to survive, the belief systems and group support systems were a necessary facet of staying alive. It wasn’t just the person with courage or individual with grit, but also the one who knew how to bring others together, to harness the power of the group and to get along with their fellow tribesmen and women who stayed alive. Today with the help of others and making use of the right resources we can not only survive but if we get it right, we can thrive. 

You can have the magic too…

 Taking the traditional meaning of emotional resilience some of us are left wanting – if we were not born with the personality to keep on getting up every time we fell whether through courage, determination or optimism it’s not something we can easily change. However, the most recent academic insights provide hope – while yes, some people are indeed born more resilient than others, research shows that we can all develop our emotional resilience regardless of where we start. How? By working on:

Social connections – nurturing relationships with family, friends and people more broadly is a critical contributor to resilience. Knowing or learning how to ask for and how to accept help is a sign of strength not weakness. Unfortunately, society often teaches us otherwise so this can feel counter intuitive. It is however the way we evolved to survive – going against it is literally going against nature and the way our brain works.

Reframing – our brains naturally kick up negative emotions – we can’t get rid of them but we can reframe them more positively as something we are in control of. This prevents negative thoughts creating a catastrophic story that leaves us feeling helpless. For example, if we failed an exam we could think:

 Negative approach –

Thought: “I failed my exams because I am not very bright.”

Outcome: out of your control and with negative meaning.

Positive reframing –

Thought: “I failed my exams because I didn’t work hard enough.”

Outcome: within your control “It was a good life lesson, because of it I have worked harder at things that matter to me ever since”—and with positive meaning

Research suggests that “framing” our life so that things have meaning and outcomes we are in control of is so powerful that it positively changes brain functioning.

(extract from Defining You)

Psychological flexibility Dr. Russ Harris defines this as the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness, openness, and focus and to take effective action guided by your values. It’s about being able to accept and regulate our emotions rather than letting them control us. Learning to be more accepting of situations and thoughts is an extremely powerful tool. Read “The Happiness Trap” for a very accessible and robustly researched account of how to do this. Also practicing mindfulness (suggested apps below) will help develop the skills needed to better regulate your emotions.

Learning and reflection through journaling –  writing things down can help to develop insights and find the patterns or traps that we may be being pulled into – creating a greater level of perspective. It also helps to create constructive meaning to events especially if our focus is on what we have learnt, what may have been gained from experiences and how we may like things to pan out in the future.

Self-awareness – working on our personal development helps us to understand the situations which drain us and those which energise us so that we are better able to regulate our emotional and physical well-being.

Ratio of 3:1 – research shows that people who have a ratio of 3 times as many experiences of positive emotions to 1 of negative emotions on a daily basis (3-to-1 ratio) are more likely to be resilient. You may not naturally have this but working on the factors relating to resilience (e.g. connections, reframing) will help you to create and sustain this ratio. Erstwhile if all else fails (and even if it doesn’t)…..

Keep on keeping on– at our most difficult times and lowest points, putting one foot in front of the other even when we don’t believe, is what we need to do to ultimately reach our intended goal. Our emotions ebb and flow, but if we can keep on ‘doing’ in spite of losing hope, we’ll still be on the right track once our hope has returned. Years ago a professional athlete said to me “The difference between those who win medals and those who don’t make it is comes down to who is prepared to go out and practice whatever the weather, however they feel, they just do it day after day”. This reflects what Duckworth believes – that the prime gauge of achievement isn’t IQ or talent, but the ability to keep on keeping on. If every day you do something to keep moving toward your goal, little by little you will gradually move away from where you are and toward where you want to be.

As with any of these things read more, explore and try things out to find what works best for you.


Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden will be out in April 2018 (UK) and July 2018 (USA, Canada, Australia and rest of the world). To pre-order a copy go to or Waterstones. It will also be available in WHSmith’s UK from April 2018.

The book gives you unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

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Mindfulness Apps & Reading

Duckworth, A (2016). GRIT: the power of passion and perseverance. Harper Collins

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.




Mindfulness Daily:

Smiling Mind:



Brown K.W.  & Ryan R.M. (2003) The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(4): 822–48. C.R.

Cloninger (2006) The science of well-being: An integrated approach to mental health and its disorders, World Psychiatry 5(2): 71–6.

Duckworth, A (2016). GRIT: the power of passion and PERSEVERANCE. Harper Collins

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.

Giordano B. (1997) Resilience: a survival tool for the nineties. Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses Journal 65, 1032– 1036.

Meichenbaum, D. (2007). Important facts about resilience: A consideration of research findings about resilience and implications for assessment and treatment. Melissa Institute: Miami, FL, USA.

Murden, F (2018) Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Hodder & Stoughton.

Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology5(1), 25338.

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Knowing You, Knowing Me

‘How well do you really know yourself?’ A hugely significant 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, but the reality bears a stark contrast with 10% to 15% actually knowing who we really are (Eurich 2017). Although we believe that we know the image we see starting back at us from the mirror, the way we position our story on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, what our co-workers and friends think of us, in reality we spend very little time actually reflecting on who we are or asking people for honest opinions about the impact we’re having on them.

Self-awareness isn’t a new concept – another faddy notion claiming to be the route of all happiness. Plato said, ‘Know thyself’ more than two thousand years ago. Today, the understanding that knowing ourselves is the cornerstone to realising our potential is backed by the experience of generations and robust scientific evidence. In fact, as psychologists we even believe that this skill is the foundation of human survival and advancement (Eurich 2017).

Why Does Self-Awareness Matter?

The lack in self-insight that most of us unwittingly have, means we are wandering around with an equivalent of a blindfold on. We may be making it from one place to another but along the way we’re bumping into things, stumbling over obstacles and taking a really inefficient route to our destination. When it comes to behaviour that means unintentionally annoying people and making a myriad of unnecessary mistakes along the way. On the other hand taking that blind fold off would enable us to:

  • Work out what we actually want from life – without working out what we want there is no way of getting closer to it.
  • Understand our strengths in order to start-making proper use of them.
  • Work on our weaknesses and at the very least mitigate the negative impact they have.

Having better self-insight also improves our social skills, decision making capabilities, ability to deal with pressure, resolve conflict and deal with stress.

Given all of this it’s unsurprising that knowing ourselves allows us to fulfil our potential. Indeed, eminent Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains that self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and success. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman explains how in an organisational setting, once someone has an IQ of 120 or above, it’s emotional intelligence that becomes the most significant predictor of successful leaders.

And it’s not just soft skills that benefit, Dr. Richard Boyatzis a Professor of Organisational Behaviour looked at the profits produced by partners in a number of financial services companies measuring the 4 areas of emotional intelligence defined by Goleman. He found three of the facets had a massively significant effect on bottom line results with good self-awareness adding 78 per cent to incremental profit.

Most importantly of all having good self-awareness allows us to thrive. Knowing how to operate at our optimum but also being tuned into our mental and physical needs allows us to know when we need to refuel our body and our mind – leading to better physical and mental health.

How Can You Improve Your Self-Awareness?

Knowing how your brain works – it’s useful to first understand a bit more about how our brain works before delving into introspection. What’s normal and what’s not but also what’s helpful and what’s not. For example if you approach self-reflection in a way that’s hyper vigilant of everything that runs through your mind it will become counter-productive. When it comes to the brain analysis literally is paralysis. Instead try to be curious about yourself and your story but try not to ‘judge’, just observe.

Knowing about the world around you – a core component of self-awareness is understanding how our actions impact the world around us, not just looking inward. This is known as ‘external self-awareness’ and can be developed by:

Being curious  – observing how your actions change and impact things. Also take note of how other people alter interpersonal dynamics. This is critical because external self-awareness is as important as internal self-awareness.

Knowing what you don’t know – approaching a situation accepting of your own inexperience. Not presuming you know the answer, rather asking questions with an open mind and really considering the answers.

Asking people what they think – ask for feedback from people who know you well and who you trust. Ask them to help you think through ‘What is really important to me? What am I really good at? What makes me unique?’

 Knowing about you – it may seem a bit counterintuitive to put this one last but self-awareness is not pursely about self-absorption, it is about knowing about our passions and feelings but in terms of how they influence and are influenced by the context of the world we exist in. Ways in which to improve ‘internal self awareness’ include:

Writing lists or brainstorming – your strengths, weaknesses, what motivates you, what you stand for, what makes you happiest, what makes you mad.

Keeping a journal – not only does the process of writing itself allow the time and space for reflection, but also the capability to look back and learn from mistakes, at patterns of behaviour and their outcomes, to capture what makes you happy and what takes that away.

Making reflection a habit – this could be in the form of a journal or it could be meditation, mindfulness, going for a walk or a run, saying a prayer – whatever gives you the space to focus on what you’re feeling, how you are, what’s going on for you. Having the space to reflect on what makes us who we are, our own personal life story, is crucial to raising self-awareness.

Self awareness and learning about who we are is a continual journey – although the very core of us remains stable throughout life, our preferences, strengths, goals and passions modify and change as we grow and add to our story. If you make the effort to pay attention to that journey it can and will lead you to a far more fulfilled life.

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden, will be out in April 2018 (UK) and July 2018 (USA, Canada, Australia and rest of the world). To pre-order a copy go to, or Waterstones. It will also be available in WHSmith’s UK from April 2018.

The book gives you unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full individualised professional report.

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required

References and links:

For more on how to approach self-reflection in a constructive rather than destructive way go to:

Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich Published May 2nd 2017 by Crown Business

Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Singh, V. (2012). Rest is not idleness: Implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on Psychological Science7(4), 352-364.

Tanner, J. L., & Arnett, J. J. (2011). Presenting “emerging adulthood”: What makes it developmentally distinctive. Debating emerging adulthood: Stage or process, 13-30.

Boyatzis, R. (1999). The financial impact of competencies in leadership and management of consulting firms. Department of Organizational Behavior Working Paper, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

Beyond social capital: How social skills can enhance entrepreneurs’ success. Robert A Baron; Gideon D Markman The Academy of Management Executive; Feb 2000

Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Shiffman, S., Lerner, N., & Salovey, P. (2006). Relating emotional abilities to social functioning: a comparison of self-report and performance measures of emotional intelligence. Journal of personality and social psychology91(4), 780.

Ciarrochi, J., Deane, F. P., & Anderson, S. (2002). Emotional intelligence moderates the relationship between stress and mental health. Personality and individual differences32(2), 197-209.