Resilience and Emotional Mastery: How Are People Sustaining and Thriving Today?

The pandemic has sped up the rate of change in our world, which was already moving at an extraordinary speed due to advances in technology and changing ideas. Today, leaders and their organizations are forced to address increasingly complex challenges and grow with uncertainty.  The key to sustaining and thriving during unpredictable times is emotional mastery and building your immunity against learned helplessness.


Failure is a familiar trauma in life, but its effects on people differ widely. Some reel, recover, and move on with their lives, while others get bogged down by anxiety, depression, and fear of the future. Martin Seligman, who is known as the father of positive psychology, has spent three decades researching failure, helplessness, and optimism. In this blog post, we’ll walk through findings from one of Seligman’s studies and share top tips on how to become a resilient and optimistic leader. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s first define resilience and optimism.

What is resilience and optimism?

  • Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; think along the lines of toughness. When discussing resilience, it’s important to define optimism as they often work in tandem.
  • Optimism, like self-regard, is a reflection of how we believe in ourselves and how we view the world. It’s a hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. Optimism is also believing that you brought your best self to the table. 

What is learned helplessness?

Martin Seligman shares key findings from his study on how humans and animals become passive when they experience failure and feel like they have no control. He discovers that when we start to expect failure again, we develop learned helplessness. In his study, a third of the researched group of animals and people who experienced continuous failures never become helpless; Seligman attributed this to optimism.


According to Seligman:


Over 15 years of study, my colleagues and I discovered that the answer is optimism. We developed questionnaires and analyzed the content of verbatim speech and writing to assess ‘explanatory style’ as optimistic or pessimistic. We discovered that people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. That suggested how we might immunize people against learned helplessness, against depression and anxiety, and against giving up after failure: by teaching them to think like optimists.”

How to become an optimistic and resilient leader

  1. Believe in yourself
    Believe you have the power to change a situation for the better.
  2. Spread positivity
    Speak positively about yourself and others. Don’t let negative talk of yourself or others sabotage your performance.
  3. Fail and recover fast
    Try to see the good in situations. Believe that problems are short-lived and won’t affect everything you do.
  4. Stop, breathe, ask
    Manage your emotions and setbacks with the SBA™ tool: Stop, Breathe, Ask.

    1. Stop the negativity in your mind and be in the present moment.
    2. Breathe and take 3 deep belly breaths before responding to someone or something.
    3. Ask open-ended questions and seek contribution, not blame
  1. Approach uncertainty and don’t give up

Experiment with uncertainty. Move forward with emotional tolerance and a gut feeling to approach uncertainty with excitement.

Optimists are purpose driven 

Be the example to others when faced with challenges or pressure. It’s not what you do, it’s how and why you do it.

According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success:

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

You can’t control others, but you can control how you react to a situation and your mindset. Remember: When you’re experiencing a setback, remind yourself that it’s temporary, local, and changeable—you have the knowledge, toughness, and power to overcome it or solve it.

If you want to learn more about how to be a more optimistic and resilient leader, join us for our next EI Online Leadership Course on August 21st, 2023. Save your seat by registering here.