10 habits that define mentally resilient people, according to the author of a book on emotional intelligence for leaders

10 habits that define mentally resilient people, according to the author of a book on emotional intelligence for leaders
Kristin Harper is the author of "The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career."Kristin Harper
  • Kristin Harper is an author and CEO of Driven to Succeed, LLC, a leadership development company that specializes in market research and brand strategy consulting.
  • In her book "The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career," Harper dives into the mental and emotional skills of successful business leaders.
  • Harper says there are 10 practices in particular that define resilient people — individuals who are able to overcome trauma and 'bounce forward' after a bad experience.
  • These steps include practicing mindfulness, getting in touch with your emotions, reflecting on past mistakes, and developing a healthy support network.

The year 2020 has brought more than its fair share of trauma — a pandemic, unexpected isolation, sudden deaths, massive job losses, a videotaped murder by a police officer, global protests against systemic racism, and more. Many of us might fear we'll never bounce back from the resulting challenges and hard times. But contrary to popular belief, after emotional turmoil, most trauma survivors eventually bounce back, recover, and return to their lives. And in some cases, they do much more. They bounce forward and experience post-traumatic growth.

Many ordinary people have accomplished extraordinary things after experiencing trauma. I've written about these and other crucial tools for helping leaders build resilience, deal with disappointment, and improve relationships in my own book, as have authors David Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz who share several true stories in their book, "Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success." From a leukemia sufferer who won an Olympic gold medal in marathon swimming, to a blind man who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, to a woman who survived genocide and went on to become one of President Obama's appointees, these "supersurvivors" transformed their biggest challenges into their greatest success.

The transformation process

The supersurvivors' journey includes deep reflection, facing harsh realities and worst-case scenarios, grieving, and letting go of past goals and creating new ones. Setting new goals doesn't mean lowering your standards — it simply means focusing on commitments that are achievable given your current capabilities, limitations, and resources.

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Part of this process is to stop thinking positively and begin thinking realistically. Avoid the comforting yet delusional myth that "everything will be fine" and instead bravely ask, "What now?" Denying or distorting a bad situation may be comforting in the short term, but it's potentially harmful in the long run.

Here are 10 steps that I've used that can help you build resilience and bounce forward after trauma:


1. Practice mindfulness. Become aware of what's going on, how you feel, what you think, and what your options are. Psychologist Linda Graham describes this as "the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options, and choose wisely."

2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Being stressed keeps your immune system from working at full capacity, increasing your risk of physical and mental health challenges. Breathing from your diaphragm regularly, and in high-stress situations, helps you stay grounded and in greater control of your response to life's curveballs.

3. Build a robust emotional vocabulary. Expressing emotions helps you reach a resolution to what's bothering you. Research shows that translating feelings into just one or two words calms the part of our brain that controls emotions.

4. Reflect. Taking responsibility for any words, actions, or behaviors that affected your situation will help you to learn and become wiser. Be sure not to get stuck on the "if-onlys" and "what-ifs".

5. Reframe your mindset. Research has found that super-resilient people tend to believe they have control over what happens in their life. This mindset allows them to better cope with less ideal outcomes, and makes them more determined to make the best of any situation.


6. Search for meaning. Resist the impulse to view yourself as a victim and to lament, "Why me?" Instead, find meaning through hardships, and see them as lessons that can lead to a more fulfilling future.

7. Forgive. Holding onto anger or a grudge will prevent you from moving forward. Forgiveness breaks the mental and emotional ties that bind you to the past, and allows you to move on.

8. Engage your support network. Research shows that people who are extroverted also tend to be more resilient because they seek support. Your support network can include your manager, peers, employees, spouse, family members, friends, significant others, and mental health professionals.

9. Take control of your emotions. When your emotions feel scattered or strained, practice managing them through techniques like taking a step back, counting to ten, taking a deep breath, and speaking slowly.

10. Express gratitude. Learning to appreciate what we have and who we are, instead of complaining and stressing about what we're lacking, is a powerful technique to redirect stressful, negative emotions. Gratitude builds fortitude, which will help you bounce back, stronger than ever.


Kristin Harper is CEO of Driven to Succeed, LLC, which provides market research, brand strategy consulting, and keynote speaking on leadership and emotional intelligence. She is also author of "The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career."