Career development

Boosting Resilience and Personal Agility through Positive Thinking

There is no doubt that we are in the “Stress Age,” with an increasing inability to grasp the world and deal with the things happening around us. By building skills in resilience and acting with agility in a dynamic world, we can turn adversities into advantages.

Woman standing on top of tall green bar graph
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Pandemonium, uncertain, complex, volatile, disruptive, turbulent, hyper-competitive and rapid change—these are few examples of the terms used to describe the world in the press and academic literature. Change and disruption are happening at every level in the world—in countries, industries, organizations, and in how we live our lives as individuals. The Covid-19 pandemic has further increased the sense of turbulence and unpredictability in addition to other global trends such as digitization and the growing demand for sustainability. Organizational needs are changing rapidly as we see in many of our own firms—growing needs for re-organization, de-layering, downsizing, changes in roles and responsibilities, greater pressure to deliver more with less, and higher expectations of line managers to lead and drive performance. There is no doubt that we are in the “Stress Age,” with an increasing inability to grasp the world and deal with the things happening around us.

Resilience and Personal Agility: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Resilience and personal agility represent two skills that can help us shift our thinking to a more effective way of dealing with change and complex situations. Both attributes represent two sides of the same coin, which has been referred to as “adaptive capacity”—how much energy and strength we need to effectively address challenging, changing, and adverse situations.

Resilience—In tough times, do you bend or break? Resilience is our ability to bounce back from life’s ups and downs. According to Dean Becker, the CEO of Adaptive Learning Systems, “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” Resilience is the skill and capacity to be robust under conditions of enormous stress and change. Resilience requires that we reprogram ourselves so that the automatic stress response does not overwhelm us, and we are able to respond to that situation effectively. The essential key to resilience is to find the growth opportunity that comes out of the challenge we are facing. Resilient people immediately look at the problem and say, “What is the solution to that? What is this trying to teach us?”

Personal Agility—How is your ability to adapt quickly and respond to change? According to Jon Kabat Zinn, “You cannot stop the waves, but you can see it as an ocean of opportunity and learn how to surf.” Personal agility is to feel relatively in charge, secure, and confident in our ability to ride the waves that come with living in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. It’s about having a sense of ease rolling with life’s curve balls—whatever the source. It’s our ability to remain calm and productive during changing times or complex situations, to seek out information where it is available, and to act quickly and decisively on opportunities even when it seems impossible or we don’t have all the data to mitigate all risks.

Cultivating strong mastery of resilience and personal agility skills requires practice and multiple opportunities to work through adverse experiences. We can’t master them unless we are willing to embrace change and face complex situations and setbacks. When we let the fear of failure or rejection lead us into chronic procrastination, that is a sure sign that we need to boost our resilience and personal agility skills. By building skills in resilience and acting with agility in a dynamic world, we can turn adversities into advantages. We can move past the victimization that occurs when we feel powerless and under constant threat. Mastering personal agility and resilience enables us to shift away from avoidance of perceived adversity and move towards personal growth, achievement, and efficiency.

Positive Thinking in Practice

When told to think positive, do we sometimes find it counterproductive? Or perhaps we feel it adds substantially to our stress load because we not only have to tackle the difficulties we are facing; we also must wrestle with the associated negative thoughts. The goal here is not to be rhetoric about positive thinking and ignore how we truly feel because positive thinking is NOT: a denial of painful feelings, pretending or faking it; a panacea (cure all) therapy; or avoidance of speaking up for what is right or challenging the status-quo.

Rather, positive thinking stops us from constantly obsessing about negative emotions and prevents us from being miserable with an “oh poor me” attitude. Positive thinking acknowledges painful feelings or difficult situations with the attitude of “this too shall pass.” A positive mindset considers the other sides of the situation and recognize that there is a way out of every tough situation. Consider how much time and energy we use each day feeling defeated or overwhelmed by a difficult situation. What if we convert half of that agonizing time into energy to figure out how to turn the situation around? Without action, all the positive thinking in the world won’t help. Thinking positive does not make a complex or difficult situation go away—rather it enables us to develop the agility and resilience needed to face it and take action to address it.

Below are few examples of how we can flip negative self-talk to positive; remember that what we say to ourselves and believe will generate our results throughout each day.

Negative Self-talkPositive Thinking
I've never done it before.It's an opportunity to learn something new.
It's too complicated.I'll tackle it from a different angle.
I don't have the resources.Necessity is the mother of invention.
I'm too lazy and don’t have time to get this done.I couldn’t fit it into my schedule, but I can re-examine some priorities or delegate.
I can’t, it will never work.I can try to make it work.
It's too radical a change.Let's take a chance and adapt.
No one bothers to communicate with me.I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I'm not going to get any better at this.I'll give it another try or ask for help


Resilience and personal agility are key skills that can be developed, attained, and sustained through conscious effort. The key is positive thinking. It doesn’t mean denying reality but working to recognize there is a way out of every tough situation. We can get bigger than the battle between negative and positive, by recalling what drives us and what matters most. Aligning with our sense of purpose and values energizes and gives us a positive outlook that boosts our resilience and personal agility. Finally, I would like to leave you with these:

  • Rethink challenges—think opportunities.
  • Rethink Problems—think solutions.
  • Practice gratitude and mindfulness.
  • Train your mind and shift your attitude to flip negative to positive.
  • Keep smiling—it changes your outlook and it is contagious.
  • Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle. You are unbelievable, unbreakable, and unstoppable.

[The article was solicited from the author by TWA Editor Abhijeet Anand.]