You're covered in mud, exhausted, bruised, and have a long way to go. Disaster or glory?

Any leader or entrepreneur knows it's how you look at it. The active among us find ways to motivate ourselves and our teams.

Resilience is a hot topic. It's valuable to know to handle challenges and recover from adversity. Those who can will succeed and attract people others can't. You might expect the latest research and top media to help you.

But maybe not. When people depend on you--customers, employees, investors, partners--you learn to solve problems. Academia doesn't have that motivation and it ends up researching forever. Nor does the media and it ends up writing thought-provoking stuff.

You want to be resilient, not just know about resilience.

As a product of academia with a  PhD and an MBA as well as a media columnist, I suggest avoiding letting these sources sidetrack you.

How you frame your situation gives it meaning

One of my formative experiences came when walking to a friend's birthday party in a New York City winter. It was cold, raining, and windy. I huddled miserably under my umbrella but the wind blew the rain all over me anyway.

Without consciously trying, I asked myself: "What's so bad about the cold? When you ski, you're cold and you like it. No problem."

I also asked myself, "What's so bad about being wet? When you take a shower you get wet and you like it. No problem."

Next thing I knew, I found myself striding confidently, no miserable huddling. I put new beliefs forefront in my mind, which led me to perceive my environment differently and no longer felt bad.

It was my first time doing with unconscious competence what I teach in my leadership course and that effective leaders know to do:

I deliberately framed my environment in a productive way and improved my life. Anyone can do it. Everyone should learn to do it, I believe.

NASA gets it (at least in the movies)

A brilliant scene in the movie Apollo 13 illustrates the skill of creating meaning deliberately by choosing how to interpret external events the best I've seen. The Apollo 13 space craft and its crew are at risk. The press asks a NASA director how bad the disaster looks.

He replies, "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced."

The Flight Director overhears and corrects him:

"With all due respect, sir. I believe this is gonna be our finest hour."

When times get tough, you want people able to see things in productive leading you.

The New Yorker is too busy analyzing and misses it

The New Yorker's "How People Learn to Become Resilient" describes many cases where people, often children, faced and overcame adversity.

Over and over, though, the research they cite consider adversity a product of external conditions. In other words, they considered being in mud bad, being in the cold and rain bad, a problem with a spacecraft bad, end of story.

If you led your teams like that, you'd fall apart after the first conflict, first blown sales meeting, first competitive loss.

To the article's credit, it reports results showing what works:

resilient children had what psychologists call an "internal locus of control": they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates.

It continues:

Take something as terrible as the surprising death of a close friend: you might be sad, but if you can find a way to construe that event as filled with meaning--perhaps it leads to greater awareness of a certain disease, say, or to closer ties with the community--then it may not be seen as a trauma. [...] The experience isn't inherent in the event; it resides in the event's psychological construal.

I'm not impressed at their rediscovering Shakespeare:

for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

But my big criticism is that in an article entitled how to do something, it doesn't tell you how to do what works. It alludes to research showed that some actions "made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression," but those are small indications where people outside academia show huge results.

Granted those results tend to come from great leaders, but we read to help ourselves become great leaders. We know we're capable of doing more than that research suggests so depending on it would hold us back.

The New York Times is too busy with wordplay and misses it

The New York Times' "The Profound Emptiness of 'Resilience'" seems filled with sour grapes and misery. It looks at one of the great skills anyone can have like Eeyore:

It's a word that is somehow so conveniently vacant that it manages to be profound and profoundly hollow.

It recounts situations and anecdotes related to people handling difficulties, focusing, for some reason, on elite universities, and dismissing people figuring out how to thrive.

This writer would have responded to the NASA official's ""This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced" with something like "Oh man, that's bad. People should know how to handle this situation, but things like this keep happening," and other things that don't solve the problem or help you learn to.

Love the mud, rain, snow, and "disasters"

It's sad that in an area so important for improving your life and teamwork, these vaunted sources of knowledge gaze at their navels more than help people improve their lives.

But influencing people to improve their lives is what leaders do. When we need to act we leaders are often our best resources, despite the vaunted reputation of others.

Published on: Mar 31, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.