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In this the first of two articles I will be covering what Resilience is from an NLP perspective.  By applying the NLP concepts and tools that I will be sharing you will develop your skills and create value for your existing clients. But that’s not all – there’s a further plus for you – these concepts and tools are personal development tools first and foremost, which means that you can also use them to build your personal resilience.

What is Resilience?

As you read this story please note any characteristics they you notice relating to resilience.

Sully the Survivor

US Airways Flight 1549 was a scheduled commercial passenger flight from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina that, on January 15, 2009, was successfully ditched in the Hudson River adjacent to midtown Manhattan six minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport after being disabled by striking a flock of Canada Geese during its initial climb out.

Prior to the ditching, the pilot – Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III – discussed with air traffic control the possibilities of either returning to LaGuardia airport or attempting to land at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. However, Sullenberger quickly decided that neither was feasible, and determined that ditching in the Hudson River was the only option for everyone’s survival.

Sullenberger told the passengers to “brace for impact”, then piloted the plane to a smooth ditching in the river. All passengers and crew members survived. He later said, “It was very quiet as we worked, my co-pilot and I. We were a team. But to have zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking—the silence.” Sullenberger checked the passenger cabin twice to make sure everyone had evacuated before retrieving the plane’s maintenance logbook and being the last to evacuate the aircraft.

Sullenberger checked the passenger cabin twice to make sure everyone had evacuated before retrieving the plane’s maintenance logbook and being the last to evacuate the aircraft.

Sullenberger, described by friends as “shy and reticent”, has been noted for his poise and calm demeanor during the crisis. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, dubbed him, “Captain Cool”. However, Sullenberger acknowledged that he had suffered some symptoms of posttraumatic stress for the first couple of weeks following the crash, including sleeplessness and flashbacks, though this condition had improved by the time of his late February 2009 interview with People magazine.

In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, Sullenberger was quoted as saying that the moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Excerpts from:,


Characteristics of Resilience

This story, although extreme, is relevant as it outlines the characteristics of resilience and resilient people. The following points illustrate these characteristics:

  • Optimum Preparation. The pilot was able to influence the outcome of a ‘bad’ situation by relying on his preparation for such a circumstance. The pilot’s preparation was a result of ongoing, systematic education and training.
  • Decisive and Opportunistic. The pilot made a quick, yet considered decision that the river was the best place to ditch. Others may have viewed the river as dangerous – the pilot saw it as a means of survival.
  • Successfully Manage One’s State. Despite experiencing a sickening feeling, the pilot was able to manage his emotions and deal with the ditch without allowing his emotions to interfere.
  • Realistic Appraisal Risk Factors. The pilot demonstrated sufficient awareness of self and the risk factors to make a decision for the benefit of himself and the team, for example knowing that trying to land at the two available airports may not have been the best option.
  • Self Awareness and Self Responsibility. The pilot demonstrated appropriate leadership and emotional intelligence by taking responsibility for the safety of the people within the aircraft by utilising his skills to the best of his knowledge and looking after the welfare of himself and those around him.
  • Engage, Communicate and Cooperate With a Resilient Team. The pilot handled the situation with the assistance of his capable and equally resilient co-pilot and crew. Both the pilot and crew received awards and commendations for their efforts.
  • Healthy Support Network. The pilot noted that during those crucial moments that “It was very quiet as we worked, my co-pilot and I.” This speaks volumes as to the unspoken support of each pilot and how they knew that they needed to perform their roles quietly and with minimum of fuss for the flight’s sake.
  • Consistent Effort and Capacity to Recover from Difficulty. Despite post traumatic symptoms, the pilot acknowledged he was able making steps towards recovery in the medium term.
  • Despite Difficulties, the Goal or Meaning is Not Lost. The pilot clearly communicated to the team (co-pilot and crew) and stakeholders (passengers) of the possible outcome (‘brace for impact’), however worked towards the best possible outcome.
  • Capacity to Competently Handle Most Different Kinds of Situations. The US Federal Aviation Administration does not require commercial pilots to train to ditch in water, however the pilot’s years of experience allowed him to be able to handle this unusual, yet foreseeable, circumstance.

Many people who have experienced a success or breakthrough quote the following when people ask them if they were just ‘lucky’:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

– Seneca (Roman Philosopher, mid 1st century)

But what of the opposite side of the coin? What useful adage could be applied to a situation where a person, who despite pressure and adversity, is able to push through a difficult circumstance and, not only survive, but thrive and create a beneficial resolution? In this instance, one could say that:

Resilience is what happens when preparation meets adversity.

Adversity is a state of hardship or difficulty, misfortune, harsh conditions or hard times. In an article entitled ‘Leader Rebound: How Successful Managers Bounce Back from the Tests of Adversity’, Charles Stoner and John Gilligan characterise adversity as:

  • generally occurring unexpectedly
  • having a capacity to thwart and disrupt plans and
  • introduces a heightened level of uncertainty and ambiguity to a situation.

The type of adversity faced by you may certainly not be the requirement to successfully ditch a plane. However, it is a given that people will experience both opportunities and adversity in their lifetimes. The ability to handle the bad, or take advantage of the good, can come down to preparation through education and training.

Why is it important to be able to build Resilience?

Resilience allows you to make the best choices when it counts. People who can clearly see their options even in the most demanding of circumstances are more likely to avoid even worse circumstances than what they are currently facing. By having choices, resilient people are not content to allow themselves to be the victim of circumstance, rather they negotiate and navigate stormy weather.

Resilience allows you to learn from past mistakes and take advantage of useful coping strategies. Resilience gives you the capacity to avoid the same mistakes and the wherewithal to use your best assets. In other words, resilience is they key to knowing exactly how you survived or coped with a particular situation. Resilience is not merely a coping mechanism, it is an opportunity to transform.

Resilient people are happier. Resilient people are productive, happy, calm, motivated and purposeful in both their professional and personal spheres. This means they are less vulnerable to stress, achieve a greater level of certainty and clarity in their life and are able to prioritise what is important to them. People who take both their profession/work and their health seriously value and cultivate resilience as part of their own character.

Which aspect of your own resilience are you keen to develop?

Look out for Part 2!

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