Best Books About Resilience and Building Mental Strength
About 10 years ago, I was running a car blog that was doing great. Traffic was great and growing each day, we were getting a lot of mentions in the press (including being listed as a “must-read” car blog by mainstream media) and we were close to signing an advertising deal that would’ve had covered all of our expenses for about a year. And then all of the sudden, the domain name was hijacked. One morning we woke up and the website wasn’t there anymore.
Long story short, the domain name was stolen, the registrars weren’t helping us at all and after talking to several lawyers, we realized that there was nothing we could’ve done. So we had to start from scratch. Even though we still had our content (we were running regular backups), we had to get a new domain name and basically start a new site. It was one of the toughest moments of my life. I couldn’t believe what was happening and that an entire project can be lost just like that, in an instant.
Of course, this wasn’t the only business I was involved in that failed, but this probably hurt and still hurts the most. It didn’t fail because of something we did wrong, but because of something we had no control on. No matter the reason, failure is something that always hurts.
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a failed startup, a failed project or losing a big client. It feels like crap. How do you get back up on your feet after failing and how do you turn this failure into some kind of useful feedback? And this is where resilience comes in.
I remember watching an interview with Roger Federer some time ago and he was asked about the way he feels when losing an important match. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something like he just puts it behind and tries not to think about it. He learns what needs to be learned and then just focuses on training and on the next matches. And I’m sure everyone who’s ever seen Federer playing, believes he’s doing just that. And I was in awe. How does he do it?
Well, the good news is that Federer probably wasn’t born resilient. Neither all the successful people who’ve been through failures before. Resilience is not something that people simply have or do not have. Due to the fact that it involves so many factors such as behaviors, thoughts, and actions, these make it something that can be learned. Of course, it’s not easy. And even the most resilient persons still experience difficulty or distress when dealing with failure. But it can be done.
The most important learning source for resilience is the past. Focus on exploring it and analyzing the way you felt you have a higher chance of becoming more resilient. What exactly was so stressful about a past experience? How did I react to it? What helped me the most? These are just some of the questions whose answers open the way to resilience. Another way to build resilience it is to talk to someone who’s been through similar situations and see what worked for them. Who knows, might work for you too.
Resilience is not an easy skill to master. But, like most of the skills we talk about here on The CEO Library, hard skills are usually the most rewarding. And when you’re putting an effort in improving yourself and growing, you’re not only becoming a better entrepreneur but a better person overall. And next time something fails, it’s gonna be a lot easier.
Another way to learn resilience is…you guessed it, reading about it. We put together a list of our favorite books that talk about resilience, about how to better understand it and how to become more resilient. Or books that talk about skills closely related to resilience. We’re constantly updating the list, so if you have any other books you think should make this list, please don’t keep it for yourself. Drop a comment or an email and tell us about it.
Authors: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
Recommended by: Ee Ling Lim
Ee Ling Lim:“This book is about resilience, and I only wish there was such a book when I was younger. I was 18 when my dad passed away and it was something that I didn’t talk about because I was so afraid of opening the floodgates. It hit me hard, the day my daughter commented that I didn’t seem to miss my dad – because I never talked about him.”
I don’t think Sheryl Sandberg needs any introduction. She was the VP of global online sales at Google and now is the COO of Facebook (and the first woman to serve on the tech giant’s board). After Lean In, she released her second book, Option B, where she talks about ways to build resilience and how to recover faster and better after life’s inevitable setbacks.
Author: Brene Brown
Recommended by: Annemarie Schindler, Chelsea Frank and 1 other
Shaen Yeo:“For non-business books, I recommend Rising Strong, because it is so real, vulnerable AND full of wise nuggets which inspire me to be resilient in my life.”
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most viewed on the TED website. Her book, Rising Strong, starts from a very simple idea: if we are brave enough often enough, we will fail. And the purpose of this book is to talk about what it takes to get back up after these failures and how can they be turned into something useful for the future.
Author: Seth Godin
Recommended by: James Altucher and Michael Herrmann
James Altucher:“In this iconic bestseller, popular business blogger and bestselling author Seth Godin proves that winners are really just the best quitters. Godin shows that winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt—until they commit to beating the right Dip. Winners seek out the Dip. They realise that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it. If you can beat the Dip to be the best, you’ll earn profits, glory, and long-term security. Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, this fun little book will help you figure out if you’re in a Dip that’s worthy of your time, effort, and talents. The old saying is wrong—winners do quit, and quitters do win.”
I’m sure everyone and their mother heard about Seth Godin and his books. And of these books is The Dip, a 76-page illustration of what Seth calls “the dip”, which is a temporary setback that he argues can be overcome with persistence. The book also tries to help getting an answer to probably one of the most difficult questions in life: “should I quit or should I keep pushing?”
Author: Angela Duckworth
Recommended by: Sujan Patel, Bogdan Lucaciu and 1 other
Bogdan Lucaciu:“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – it was frustrating to read. Where was this book 20 years ago!?”
The main idea behind Angela Duckworth’s Grit is that people shouldn’t get discouraged by their lack of talent or ability. These are rarely guarantees for success. Instead, people should focus more on identifying their passions and blend them with other skills such as relentless persistence and, of course, resilience. To illustrate her findings, the author also offers some great examples of various background.
Author: George S. Clason
Recommended by: Dan Ariely, Daniel Gilbert and 2 others
Dan Ariely:“Willpower affects almost every aspect of our lives. From procrastination, to saving for retirement to exercising, Tierney and Baumeister have given us a wonderful book in which they not only share fascinating research on the subject but also provide simple tricks to help us tap into this important quality.”
Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University talks about what is probably one of the most important skills a person can have. Willpower. Which is being seriously challenged in difficult situations that require resilience. The book takes a look at why people usually have problems with willpower and offers some advice on improving self-control.
Author: Viktor E. Frankl
Recommended by: Ryan Holiday, Tony Robbins and 12 others
Ryan Holiday:“Frankl is one of the most profound modern thinkers on meaning and purpose. His contribution was to change the question from the vague philosophy of “What is the meaning of life?” to man being asked and forced to answer with his actions. He looks at how we find purpose by dedicating ourselves to a cause, learning to love and finding a meaning to our suffering. His other two books on the topic, Will To Meaning and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning have gems in them as well.”
Reading “Man’s search for meaning”, Viktor Frankl’s memories, will help you put things into perspective and rethink your whole existence. Frankl’s the psychiatrist and neurologist who survived four concentration camps, including Auschwitz, while he lost his whole family (his parents, brother, and pregnant wife all died). In this book he talks about how he stayed alive, and also discusses the meaning of life and searching for human meaning. He’s the “father” of logotherapy”, an analysis form that’s considered the third Viennese school pf psychotherapy (along with Freud’s psychoanalysis and Alfred Alder’s individual psychology).
Author: Ryan Holiday
Recommended by: Jimmy Soni, Marvin Liao and 11 others
Chris Oliver:“I remember reading The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday on a road trip one time. It was during a time that I was feeling particularly frustrated with my business and was just having an all around hard time. The idea of the book is that if you recognize things are hard, you should keep going. It teaches you to seek out the obstacles because few people even try and even fewer make it past the obstacles. When I got home from my trip, I remember sitting down and realizing I was being stubborn and not doing the work I needed to do. Immediately, I could tell things were heading in a much better direction.”
“The Obstacle is the Way” is the best book to read if you want the best introduction to stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy based on evergreen principles that can help you better cope with today’s stressful environment. This book written by famous media strategist and author Ryan Holiday became extremely popular in the world of sports, with NFL teams drawing inspiration from it to build mental resilience. Stoicism is based on distinguishing between what’s under your control (and focusing on those factors) versus what’s not.
Besides all the books we listed above, there’s a special category that should probably be read at some point by anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset. And that’s biographies. Books that talk about successful people and the things that made them what they are. How they handled both the good and the bad stuff. What more could you ask for?
The only problem with autobiographies is that there are so many of them. But you can read the ones about the people you admire or whose businesses are interesting to you. And if you don’t know what to start with, we recommend: