Skip to main content

Manage Adversity with Resilience

The way we handle adversity, particularly our resilience, impacts performance. Adversity is anything that gets in the way of achieving goals and objectives. It takes many forms, including self-doubt, emotional reactivity, and disruptions like loss, error, stress, or unexpected change. Some adversity is to be expected.


Our self-awareness and mindset are the keys to successfully handling adversity. Train the mind so you DON’T FREAK OUT. React in panic, anger, or fear and you will not be able to respond effectively. Calm down, manage emotions and mental habits, in the face of adversity and you will be able to recover and respond.

There are many techniques for calming down, but that is a topic for another time. You can visit for some ideas.


Here, in this article, the focus is on how we perceive adverse events. We can view them as obstacles or opportunities. We can believe that we are helpless or that we can influence our situation.



Resilience relies on accepting adversity, perceiving it as an opportunity to recover, and knowing you can act even though you may not be in complete control.

Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches and recover from adversity, to return to a stable state after a disruption. When your project hits a wall, resilience allows you to carry on as best you can.


For example, after a poor performance review, resilience enables an individual, team, or organization to grow from the feedback rather than becoming depressed by it or resistant to it. A resilient project manager will bounce back and learn from the experience of a failed project. An organization that promotes resilience does not blacklist a manager who has failed, but instead provides support.


A resilient person tends to take an active approach toward solving problems, perceives their experiences as constructive opportunities, engages others for assistance and support, and has a positive and practical vision of life.

A resilient team or organization is made up of resilient individuals who support one another. It recovers and moves on when faced with adversity


Adversity Quotient®

Adversity Quotient® (AQ) is a measure of resilience.

“Adversity Quotient® – is a measure of a person’s capacity to deal with the challenges that he or she experiences on a daily basis” (Paul Stoltz, Adversity Quotient®: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, 1997).”


Paul Stoltz identified four C. O. R. E. dimensions for measuring AQ – Control, Ownership, Reach, and Endurance.


Control is the degree to which there is a sense of the ability to predict and influence adversity. The perception of control, the ability to influence outcomes, results in an incentive to act. The opposite leads to apathy. The person who feels that they have no control is likely to think “There is nothing I can do, so I won’t do anything.” Of course, the practical reality is that we do not have total control. But we can influence the future. Knowing that, if we work at it, we can at least control the way we think and act.


Ownership refers to the sense of accountability for outcomes. With ownership comes the drive to avoid or work through adversity.


Reach looks at the scope of adversity. If adversity is viewed as having a very broad impact on one’s life, the individual will likely feel helpless and pessimistic. They will feel as if they have little control, and according to Stoltz, will make poor decisions and isolate themselves. Containing adversity, seeing its impact as having a defined scope, benefits individuals and groups by increasing a sense of control and promoting ownership.


Endurance is linked to the perceived duration of an adverse event. If the adversity is seen as temporary one will be more likely to push on than if it is viewed as never ending. For example, a project manager who perceives that their innate ability (a permanent condition) is the cause of a failure is less likely to persevere than one who views the cause as a temporary condition, like an error or insufficient effort, which can be corrected.


[widget id=”custom_html-68″]


Developing a Resilience Mindset

Resilience can be cultivated. The C.O.R. E. dimensions point to a mindset change. Mindset drives feelings and feelings drive behavior, and performance.

When we have a mindset that believes that we can influence the conditions we face and that we are accountable for the outcome, we shift from helplessness to power. With a mindset that is intent on learning from the agitation that comes with adversity there is acceptance rather than pushing away or hiding from unpleasant feelings.


In one situation a project manager faced with the loss of a key, highly skilled project team member who held significant institutional knowledge was able to move on and recover. Recognizing but not being driven by her anxiety, she mentally stepped back and worked out a transition plan including a “download” of information and adjustments to the schedule. The project would not only succeed but would be in a better position because it no longer relied on a single key player.

We are most able to manage adversity when we step back, own the situation, assess it, define its reach and duration, and understand that the change or problem is not the end of the world as we know it.


How do You Change Your Mindset

It is easy to say, “Change your mindset and become resilient.” However, doing it requires intention, self-awareness, and intentional patient effort.


To break the habits that get in the way of resilience:

  • Understand that your mindset is the result of years of conditioning and mental habits.
  • Know that you can change the way you think by patiently
    • paying attention to your thoughts and feelings,
    • questioning your beliefs and biases, and
    • persistently applying the effort needed to change.



The relationship between adversity quotient® and job – PEAK Learning
The power of Adversity Quotient to one’s productivity
Organizational Resilience and Adversity Quotient

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.