Rising Through Resilience: Denise Marek of Life by Design On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Choose the right attitude daily. Have you ever noticed the happiest and most successful people in life tend to have great attitudes? Each of us must make the decision to choose the right attitude daily. It’s not our circumstances that make us unhappy. It’s our attitude in our circumstances that makes us unhappy. Even in the middle of a bad situation, you can make the decision to have a good attitude. You have an attitude of “this is the absolute worst thing ever” or an attitude of “the best is yet to come.” You can have an attitude of “this will never end” or an attitude of “this too shall pass.” You get to decide. I can’t guarantee you it will always be easy, however, I can promise you it will always be worth it!
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Marek.
Denise Marek is internationally known as the Worry Management Expert and the creator of the CALM™ methodology for worry-free living. She is the author of several books including CALM: A Proven Four-Step Process Designed Specifically for Women Who Worry and Calm for Moms: Worry Less in Four Simple Steps (coming November 22, 2022). Denise Marek is a recipient of the Toastmasters International Accredited Speaker Award for Professionalism and Outstanding Achievement in Public Speaking; fewer than 90 individuals worldwide have received the Accredited Speaker designation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
When I was a kid, I was one of the biggest worriers on the planet. My mom would often say, “Denise, if there was nothing in the world to worry about you’d find something!” It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties and working as a seminar leader for an international business-training company that I learned a way to regain control of my thinking. I ran trainings on topics like “Self-Esteem for Women,” “Conflict and Confrontation,” “How to Get Rid of Clutter and Organize Your Life,” and “Dealing with Difficult People.” After about eighteen months of learning these strategies and teaching them to others, I realized I wasn’t worrying any more. I thought, Wait a minute. If the world’s biggest worrier can stop worrying, there’s hope for everyone. So I began to study worry. I started paying attention to how my own thinking had changed, and I created the four-step process which I now share with readers and audiences around the globe through my books, presentations, and online courses.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or “take aways” you learned from that?
There are so many to choose from! One of the funniest stories is when I had a “wardrobe malfunction” on stage in front of 250 people. It was my first time presenting a full-day seminar and the topic was Dealing with Difficult People. I discovered very quickly half of the people who attended the seminar were there because they wanted to learn how to deal with the difficult people in their lives. The other half were the difficult people and had been sent by their employers for me to straightened them out. I started the seminar at 9:00 a.m. By 9:15 a.m., I was painfully aware of who the difficult people were! They were the ones wearing scathing expressions on their faces that could only mean one thing — I dare you to teach me something! What about the other half? Surely, I could find support among the other 125 people, right? Unfortunately, most of the people in the audience spoke English as their second language. Imagine standing in front of a packed audience and the only looks you are getting are those of contempt or confusion!
I thought to myself, I’m going to die a slow and painful death on stage today. Then I remembered something my boss said to me: “You speak with passion.” That’s it! I thought. I’m going to connect with this audience by speaking with passion. That’s exactly what I set out to do. When I needed to talk to the audience, I jumped down from the stage to be there with them, on their level. When I needed to be on stage, I jumped back up there. During one of my leaps onto the stage, my shoe fell off. I bent over sideways to pick it up. As I twisted and leaned over to pick up my shoe, three of the top buttons that lined the front of my silk skirt popped off! There I was, standing on stage with a shoe in one hand, my skirt gapping open at the front, and thinking, this is a little more passion than I had anticipated. I learned a very valuable lesson on resilience that day. Here it is: Never judge your success based on your first attempt. As the late composer Virgil Thomson said, “Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not.” Obviously, I decided I still like speaking which is the reason I’m still speaking today — but never in a buttoned-lined skirt!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The mission of my business is clear: Helping people to find CALM in the chaos, so that together we can live and work with greater happiness and inner peace. What makes my services stand out is that my CALM™ methodology for worry-free living effectively cuts through the chaos of worry and stress and it is simple to implement.
As for a story, since we’re talking about resilience, I’ll share one about how the CALM process helped one of my readers to bounce back during a very difficult time in her life. One morning, I opened my email and found a message containing this subject line: “You’ve probably heard this lots of times but your book really has saved my life!” Obviously, I was curious and I opened that email first. It was from a woman in England named Louise. She wrote, “I have just been through an extremely rough patch and I was worried about everything that was happening. I wouldn’t leave my bedroom, let alone the house, to go to work or shopping. I wouldn’t talk to anyone at all — not even my family and friends.”
A concerned friend of hers came to her home with a copy of my first book Calm. In her email to me, Louise wrote, “I read the first chapter and found some strength. I also read the second, third, fourth and fifth the same day. And, at 4 o’clock that day, I took my first steps down stairs in four weeks. I had my first proper meal in four weeks. I spoke to somebody again. All because your book taught me that I have to take control of what I can and let go of what I can’t control. Also that everyone can make mistakes; we are all just human. But, most importantly, it taught me that I am not the only one in the world to worry about life and what is going to happen next, or who might say something that is going to upset me, or whether I am going to have the right attitude to succeed. It even taught me that, no matter what, I still have rights. Your book currently goes everywhere with me in my bag and, if I am struggling, I open it up and read a random double page and manage to gain some strength out of it to carry on. This all happened six months ago. I am now about to take one of the biggest steps in those six months and that is returning to work and your book will be with me. I will definitely be reading it on the way to work and right up to the minute that I start to get myself in the right frame of mind. I guess you hear this a lot from different people but I really do need to thank you from the bottom of my heart because without the strength your book has given me I wouldn’t be here today to be able to write this to you.”
That story deeply touches my heart. No matter who you are, or how dire your situation, hold on, don’t give up, and keep moving forward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of the many people who helped me along the way is Nicholas Boothman. Nick is the author of several books including How Make People to Like You in 90-Seconds or Less. When I was going through a difficult time trying to find a publisher for my book, Nick agreed to meet with me for lunch to give me some advice. After some small talk, Nick looked at my book proposal and said, “I know what’s wrong with your book. It has a rotten title.”
Ouch! Criticism is just about as much fun as a root canal. Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow when criticism comes your way: Consider the source. Who is criticizing you? Is it someone you trust, someone who wants the best for you? What gives this person credibility?
Nick’s critique was difficult to hear, but because I knew Nick had a history of success, I trusted him and accepted what he was telling me. So I asked him why he thought it was a rotten title, and he quickly replied, “Nobody can say it.”
He was right! The original title of my book was From Worrier to Warrior. I’d been giving seminars with the same title, and at times the people who introduced me would stumble when they tried to say it. After my chat with Nick, I changed the title of my book to CALM. That one adjustment made all the difference. I landed a book deal just a few short months after changing the title. Wherever you are right now in your business, or your life, know this: You could be one small adjustment away from everything coming together.
Oh thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
To me, resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenge and change and the drive to keep moving forward in the face of adversity. In thinking of the characteristics of resilient people, what quickly comes to mind is their ability to cultivate optimism and hope. Hope is an anchor for the soul.
If you’ve read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, you’ll know it to be a book about survival. Frankl miraculously survived the network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps. There are so many ideas in this book for changing a person’s life, and the message that stands out for me today is that of hope. Frankl describes how prisoners died less from lack of food or medicine, than from a lack of hope and a lack of something to live for. He describes a particularly bad day in the camp. He knew encouragement was needed now more than ever. As the men lay in their earthen huts in a low mood, Frankl spoke to them and said that “Whoever was still alive had reason for hope. Health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society — all these were things that could be achieved again or restored. After all, we still had all our bones intact. Whatever we had gone through could still be an asset to us in the future.”
We can be inspired by Frankl’s words to find hope and purpose in the very act of living — regardless of our situations. To be a resilient person, it’s imperative to find significance in living in the present and to have hope for the future.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
In my own opinion, courage is similar to resilience in that they both require a decision. That decision is to take action and move forward on what’s important to you even when it’s scary. How are they different? Well, it can be said that courage is doing something that frightens you. Resilience, on the other hand, is the ability to bounce back quickly from difficulties. As an example, courage is what it takes to make that first sales call. Resilience is what it takes to continue making sales calls no matter how many times you get rejected.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience, my daughter Brianna quickly comes to mind. When she was nine years old, I already saw in her the ability to bounce back from challenge and change. Changes in routine, changes in school, and even moving into a new house in a new neighborhood: none of that clouded her optimistic outlook. When I spotted this trait in her, I said, “Brianna, you’re my little bouncer. You always bounce back.” She replied, “Mom, only deflated balls don’t bounce.”
While she likely wasn’t aware of just how wise her words were, what she said was profound. I wrote about this in my new book being published this fall, by Familius Publishing, titled Calm for Moms. I wrote there are times in life when we all can feel a little mentally and emotionally deflated. At times we can feel a little less confident or a little less optimistic. These feelings are a normal part of life. It’s okay for you to feel the way you do. However, it’s important to understand that you don’t have to stay deflated. With a little training on how to choose your mindset, you’ll be able to experience more peace, fun, joy, happiness, and contentment. You’ll also be able to bounce back more easily from difficulties, adversity, and setbacks. As motivational guru Zig Ziglar said, “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.”
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Yes! Many, many times. My first literary agent basically told me it was impossible to get my first book published the day he sent me a letter saying he’d tried nine different publishers, and the book proposal had been rejected by all nine. He wrote me a letter that I keep in my desk to this day. He wrote, “Denise, I was unsuccessful in finding a home for your project. I would love to work on something with you in the future. Keep me posted.” He rejected me after he received only nine rejections. But nine is not enough rejections to measure success or failure. I knew what I had to do. I had to fire my literary agent. It took me 11 months and 13 days to do so (and that’s a story for another time.) But, I did terminate our contract and ended up getting my book published by Hay House. Listen, rejection isn’t final. The only thing final is giving up. Others may give up on you but you must never give up on yourself. Nothing is ever wasted. Rejection, mistakes, disappointment, setbacks — these things prepare you and strengthen you for whatever lay ahead. Your challenge is not to avoid these things. They are inevitable. Your challenge is to learn from them, make any necessary adjustments, and move on.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of my greatest setbacks happened in 2010. I was 13 years into my speaking career, and I was in a major car accident while driving home from the airport. I had just flown back to Toronto from a speaking engagement in Calgary. I was less than 10 minutes away from my house when the car I was driving was t-boned by a vehicle that was travelling at a speed of 160 kilometers an hour. That’s over 99 miles an hour! My head slammed against the driver’s side window and I got a concussion. It was a miracle I wasn’t killed. After the accident, I experienced post-concussion symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, misplacing words, and difficulty remembering new information. I used to memorize six-hour presentations word-for-word and, in a blink, I was no longer able to do that. It was a significant setback! But, “a setback is a setup for a comeback.” I had to prepare for giving presentations in a completely new way. Instead of memorizing the words, I write a simple outline with a word or two about the stories I plan to share to illustrate each point. It was scary at first going out on stage without a memorized presentation. But, I quickly discovered that this new way of presenting freed me to be more spontaneous. It forced me to speak from the heart and helped me to connect with my audiences on a much deeper level. I ended up becoming a more effective communicator as a result of the car crash. It was a blessing in disguise. Our greatest blessings are often disguised as our greatest setbacks.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resilience? Can you share a story?
When I was a kid, I lived in an economically challenged area of my community and I was bullied at school about my weight. The names others called me when I was growing up were so cruel that I had felt rejected, alone, and unworthy of love. Through this experience, and over the span of many years, I learned how to care less about what others thought of me and more about what I thought of myself. This strengthened my ability to persevere in the face of rejection.
Rejection is one of those uncontrollable things in life. We can’t control other people. You can’t force someone to want what you are offering. But what you can control is your ability to keep moving forward in the face of rejection. I found one way to do this is to avoid taking rejection personally.
When you take rejection personally, the blows to your self-esteem can be crippling to the point where it stops you from moving forward. When you worry about what other people think, that worry can keep you stuck. For instance, you might stop yourself from taking action on something that’s important to you if you were worried about being judged or criticized. By the way, just because some people view you a certain way doesn’t make their opinion true. Besides, the people who love you will continue to love you regardless of the success of your business, the choices you make, or the bumps you encounter along the way.
You always have the choice between caring about what others think of you and caring about what you think of yourself. I strongly recommend that you choose you. And, avoid taking rejection personally. It will definitely help you to be more resilient.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient:
Step One: Choose the right attitude daily. Have you ever noticed the happiest and most successful people in life tend to have great attitudes? Each of us must make the decision to choose the right attitude daily. It’s not our circumstances that make us unhappy. It’s our attitude in our circumstances that makes us unhappy. Even in the middle of a bad situation, you can make the decision to have a good attitude. You have an attitude of “this is the absolute worst thing ever” or an attitude of “the best is yet to come.” You can have an attitude of “this will never end” or an attitude of “this too shall pass.” You get to decide. I can’t guarantee you it will always be easy, however, I can promise you it will always be worth it!
Step Two: Choose affiliations wisely. It’s extremely difficult to be your best, especially in the face of adversity, when you’re surrounded by negative people. For that reason, choose your affiliations wisely. Business philosopher Jim Rohn said, “You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay?” Surround yourself with individuals who share your vision and values and who will inspire you to become who you were born to be even when times get tough.
Step Three: Celebrate your accomplishments. Take some time to appreciate and celebrate how far you’ve already come. You’ve overcome obstacles to get to where you are today. You have survived and thrived beyond challenges in the past. If the need arises, you can do it again!
Step Four: Find something positive in every situation. John C. Maxwell shares a story in his book, Make Today Count, about a 92-year-old woman who was moving into a nursing home. She was legally blind and her husband of 70 years had passed away. Moving into the nursing home was her only option. After waiting in the lobby of the nursing home for a long time, an attendant told her that her room was ready. While escorting her down the corridor, he described the room in detail. The elderly woman said, ‘I love it!” The attendant said, “But you haven’t even seen the room yet.” She said, “That doesn’t have anything to do with it. Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind.” It’s human nature to focus on the things we don’t like. When we narrow in on what’s wrong in our lives, what’s wrong can end up being all we see. Make it a habit to find something positive in every situation. That way, even in the most difficult circumstances, you’ll have the optimism and hope to pull you through.
Step Five: Learn how to manage worry. What we are facing today is very real. In the last few years, things have changed for all of us. And, there are new challenges to face every day. Yet, even now, there is hope and opportunity. However, to seize opportunity, you need to be able to see opportunity. In a heightened state of worry and anxiety, our thinking can become impaired. It can be difficult to hear clearly and opportunities can be missed. For that reason, it’s important to regulate your emotions by managing worry. Learn how to transform worry into inner peace so you can see and seize opportunity even during difficult times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
As the mom of two daughters and the nana of three grandsons, I seek to inspire other moms who are extra passionate about creating change for themselves and their families. They’re passionate about learning how to manage worry in themselves because it’s right thing to do for their children.
One of my favorite quotes by L.R. Knost goes like this, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” The challenge is that you can only share what you possess. The movement would equip all moms with the CALM process. This isn’t about me, it’s about something much bigger than myself. I believe when a mom has the strategies to transform her own worry into inner peace, she is in a better position to put an end to the worry cycle in her family. That impacts generations!
I’m really inspired by this question. I think I’ll create an online pledge for parents who are passionate about their children’s wellbeing, who have experienced the limiting and painful effects of worry, and want to end the worry cycle in their family. I already have a number of free resources available on my website. You have just inspired me to inspire a movement!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might she see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I choose Drew Barrymore. Drew has been quoted as saying, “In the end, some of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.” I completely agree! I too have first-hand experience with deriving great strength from great pain. I’d love to brainstorm with her, mom to mom, about ideas for equipping kids with more confidence and less worry, so that together we can create a better world for their futures. Also, having the opportunity to give her an advance copy of my new book Calm for Moms: Worry Less in Four Simple Steps would be a huge blessing. She has an incredible platform to help get this book in the hands of so many moms who could then model calm for their children. That’s how we make the world a better place. Also, Drew seems like a kind, genuine, and fun spirit. That’s my kind of person!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!