The 8 Habits of Personal Agility and Resilience that Fuel Optimal Functioning

Updated: April 29, 2014, July 17, 2014, December 2014, May 2015

Personal Agility is about having a sense of EASE with rolling with life’s curve balls – whatever the source.

Agile Zone of Peak Performance and ImprovisationPersonal Agility enables you to live in the Agile Zone of optimal functioning – feeling relatively in charge, secure and confident in your ability to ride the waves that come with living the unpredictable, uncontrollable creative life.

What is the Agile Zone™ of Optimal Functioning and Peak Performance?

The Agile Zone™ is what I call your sweet spot of optimal functioning – the place where you experience life without feeling overwhelmed or powerless – where you feel hopeful, capable, and able to get things done.  It includes your high energy, peak performance and creative flow states, as well as your low energy states where you still can get things done.  Your Agile Zone includes

 the full range of situations and internal cognitive – emotional states where you remain functional without falling into the “Red Zone” of dysfunction.  The Agile Zone includes:

  • Comfort zone

Where you can relax, do nothing, have fun, or just get simple things done. This state also includes mild boredom.

  • Alert Zone

Where you feel intrigued, challenged but still confident, capable, and creative

  • Alarm Zone

The zone of discomfort where you are starting to become fearful, anxious, irritable, tired, hungry etc. you can still perform, but you may be making mistakes, struggling etc and if you don’t take steps now to recover, you are in danger of descending into the RED Zone of dysfunctional behaviors.


The Agile Zone of Optimal Functioning


What are the 8 Habits?

The 8 Habits of Personal Agility are:

  1. Mental Agility
  2. Emotional Agility
  3. Task Agility
  4. Attention Agility
  5. Belief Agility
  6. Learning Agility
  7. Commitment Agility
  8. Expectation Agility

The 8 Habits of Personal Agility enable us to courageously face our challenges with the “8 Dances of Life” and use them to learn and grow (see graphic below).

Mastering the 8 Habits of Personal Agility enables us to:

  • creatively work through obstacles and challenges in the “8 Dances of Life”
  • courageously learn and grow from our mistakes instead of allowing them to keep us stuck
  • listen to our own resistance instead of fighting it
  • orchestrate and use our time more strategically
  • juggle tasks and projects improvisationally to ensure needs are met and optimize long-term overall results
  • connect and collaborate with others in a way that enhances relationships and overall well-being instead of exhausting and draining ourselves
  • view criticism and rejection as feedback we can use to assess “right fit” instead of assuming we need to change to get approval from others

The 8 Habits of Personal Agility and Resilience

The 8 Habits of Agility and Resilience are keystones – core foundational habits which are essential ingredients to all the other habits we wish to build.

When personal agility in the 8 Habits is weak, life is often experienced as a recurring series of painful struggles full of dangers to avoid and inner conflicts that cause stuckness.  Stuckness may show up in our lives as:

    • under-achieving
    • financial challenges including excessive debt, under-earning, difficulty making a living or living within your means peacefully
    • chronic overwhelm, frustration and/or resentment
    • inability to rest without feeling guilty or lazy
    • excess clutter in your home, time, relationships, projects, etc.
    • depression
    • performance anxiety
    • social anxiety
    • chronic procrastination
    • harmful addictions

As personal agility habits are strengthened, we increasingly get to spend more time and energy in creative flow and peak performance states.  Masters of personal agility, or “agilizers” experience more optimal functioning more often.  Agilizers increasingly live in their personal “Agile Zone” which ultimately leads to greater satisfaction in each of the 8 Dances of Life.


The Emotional Agility / Resiliency Connection

Resilience the ability to work through and recover from setbacks, relapses and obstacles – is what makes your future goals easier to accomplish. In fact, resilience in response to adversity  – also called “grit” – may be the most essential ingredient to achievement.  Even more important than expertise or social skills.

Cultivating Resilience

Resilience is a capability that some people seem to be born with. There are genetic and neurological elements to it, however, the good news is that resiliency is also a set of cognitive and emotional skills and habits that can be learned.  Cultivating strong mastery of resiliency skills requires practice and multiple opportunities to work through adverse experiences. You can’t master resiliency unless you have problems, obstacles, setbacks and relapses to practice and home your skills on.


I personally had an extremely adverse childhood, and had many opportunities to develop resiliency skills including recovering from multiple addictions, bouncing back from near bankruptcy, and learning to live with and heal PTSD, anxiety, depression, and chronic disorganization. It often felt like I had to learn everything the hard way, but in the end, those experiences have enabled and motivated me to take on the challenge of developing self-leadership, self-advocacy and resiliency skills programs that empower neurodiverse people to use their daily adversity, obstacles and challenges to harness their strengths and natural aptitudes and transform trials into triumphs.

Many of the world’s greatest innovations began their journey to greatness as adversity — unwanted, unvalued detours, distractions, failures and obstacles.  Post-it notes are a perfect example of this. The stated goal was to develop a strong super glue. The setback was that for years, their formula experiments failed. The genius that finally emerged from that project was realizing that the really WEAK glue they perceived as a failure was actually was even MORE needed and valuable in the marketplace than strong glue — Post-it glue that you can reuse multiple times was born.

 This kind of scenario is playing out on a small scale in your life EVERY DAY!


I wonder….

How many times a day are you throwing away opportunities to turn an obstacle into an opportunity?


How much productive time and energy are you sacrificing to avoiding setbacks or struggling with trying to change something about yourself that really can’t be changed?


How much time and energy are you using up each day on avoiding, or feeling frustrated, defeated, or overwhelmed or berating yourself for poor performance?


What if you could convert even half of that agonizing time into time and energy spent figuring out how to harness your seemingly odd, unwanted, impulsive, or even uncontrollable behavior and use it to your advantage?

Please don’t get me wrong.

 It’s perfectly normal and fine to feel annoyed, disappointed or frustrated when you feel out of control — at first.  But those emotions don’t have to derail you.  They can become the fuel you use as energy and creativity for “agilizing” your way to recover from obstacles and setback.  Agilizing is about extracting as much value as you can from your personal struggles.  That is what I mean by:

 Don't Agonize, Agilize!  

Taking time outs to feel your feelings and work through them compassionately may look like you are not accomplishing anything productive – it may look like you are procrastinating, but emotional recovery (one of the emotional agility habits) skills are one of the highest impact productivity tools you can master.

Mastering the emotional agility skills of recovery and resilience enables you to SHIFT AWAY FROM avoidance of real or perceived adversity such as fear of rejection, failure, not getting it right, etc. and MOVE TOWARD personal growth, smart risk taking, accomplishment and productivity.

Naturally, we want to try to avoid mistakes – especially expensive, devastating, ones.  But reducing risk is a LOT different from trying to eliminate or completely avoid risk.

When we let the fear of getting it wrong, or of being embarrassed or rejected, or of not being able to finish what we started lead us into chronic procrastination that is a sure sign that we need to hone our resiliency and emotional agility skills.

Resiliency, agility, self-leadership and design thinking mindset combined give us a foundation to respond to adversity by agilizing our recovery.  Responding to frustrating setbacks, obstacles and adversity by taking time to process our emotions, manage our expectations, detach from the desired outcome, read the realities of the situation, and use our creative problem solving skills to improvise, course correct, or design alternative solutions.

Personal agility is the foundation for making the most of adverse situations.  It’s about starting where you are, accepting the present realities, letting go of the “desired” outcome, reconnecting with the most critical needs, and then working with what you have to do what you can to take the next small step.

The Agile Way - Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

The Agile Way

If you are prone to feeling discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, and had to choose just one Personal Agility habit to focus on to dramatically improve your quality of life and creative work, I would suggest choosing the habit of emotional agility.  It is deeply connected to all the other habits and is an essential ingredient of all the other optimal functioning skills.

Why is emotional agility so important?

Literally everything you want to achieve in life requires cultivating emotional agility: the ability to utilize the power and fuel of your emotional energy cycles to lead yourself on the journey and navigate the daily challenges of personal growth and creative work.

Emotional Agility is a keystone foundation for becoming wiser, healthier, happier, for  designing and evolving a meaningful career and lifestyle, and for continuously evolving sustainable productivity systems and practices that support your overall functioning in the Agile Zone.


You can’t be productive if you are frequently overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted, pressured, depressed, and/or are emotionally triggered by your perceived mistakes or shortcomings, right?





The following section is a draft of a model I’m still evolving.  Any feedback you have on it is most welcome and appreciated.  Thank you!


Below is a brief description of each of the 8 Habits of Personal Agility. 

1. Mental Agility

Mental Agility is the habit of recognizing when our creative thinking is being limited or stuck by

  • either / or thinking
  • good or bad, dualistic thinking
  • judgmental thinking
  • jumping to conclusions about causes
  • feeling overly certain we are “right” and therefore unwilling or unable to explore other possibilities
  • difficulty shifting perspective to see the simple in the complex or the complex that lies under the simple

One of the super-power habits of mental agility is the habit of transforming stuck thinking into “full spectrum thinking.”  Full spectrum thinking enables us to

  • think constructively, even when we feel hopeless or tempted to give upPatience-agility
  • think both critically and creatively about a situation
  • see the potential good and bad inherent in all things
  • accept the uncertainty inherent in every decision we make and take action even when we can’t be certain we’ll get the outcome we expect.
  • seeing things from multiple perspectives
  • expand options when we can only see one, and set limits when we can see too many options
  • see the potential value in all things including what we usually think of as “negative” – like mistakes, criticism and rejection
  • appreciate the tiniest of first steps and trust in the power of momentum and iteration to lead us to the next steps


Mental agility and “full spectrum thinking” comprises keystone habits such as:

  • Pausing to define, clarify and differentiate needs vs. values vs. wants.
  • Identifying criteria to filter out the most feasible 2-3 options to support us in making wiser decisions before acting.
  • Noticing the biases or “default settings” in our thinking that keep us attached to things that are impeding our flow.
  • Learning how to release our attachments to people, things, and projects gracefully so that we can get unstuck and focus on what truly matters.
  • Becoming willing and ready to relinquish your mind’s default settings so that we can entertain ideas and thoughts that are different from and even opposite of our own.
  • Appreciating the value of opposition (Agilizen Mantra 10) and accepting that uncertainty and opposition make it possible to let go of what you think you know so that you can organically learn and grow.
  • Becoming ready to adapt your thinking, choices, ideas, strategies to fit the challenges, limits and available resources of your current context.
  • Expecting problems and obstacles to occur and seeing them as opportunities to exercise creative problem-solving strategies and improve solution design, prototyping, testing and iteration skills.

2. Emotional Agility

The habit of consciously utilizing your emotional energy to navigate life. We cannot fully control our emotional lives, but we can influence, shape and facilitate our emotional well-being to support both our short and long term best interests. Agile emotional attachments, fear, hope, courage, frustration, anger, mistakes, rejection, perspective shifting and resiliency are all essential ingredients of cultivating the art of emotional agility. 

We must stop thinking of emotions as either positive of negative — and start thinking of them as the FUEL of everything we do life. We need to respect, value and honor ALL of our emotions before we can truly use them to design our lives to be more interesting, satisfying, and meaningful.

Agile message_cardAttaching with Agility is the skill of attaching consciously, deeply and yet lightly enough that you are able to detach easily when necessary is a powerful and necessary emotional agility skill for the digital age and the constant, rapid change that comes with it.

The habit of “agilizing” our attachments to things, ideas, information, people, solutions, systems, technology etc is a prerequisite to overall emotional agility and well-being.

3. Task Agility

The habit of Task Agility is the habit of regularly adapting tasks to fit the situation, context and resources at hand.  It includes the art of strategizing your systems, time, energy and attention to facilitate transitioning from one task, project, or function to the next without fear that you won’t get back to it.

Task agility requires trusting that tasks can be achieved in more flexible, non-linear ways if you keep an open mind about them.

Designing task completion strategies to fit the way your unique brain naturally functions is addressed in one of the 10 AgiliZen Mantras:  Design for Your Brain.

4. Attention Agility

The habit of Attention Agility is the habit of mindfully “paying attention to the way we pay attention”. Becoming aware of how our attention cycles work, our natural limits, what diverts it, and what helps us refuel and sustain it so that we can facilitate our own ability to focus and to be creative as needed.

Attention agility involves designing our commitments and environments with this precious and limited resource in mind. Assessing the cognitive load of each task, decision, project etc along with knowing your own limits and cycles helps you plan more realistic timelines and time when you do things.  Managing the load on your attention circuits throughout the day is a critical skill for managing time, stress and overall health and wellbeing – especially if your career and/or lifestyle exposes you to information and attention overload on a regular basis.

5. Belief Agility

The habit of Belief Agility is the habit of noticing the unarticulated, incomplete and inaccurate beliefs and default settings in our mind that are shaping our emotional life, decisions and behaviors. Agilizen-think-you-know

Understanding that our culture, language, and interactions with others shape our nonverbal unconscious and self-limiting beliefs in extremely powerful ways means becoming humble and patient.

We must accept that changing our beliefs  is a process that involves teaching yourself over time by designing opportunities to experience the new beliefs in action.

It is foolish and arrogant to think that because you’ve had an insight, or believe you “know” the cause of a problem, or that because you “want” to change a belief you can “just do it.”  There are layers to learning and knowing and wanting are only the beginning of the process of actually changing beliefs, behavior and habits.


Bloom's_taxonomy_newSIDEBAR: Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning (shown here) is an effort to show how learning from progresses from being able to remember or articulate something to actually being able to apply what you know or believe.  It’s not perfect but it’s a start at grokking the complex layers of “knowing.”  Unfortunately, the English language does not currently have mainstream words for this, which is why so many people spend so much time developing models trying to define the layers of knowing and learning.  


The habit of bringing beliefs into awareness, compassionately challenging them, consciously designing our beliefs, and facilitating our own inner team to integrate the new beliefs that support our growth, development is an Agile Self-Leadership SKILL that you can learn and master, but even then, it still requires time and experience to change our core beliefs – just like it takes at least 6 – 9 months for a baby to become viable, so it is with beliefs.

The way we increase our belief agility is to be careful of how attached we become to new beliefs when we are successful at changing our existing beliefs.  Being willing to let go of what we think we believe is a  requirement for staying open to new learning.

Knowledge is advancing so fast today that today our beliefs need to be more like “working assumptions” that we are ready to let go of as new insights emerge.  Our personal growth and evolution of wisdom DEMAND mastering this skill and cultivating it into a habit.

6. Learning Agility

Learning Agility is the habit of recognizing when we have a need to learn something new, and ALSO when we need to “unlearn” something.  mistakesUnderstanding that learning requires patience and an open mind, we develop the habit of becoming willing to tolerate being a beginner (beginner’s mind) and become good at encouraging ourselves to courageously (NOT fearlessly) make mistakes.

The habit of self-acknowledging, along with appreciating and celebrating our own effort, and expecting progress to be slow when we are learning something now is vital to teaching ourselves new habits and changing old ones.

5709_586342524727962_1219009130_n Learning agility is essential to breaking through procrastination.

Procrastination is often a learned habit. When you really get that procrastination is actually a powerful form of feedback you become empowered to compassionately “listen to your resistance” and use it to learn about yourself, resolve your inner conflicts, and and then design solutions that support you in moving from stuckness into action.

If you aren’t putting what you think you know into action, some ingredient of full learning or mastery is missing. Rather than “blame” or criticize ourselves that learning “should” be easy, the agile learner seeks to figure out what is needed to inspire deeper learning and ultimately taking action.

7. Commitment Agility

Commitment Agility is the habit of designing our decisions and commitments to make them easier to follow-through on, to gracefully juggle, adjust , renegotiate or terminate as needed.  Trusting yourself to dance with commitments without over-commiting and knowing that you have the time, energy and resources to follow-through is the ultimate source of confidence.

Trusting yourself to juggle commitments with basic self-care needs and ensure that your needs will NOT be ritually and consistently sacrificed to meet other people’s needs is the sign that you have strong healthy boundaries and have mastered the habits of commitment agility.  The way you make commitments is a reflection of your decision-making skills.

How you decide whether to say Yes or No is the driver of your ability to focus your energy and attention without constantly feeling overwhelmed or debilitated by the commitments you’ve made.


8. Expectation agility

Expectation agility is the habit of articulating and clarifying the expectations and assumptions which are at the root of inner conflict, frustration, disappointment and dissatisfaction. When expectations are clear, you become able to openly and confidently negotiate and re-negotiating expectations with people.

 The art of agilizing expectations is essential to designing flexibility AND follow-through into our commitments and avoiding the trap of becoming a “prisoner of your promises.”

– Ariane Benefit

Expectations are often used to compare ourselves to others and deeply shape the way we judge ourselves and others. Unclear, unspoken expectations are usually too rigid or too loose and wreak havoc in our lives and with our productivity. They deeply shape our ability to function in life.

The habit of being able to modify and adjust our expectations to fit the realities of our present circumstances is a foundation of our ability to motivate ourselves and cultivate sustainable success and greater life satisfaction.

Free VIDEO:  What is Personal Agility and Agile Thinking?

I recorded this in 2012….hope you find it helpful.


  • Cultivating Agility provides highly effective alternatives to self-improvement and self-control
  • How we develop and unlearn habits, importance of understanding triggered actions and triggered avoidance
  • Implications of being a natural born “tweaker” seeing potential for improvement everywhere
  • Becoming conscious of how you learn so that you can “shape” vs. control what you learn
  • A new way of thinking about core needs and values
  • Designing FUN, FIT, FLOW, FLAIR and FUNCTION into your life


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