Nick DiNardo, author of The Game of Adversity, believes that we’re too comfortable. We’re all taught that the best situation is the one where everything goes according to plan and that adversity is something to be avoided or to protect our kids from.

Nick is here to tell you the opposite.

He believes that adversity is the ultimate opportunity to learn and grow. In fact, it’s the key to unlocking success. If only we learn to embrace it and apply its lessons constructively. Nick himself has gone through adversity as an entrepreneur and he also helps other entrepreneurs perform at their best by building their resilience.

By the end of this episode, adversity is not going to be something that you fear or worry that will destroy you, but you’ll know how to use it and leverage it so that you can thrive.

Nick Dinardo: The basis of my interest in adversity is really personal, and it goes back when I was seven years old. I had kind of the typical American upbringing. I had a younger brother. My father built our house, it was a 3,000 square foot house, you know, living life really well and comfortably middle class.

Within months, that all came crashing down.

My mother had a bipolar episode that put her into a mental institution, my father pretty much spent all of the money from the business that he sold, and lost our house, went into foreclosure, my parents separated.

When my mother got out of the mental hospital months later, it was an apartment building with fourteen other families. She had one room with a bed that my brother and I ended up sharing, either on the floor or in the bed with her, and we shared a kitchen with these fourteen other families.

Within months, at seven, eight years old, I went from kind of this absolutely normal upbringing to, boom, everything flipped on its head. I remember thinking to myself, what does this all mean? This can’t be the way that things are kind of going to go down for us. That was my first kind of interest in understanding what adversity was, I didn’t know it at the time. Obviously, I didn’t know what struggle was—adversity, obstacles, all that—but I started to really search for people who were successful or people who had achieved great things from my perspective at that point.

I gravitated towards sports, specifically baseball and football and basketball. I remember really gravitating toward this model who was Barry Sanders, he was the running back for the Detroit Lions at the time. This is in the early ‘90s. He was a successful running back, successful football player, probably the best at his position definitely at the time, maybe ever.

He was the most humble, quiet player that was focused really on character and not being this egotistical, number one person to think about in football. He’d score a touchdown and give the ball right to the referee.

“It was really about showing that you’ve been there before.”

I gravitated towards that, and it ended up being something that really spurn me into hoping to be that type of person but also dedicating myself to understanding what adversity is, what the science behind it is and how people can build resilience and that’s kind of the basis for the book.

What Is Adversity

Charlie Hoehn: Let’s define adversity first. What exactly are we talking about here?

Nick Dinardo: Yeah, I think the definition, if you look up the Webster’s Dictionary definition, it pretty much encompasses the problem with how we address adversity in our lives, whether or not we’re able to learn it to adapt from it and be able to respond to it.

The definition is a couple of things, I’ll just read it off:

“Adverse fortune or fate, a condition marked by misfortune and calamity or distress, an adverse or unfortunate event or circumstance.”

The synonyms are catastrophe, disaster, trouble, and misery, also see affliction.

While obviously that definition is dead on, think about the tone of it. The fact that adversity creates opportunity is pretty well known, but there’s a gap between understanding it and being able to do something when it happens to you, right? I think it comes from education. I mean, we all know adversity is the key to pretty much all story—the hero’s journey, right? You look at Rocky, you look at Harry Potter. I mean, this is all part of our lives, and we know it’s there.

But, from the time we’re young—you’re a father, I’m a father, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son. I think it’s our natural inclination to try and protect our kids, and that then models behavior to our kids to protect, to avoid confrontation, to avoid high stress environments. Then when it actually happens to us, we’re not self-aware enough to really understand how to deal with it.

There’s this big gap between actually knowing what adversity is and being able to do something with it. Which is exactly why I wanted to write the book. It was try to use a set of principles that were important to me, and being able to deal with my own adversity and potentially help somebody take all the principles, use one or two principles, but use something to be able to develop perspective, reflection, rumination and be able to use adversity to their advantage. That’s the difference between high performers and the average, in my opinion.

Nuture and Nature

Charlie Hoehn: How much of this is instilled from our parents, our caretakers versus the culture that we grew up? How much is within our control, really?

Nick Dinardo: I don’t have an answer to it, but it is something that I’II talk about in the book, the nature and nurture aspect of it. In the people that I researched and the science that I’ve looked into, it’s really a combination of both. I think you mentioned some of your friends who have really responded well to it, and some who have just crumbled on to the pressure.

I think it’s a combination of being able to, number one, have some genetic disposition to adaptation or evolution when trauma hits. I think number two, they’ve done studies on this and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University about kids in disadvantaged backgrounds who have poverty and bad circumstances.

The ones who are able to respond and get out of those circumstances and learn from them and grow from them, it’s because they have a community around them to lift them up. It’s not just about the skills that you develop, it’s about having the people around you to help you out of it.

I can certainly attest to that my own circumstances, as small or large as they may be.

I think it’s a combination of exactly what you said, it’s nature and nurture and then I think it’s just about where you fall on that spectrum, and I feel like it’s more nurture and nurture, not just in the moment, the adversity moments that we go through, but nurturing ourselves and being able to develop the skills to be able to sit in it and be self-aware and be able to think about how are we going to respond. And then that leads to a better response the next time.

It ends up being this quickening momentum as you go through your life.

Parenting and Adversity

Charlie Hoehn: How do you parent knowing what you know from this book?

Nick Dinardo: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s funny, writing the book, I thought I would have more answers, but it really just opened up more questions. I became much more humble about the book. I’m certainly not an expert in it.

But to answer your question, I’ll point to a study that I thought was fascinating to me as I was really digging into the research.

It was a multi-year study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2,400 subjects. What they found was those who experienced negative life events reported better mental health and overall wellbeing than those who didn’t. It was almost like a U-shaped distribution. So on the left end let’s say you didn’t have any adversity, and then on the right end, you had too much of it. Both sides you would crumble. But in the middle, there was a sweet spot. And they couldn’t point to exactly the sweet spot.

I think it probably depends on the person, the events that they looked at, the 2400 subjects, it was serious illness, violence, bereavements, disasters like floods. I mean, what they’re experiencing obviously in California now. Social stress, relation stress—these are serious events.

But I just thought that fascinating U-shape curve, putting yourself in the position to experience some stakes and develop and evolve. Maybe some people wouldn’t be able to take that sort of high stakes kind of environment. Maybe it’s a low stake.

With my son, I think he’s just getting to the point where my wife and I try and do as much as we possibly can to not give him everything that he wants. But I think it’s trying to put him in kind of these low stakes, low risk types of environments where he’s going to figure things out, he’s got to problem solve and hopefully, eventually, over time, it makes us better parents by doing that. It’s challenging us to want to comfort him, to hold them, to nurture him.

But at the same time, it pushes him outside of his comfort zone to really experience self-awareness and those problem solving things. Building that resilience that you’re going to need down the road.

Systems through Adversity

Charlie Hoehn: The process of adversity is what? And how are we potentially disrupting it?

Nick Dinardo: This is probably one of my favorite chapters, and it came from a lot of my research. When I dig into leadership in sports. specifically to leaders that I focused on, Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick—when I dig into the success that they’ve had, it broke down into a system or a set of principles that they had that they then used consistently over days, weeks, months, across the entire team—and not just the football team itself, but the organization. The management of the organization itself.

So for example, Bill Walsh, took over the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. There were a 2 and 14 team, by 1981 they won the Superbowl. The first of the three that he won specifically and then two more were the residuals of his leadership philosophy. But a lot of people think of the west coast offense with Bill Walsh. Which he developed out of necessity because when he was back with the Cincinnati Bengals he had a backup quarterback.

Who took over for an injured player, Greg Cook, this gentleman named Virgil Carter who was a quarterback of below average arms strength but had tremendous accuracy, so instead of asking Virgil Carter to fit into the existing system, he rebuilt the system to fit what Virgil Carter’s strengths and weaknesses were and what came out of it was really this system that was focused on short and intermediate passes that really made those into almost—they have all the same capabilities and benefits that you would get out of a running game, but you are using the perimeter game to really take advantage of Virgil Carter’s accuracy.

And what they did was they went up winning the division with Virgil Carter, who was a backup, kind of journeyman quarterback there. So he took that and said, “If I can be successful with that then I am going to build a system out of it and put the right players in place.”

With the 49ers, he not only took the system and perfected it with better players, but he also had this set of I think it was 17 different standards that he called his standards of performance. You can look them up, essentially it was this set of 17 core values that he wanted everyone in the organization to do on a daily basis, going from his quarterback, Joe Montana to his secretary. He expected them to do it and he held them accountable. He celebrated them when they did it well.

Systems in Practice

Charlie Hoehn: Could you give a few examples?

Nick Dinardo: Yeah, so one would be being open to failure instead of thinking that you are just focused on quick wins, quick successes. Being open to take risks and fail, and he would celebrate that rather than persecuting somebody for doing that. It was this set of 17 standards of performance that really, over time, over that two year period ended up turning them into a champion. And it didn’t happen overnight, in fact he didn’t have a successful season the first year. He started to turn it around the next year and then boom, they turned into a successful team and everybody started to buy into it.

And it is those types of things that made me think that if you are able to break down and deconstruct what success looks like for you as an individual and start to execute on that process, whatever that process is.

James Clear talks about it all the time, about systems over goals, right?

“I find that goals can be overwhelming.”

I think we have an over-reliance on goals in society. If you can set it and forget it—so set your goal and then develop what that process will be and then forget about the goal and just execute on the process, that is going to make sure that you don’t overwhelm yourself that you are prepared and that you are able to execute on a growth mindset on a day to day basis.

I’ve been a sales person, and I have worked with some sales people as well. That’s a good example too because you have an annual goal, say it is $1 million. People will fixate on that goal and become overwhelmed with the daily activity they need to do to actually get to that goal. Whereas the consistent high performers are the ones that say, “Okay every single month I need to sell a $100,000 worth of business, which means that I have to make X amount of calls per day.”

And they’ll do the math working backwards, designing what success looks like for them. So that’s what it is. Sometimes it can be overwhelming thinking about that, but take the time upfront to do it. I think it helps you almost put up just a smooth layer over any sort of adversity you have to deal with because you know what the day to day looks like.

Success with Nick Dinardo

Charlie Hoehn: What kind of results have you seen with the clients you have worked with?

Nick Dinardo: I think number one, even before we get to the results, when they really take the time to develop their core values, figure out what results they want that align to those core values. Then we start to look back and reflect on, “Hey were you able to meet the results based on the systems you’ve put together?” It is pretty fun. It’s pretty fun to look back and say, “This is what we are able to accomplish.”

Every entrepreneur goes through that ebb and flow of success and failure, and I think it is evening that out. I think there is a Rudyard Kipling quote, “Meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters the same.” We can get in our own heads about our successes, and we definitely get into our own heads about disasters and failures.

It is about smoothing that, ride out that journey out to make sure that you’re successful. I think if I am to look back at the successes that these entrepreneurs have, it is about evening out the emotional ride throughout the process.

So there are certainly entrepreneurs who I have worked with who haven’t met the goals that they have wanted. But they were secure and grateful and had perspective on what that journey meant.

So they could have still been successful despite not meeting the goals and objectives that they had or they blew out the goals and objectives that they had because they were able to develop a system that worked for them. So I guess it was just shifting their perspective a bit on being grateful and being self-aware about what was really important.

It seems like such a soft skill-y thing to be doing instead of focusing on revenue generation, marketing, all of that. But if you are able to develop, if you are able to use these skills to your advantage, I really think there is a significant return of investment to it.

It may not be measurable, at first, but using it consistently just makes for a much more fruitful journey.

A Challenge for Listeners

Charlie Hoehn: Nick, I’ve got two more questions for you. The first one is where can people find you? What’s the best way for them to get in touch?

Nick Dinardo: Yeah, you can go to, write me a note there. You can find me on twitter @ddinardo33. Those are probably the two best places to find me. You can find out more on Amazon about the book, and as well.

Charlie Hoehn: Perfect and the final question is, give our listeners a challenge. What is the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?

Nick Dinardo: Yeah, this is tactical but I think a pretty cool exercise to go through. So this comes from Dr. Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets. It is called “finding your fixed mindset voice.” It is a combination of her work and Dr. Martin Seligman, who is one of the founders of positive psychology.

But essentially, let’s say this is a self-awareness exercise. If you were able to go on your phone, whether you have an iPhone or you have an app on your Android, go to your audio app on the phone.

And actually at the end of your day, give yourself a one minute, 30 second to one minute summary of your day and be completely honest, as honest as you can possibly can. You know, “I had a great day today. I closed this piece of business. It was really, really great.” Or “You know, my day started off on a bad note because I was caught in traffic that I wasn’t expecting. I had a 9:00 meeting that didn’t go well.”

“Just be very, very honest with yourself.”

Do that over the course of seven to 10 days and then at the end, listen to all. Don’t listen to them after you’ve recorded them. Listen to them after seven or 10 days. Take out a notepad and take some notes on what you listened to and what you are listening for is anything that is a fixed mindset type of response whether or not it is focusing on something that is outside of your control. Whether it is focusing on “I can’t get better at X, Y and Z because that is just who I am.”

Any types of those fixed mindset type things where you are not focused on, “Hey I can learn from this. I can grow from this.”

It is almost like working out your biceps and triceps and going to the gym. You are just trying to figure out where you may be struggling in certain areas and how you can improve. You are shifting yourself out of certain fixed-mindset responses and telling yourself how else can I respond with more of a growth mindset type of response.

It doesn’t take too much time, but you know just like you’re developing a morning ritual, develop this at the end of the day and do it for 7 to 10 days. You’ll probably be surprised, even if you say that I definitely have developed a growth mindset. You are going to find some areas that you still get yourself stuck into.

So that is a great exercise, finding your fixed mindset voice.