We’ve been hearing a lot about resilience lately and like lots of terms and words used within the well-being world, it’s easy to assume that we know and understand what it means and that we all have a shared sense of what it looks and feels like. In our work with individuals and organisations, there’s often a misconception of resilience, including long held beliefs about it being associated with ‘powering through’ even when things get really tough and not ‘giving in’ to pressure. Being able to deal with things without becoming upset, anxious, stressed etc. because these emotional reactions are frequently seen as weaknesses.
These descriptions are of course very far from the true meaning of resilience.
Resilience is not about stretching ourselves beyond our limits. It is not about juggling and plate spinning and keeping all of the balls in the air. And its definitely not about being able to deal with everything all of the time without breaking. Resilience is about how we choose to respond to challenges, what we do next when things become tough, and yet it’s also more than that. Our capacity for resilience is tied up in how we take care of ourselves, how we prioritise the things happening within our lives, where we place our attention and energy. However, what we are slowly realising is that modern life isn’t really set up to automatically support us with these things, so we need to create what we need for ourselves. After all, we are thinking, feeling beings, so we need to take this into account with everything we do.
Resilience is about ‘bounce-back-ability’ and it involves:
- Acknowledgement – naming what’s happening, knowing how we are feeling, being objective about our thoughts and our circumstances.
- Acceptance – not resisting difficult emotions or situations but leaning in to them.
- Action – looking at the possibilities and consciously choosing what we will do next.
As human beings are natural problem solvers, we come with resilience built-in, it’s just that over time, our experiences, our programming and the demands we have placed upon ourselves have tricked us into believing that resilience is something outside of us. Something that we have to reach for, to work towards or that we aren’t very good at. Indeed, when we are stuck in a moment or caught within a feeling and that sense of panic, fear, frustration, overwhelm or sadness takes over, this is when our resilience can seem so very far away and so very far removed from us.
Yet it is something we all have the capacity for, it’s just about training ourselves and learning patterns and ways of being that can support us to build up our resilience and have that bounce-back-ability happen more easily, more automatically. The act of resilience is in what happens ‘after the fact’ – it’s in our coming back. However, how we prepare for resilience is in the every day – the seemingly small, yet impactful things we do to practice self-care and to connect to ourselves and others.
Resilient people allow themselves to recharge and restore.
We all know that doing more of what makes us feel good such as a creative activity, exercise, meditation, relaxation, journalling, practising gratitude, using affirmations, taking a walk etc. actually makes us feel good, and that over time, the benefits can make a huge difference to our overall well-being. These things nourish and replenish our mind and body and this nourishment is part of what we need to help us build up our resilience. What’s interesting is how we prioritise this for ourselves. Do we see this type of self-care as a luxury? Something we have to earn and deserve? Or do we incorporate these rituals into our day to day lives as a key part of how we live? By practising today, we are helping our future selves; so if we deny ourselves, we are not preparing for the act of resilience to take place and we are reducing our chances of having that bounce-back-ability.
So what can we do to rediscover our resilience? If it already resides within us – how do we access it? We must begin by reconnecting with our true self and think about what resilience looks and feels like for us personally. Remembering a time in the past when we have shown resilience in our life can help as it can ignite a feeling or sense of something to explore further and tune into.
When things are stressful it can be easy to lose track of what we really care about. Revisiting our purpose and values can be a useful exercise to help us reflect and provide that much needed reframe.
Consciously connecting with others can also provide some much needed support and perhaps another perspective. While this might seem to contradict the idea that resilience is already within us, it actually adds weight to the concept. How we feel about asking for help originates within our own internal permission settings. Allowing ourselves to intentionally ask for help is part of the acceptance of our situation and means we don’t have to carry the burden alone. Our resilience comes from the act of admitting our limitations and gathering strength in the support of letting someone else in, therefore freeing us up to refocus our energy and determine our response.
Finally, it’s important to remind ourselves that whatever is happening right now, however we might be feeling, that it will pass. And that wherever we might be, our resilience is right there with us.