Building Resilience

What is Resilience? “The Free Online Dictionary” describes it as follows:

re•sil•ience (rɪˈzɪl yəns) also re•sil′ien•cy,

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

During a slightly more stressful time than usual – not so long ago – I described “life” to a friend as “running a marathon without training, without a break, and then as you get fitter, the pace just increases…”

I needed to take a breather, and not just one of those: siting-around-doing-nothing-breaks (I can’t imagine the purpose of those) It needed to be a productive break, one where I learn to be stronger, and deal better with all the things which make my life rich, challenging and rewarding. One of those where you change from being a ‘victim’ to being a ‘survivor’ , who can tell all the entertaining war stories that come from living a full life.

Thinking back on your life, how many times did you have one of those ‘when the student is ready, the teacher arrives’ moments? I seem to have them regularly, and this time it was being introduced to Paul Mooney from the Metaresilience Foundation.

I have always thought of resilience more as a character trait, that some people are naturally more resilient than others, that some will just deal with a crisis or tragedy better than others. Of course there is always the “Straw that broke the camel’s back” but some people can just take a lot more straw than others, and there is very little one can do about your personal limit.

Not so.

Resilience is not as much a character trait as a process, and processes can be taught, prepared for and improved on all the time.

Resilience is that wonderful quality people have which allows us to be knocked down by life, and then bounce back, often stronger than ever. Research has shown that resilience is a very ordinary human quality, and it is common for people to be resilient.

It does not mean that people well skilled in the process of resilience do not experience trauma or stress. In fact for most of us, it is a road filled with trauma, heartache, threats, tragedy and distress which gives us the tools.

For each person, this is a personal journey. Our ability to adapt well in the face of adversity is different for each of us. We are not the same, and our experience of and reaction to events are different.

For this reason, it is very important to know yourself, and know your responses to various stressful situations, and then use this knowledge to reframe situations and train yourself to respond more productively.

Start with self-knowledge and build from there.

Some of us have a very good idea of who we are, but many more of us are conditioned into being ‘good’. In other words we feel we need to fit into a set of criteria, expectations and responses which our culture, society, our family, friends and/or business have imposed on us.

For an independent and thoroughly researched analysis of your personality characteristics, common stressors and individual strengths, it is a good idea to complete a comprehensive personality test, such as the MBTI. This should ideally be completed with a qualified coach who can workshop personality traits with you, which will also help you understand other personality traits with their strengths and possible conflicts.

There are of course, many other ways of improving self-knowledge. Being able to know who you are, without judgement, is a rare gift, for most of us more of a journey than an epiphany.

Understand human physiology.

Throughout human history, the ability to respond rapidly to threatening situations has been far more important than to be able to respond quickly to positive situations. For this reason we have developed a physiology which conspires against us to almost instantaneously make the ‘freeze, flight, fight’ – response dominate. This sequence of responses worked beautifully when coming face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, but aren’t great when your computer freezes again or your company is facing a financial crisis.

Now take a moment to think about when having this ‘flight of fight’ response has actually helped you. Mothers have been known to find extraordinary strength to save their children under physical threat, friends pulling someone from a burning vehicle with no immediate feeling of their hands being burnt on the metal, or their lungs choking on smoke. There are instances where ‘freeze, flight or flight’ may still be very useful, but it’s much less so in our relatively ‘safe and structured’ world.

Now think about those moments when it did not serve you. Those moments when all you could think of was running away fast, your heart beating in your throat, your mouth dry and out of the corner of your eye you can see the door out of the bank manager’s office just a two big panicky strides away…

This response leaves you physically and emotionally drained, it reduces positive emotions and it focusses your thoughts on the threat, reducing your ability to consider all your resources and options.

When you have mastery of this response, you can calm yourself quickly, and use the flood of energy more productively.

Exercise has an immediate calming effect, and regular exercise has many additional physical and mental benefits. If you are feeling overwhelmed, find a way to exercise before reacting, and do so every time you feel a heightened stress reaction.

Regularly practicing Mindfulness Meditation is of great benefit here. You will be increasingly experienced in the art of observing without judgement, and observing your own thoughts and emotions gives you a wider choice of responses

Numerous body-mind practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or just plain deep breathing exercises will improve the rate at which you are able to master your responses. There are many options, and different people choose from many different practices to suit their own unique ways.


The rest to follow Tuesday 7 May…

by Watcha McCaulher

– May 2013 –

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