I was invited recently to talk to a group about resilience. I’m no expert by the way but I have my own experience and have looked into and explored it from different perspectives over the years. As more information and research is released, my understanding shifts and changes so I’m sharing my current philosophy and how I explain it to others. What is it really though?
As with so many words, it’s open to interpretation and there are many definitions but the one that seems to connect most of them is this one from www.psychcentral.com :
“When faced with a tragedy, natural disaster, health concern, relationship, work, or school problem, resilience is how well a person can adapt to the events in their life. A person with good resilience has the ability to bounce backmore quickly and with less stress than someone whose resilience is less developed”.
The parts that I feel are worth reflecting on are ‘adapt to events’, ‘ability to bounce back’ and ‘with less stress’. With that in the background, here is how I would describe each of those.
Adapt to events. Daily life is full of events and activities of all shapes and sizes, some small and inconsequential, some that attract our attention and may distract us for a while and others that can stop us in our tracks and may derail us. Everything that happens to and around us, the good, bad and ugly, is essentially there as information to help us shape our view of the world. They all offer us something to learn and the opportunity to apply what we learn to future situations.
Ability to bounce back. Our individual or collective ability to do this will depend on our personal, internal and shared external resources. These may include previous experiences and how we’ve dealt with them as well as our emotional intelligence and ability to regulate our emotions. I describe emotions as different to feelings, and something we add based on our thoughts. External resources may also be available to us; friends, family, professionals as well as getting back to the rhythms and routines that generally support us.
With less stress. For me, this ties everything together and I feel it makes more sense if I alter it to ‘with less emotional reaction to the stressful situation or event.’ When something happens, it is not really the situation that is causing the stress, it’s what we think of the situation that does that. When we view the situation negatively and add emotion (see previous paragraph) we react rather than respond and it makes everything worse. If we are able to take a step back and observe what’s happening with curiosity rather than engaging with emotion, then we see it for what it is, an opportunity to learn.
This approach allows us to adapt to future events and bounce back more quickly without any emotional attachment and become more resilient, at least as per the definition above. As a result, we are more likely to be able to go with the flow of life in future rather than focus on and get knocked around by the unforeseen rapids and rocky bits.
When we continue to allow ourselves to be derailed by events and push through in whatever way we can, that’s not resilience even though it may appear to be. In fact, when we push or get pushed way past our ‘tolerance’ for healthy stress into the warning and danger zones of distress, we are likely to demonstrate what could be termed ‘high-performing stress’. This is not high-performance. Our ability to cope and be effective is compromised, and rapidly diminishes which is dangerous physically and psychologically.
Being able to get through life, whatever it throws at us is part of the human experience. We will fare better when we recognise our ability to find and access the most appropriate internal and external resources and then apply them when we need them.