We’ve all been there at one time or another. You have just lost your job of many years. You’re facing a particularly challenging situation with a customer or a colleague. There’s wind of downsizing or a merger, causing uncertainty. You’ve been passed over for promotion.
When external circumstances conspire to challenge us – offering up adversity and emotional distress – it’s human nature to retreat. To remove ourselves from the situation. Lick our wounds. Dwell on “why me” and what the future might hold.
A natural response. Natural, but also a choice.
Alternatively, we can choose to shift our perspective to one that is more empowering. To stand tall and dust ourselves off. To go to Plan B.
This is resilience. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resilience as:
1: The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. 2: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
It is reassuring to know that resilience, like any other skill, is a learned thing. We can condition ourselves to be “elastic”. To be better able to absorb the shocks that will befall us in life – to bend, but not be broken.
Goodness knows, resilience has been a learned thing for me. And it remains a work in progress. But, I can say that progress has been made. As I reflect back on my life, the following are my lessons learned during this journey to greater resilience:
Understand that it’s not personal
Our ever-present companion – Ego – becomes particularly animated in times of stress. It is why our defensive mechanisms shift into high gear so quickly. Simply recognizing this is the starting point to greater resilience. When ego gets involved – and we all have it – we begin to make assumptions. And if I have learned anything in life, assumptions are very often wrong, either in whole or part.
Ego will try to make it personal. To apply blame. Don’t let it. Understand what’s happening, and then let it go.
Challenge = Opportunity
I know, you’re sick and tired of hearing that challenge is opportunity. But I must say that whenever I have been on the receiving end of circumstances beyond my control, it has always opened up new and better doors for me. Without exception. This has taken some time for me to learn. As I have come to understand this, doors now open more quickly. Why? Because I am compelled to action more rapidly in response to change and my actions are more sustained.
Clarify your values; define your vision
In another post, I have written about the importance of living by one’s core values. If there ever is a time to go through this process, it’s when you’re experiencing significant change in life. Values, when clearly defined, have a stabilizing effect and contribute immensely to resilience. They point to your True North and light your way forward. They are also crucial for defining a vision for your future that is truly meaningful and provides a beacon in the distance pulling you ahead. As obstacles are placed in your path – and they will be – you are more able to adapt because you know you’re on the right path.
Be accountable – to yourself
With your vision well-defined, you can then set a clear action plan with specific goals. How does this enhance your resilience? First of all, achieving realistic and measurable goals is motivating and builds confidence. The positive solutions-focused mind frame created can then be relied on to help see you through any bends in the road.
Secondly, goals aligned with a vision for your future are empowering because they come from you. Not from outside. They are the expectations you have of yourself.
During times of significant change, you will likely feel the pressure of others – either actual or perceived – to respond in a predefined way to your situation. Societal, cultural and family norms come a-knocking. This is where resilience based on goals tied to a clear vision really comes into play. You are better able to keep at bay external forces that would otherwise deflect you from what you really want.
It took me a long time to acknowledge the disempowerment that comes from holding yourself accountable for other people’s expectations. Set your own expectations and draw resiliency from them.
“Goals aligned with a vision for your future are empowering because they come from you. Not from outside. They are the expectations you have of yourself.”
Ask for help – leverage your network
Getting too much inside your own head is an ever-present threat when experiencing life’s challenges, thereby lowering resilience. To combat this, be determined in your networking. Human beings are naturally supportive creatures. Their positive energy can be sustaining. Pragmatically, they have much you can learn from as you embark on your journey, providing you with the tools and resources you need as your plan unfolds.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. Practicing mindfulness. Meditation. Journalling. Regular physical activity. Enjoying or exploring hobbies. It is easy to be so taken up with your current circumstances that you forget yourself. Resilience is intimately tied to a positive state of mind.
Increasing resilience is fully within your control. As it develops, you will see its benefits not only during life-altering circumstances, but also in your everyday experience. Resilience ensures that you maintain control when circumstances conspire to remove it. Grow it, and so too will your sense of empowerment in your life.