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How to Be Resilient

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

I admit that I struggled to write a bite-size training module on Resilience for over a year because resilience is natural to me. It’s like asking Adele how to sing, or David Beckham how to play football. They just do it.

In trying to pin point why I’m so resilient, a number of factors come to mind:

1. I have to be. I left home for university at 18, and (initially at least) being surrounded by strangers, I had to look after myself. There was no-one to come to my rescue if things went badly. This has continued as I never moved 'back home'. Though married to a massively supportive husband, it’s just us two. We don’t live close to family and we’ve moved around a bit meaning we don’t have long-standing close friends. It’s just us. We have to just deal with whatever life throws at us in the best way we can. There really is no point crying when things go wrong and waiting for someone to come to my rescue. No-one (other than my husband) will, and he can’t always do that. I must be able to get myself out of my own holes.

2. I’m quite unemotional. Not to Mr Spock levels; I do experience happiness, sadness, frustration etc, but I’m not one of these people who experiences massive highs and lows (sometimes many times in a day – how do people cope with constant emotional rollercoaster?). I struggle to understand why people go into mourning all over again every anniversary of a loved one’s death. I mourn when the people I love die, but then it’s in the past. Likewise, I find it odd when people seem ecstatic over minor good news. Recently my car was broken into, and although I knew I should be angry or upset, but I wasn’t. I was annoyed though… my first thought was “Darn – now I can’t go to the cheese shop as planned” followed by “who do I need to tell about this to sort it out?”, which leads me to the third point…

3. I’m practical. As is my husband. When I discovered Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern I identified with it immediately: When faced with the unexpected, my reaction is always “what can I do about this?”. Eighteen months ago I had two large projects lined up for two different clients: One of the clients called me to apologise that it was going to have to be cancelled due to a budget review. The very next day the other client called cancelled due to major re-organisation and the fact that she was being made redundant. My reaction was to make a cup of tea, take a moment and then contact a consultancy I have a relationship with to ask if there was any associate work going. There was a little, and I was grateful for it. I can only do what I can do. These contracts were gone and I needed to find alternative work, so I did.

4. I focus on the present. Many people hold on to the past, replaying difficult situations over and over in their minds until it becomes permanently engraved, taking on much more significance than it should. Others worry about countless possible futures, playing out multiple possible scenarios in their head. It's exhausting (and impossible) to plan for every eventuality, trying to second guess what others will say or do. I tend to focus on the next step (or two) and take it from there. Yes, it means I progress more slowly than I might, but backtracking is easy if I have to, and massive failure is rare.

5. I accept change quickly. This is related to the first 4 points. I was a bit concerned about my lack of emotion and focus on what is, but then realised very recently that I simply move through the ‘change curve’ very quickly – sometimes in a matter of minutes. So yes, I DO experience anger, depression etc. but they are fleeting. I don't hold on to negativity or try to find someone to blame. My (logical and practical) brain is able to quickly get to the ‘testing/bargaining’ phase and work with the new reality.

As I reflected on my own resilience during the pandemic and more generally, and heard others' stories, it has become clear to me that resilience isn't one skill. It's lots and lots of little things: including habits, thoughts, actions, and environment coming together. So resilience is something that we can all chip away at creating, so whilst it won't come over night or all at once, it will come.

In the Build Resilience Module, I try to highlight some of the things that people can do to move them forward.

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