Resilience, Now More Than Ever
We’ve come through half a year of uncertainty caused by this pandemic. Right now, many of us are experiencing “the dip” or “hitting the wall:” a normal, to-be-expected time of depleted physical, emotional and mental energy. It happens in other endeavours of life -- the most common example is running a marathon (mile 20, anyone?). Even in the coaching certification I completed, we were warned to expect “the dip” somewhere between weeks 12 to 20 and given strategies to work through it in order to complete the program.
One of those tools that can help us through this and other challenging times is our old friend, resilience.
A typical definition of resilience is the ability to recover from adversity, setbacks or surprises. I like the image of riding a wave, like a surfer: when we can surf the ups and downs of life, we build strength and skills to help us stay on top of the wave, and to get back on the board when we wipe out. Like a wave, we can’t control what happens in life; all we can do is react or respond.
A key additional aspect of resilience I like to focus on is the ability to both deal with and integrate change and continue to move forward.
When we can be with and learn from and adapt to adversity, change, loss, risk and uncertainty, life can feel, well, easier.
It’s this “bounce-back-ability” that can lessen our strife and suffering, and allow us to see and enjoy the gifts of life, despite the obstacles that may (will) appear in our path.
The great news about resilience is that it’s like a muscle that can be strengthened. Yes, one person may be born within a particular set of circumstances and brain wiring that allows them to be more resilient when faced with (relative) hardship; AND, there are practices we can, uh, practice to build our resilience muscle’s bulk, which can lead to less severe plummets when that hardship appears, and result in quicker recovery.
Building resilience is a process of continuous growth. You may never be done, but you can keep getting better at it.
Resilience depends both on inner and outer resources to be properly nourished and bolstered. The internal conversations, beliefs and resourcefulness we have can be trained, and are supported by external factors, such as our web of social supports, access to stabilizing services and other environmental factors, such as political stability, access to healthcare, safe housing and education, to name a few.
It’s different for everyone, given that we’re all born into different families, communities, countries and varying levels of financial and social safety and privilege. And, like our inner resources, these outer supports can be collected and strengthened, too. This is where our communities (in all their forms) can be one of the most critical aspects of resilience -- some say, the most important. We’ve certainly seen suffering increase when we are unable to be with our community, or or lacking in community.
So, as we continue to figure things out and roll with the waves for the coming many months, and especially with winter just around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere (which can bring its own physical and emotional challenges to many of us), here is a process to follow to help receive adversity, integrate it and build your resilience: my 4 A’s of Resilience Building.
Step 1: Acknowledge
When something bad or unexpected happens, what is your typical response? Do you acknowledge it, or ignore it or just try to get past it as quickly as possible?
There’s real value in taking a moment (or a week) to acknowledge what is. When we avoid or resist something, that thing has power over us. Ever heard the line, What we resist, persists? That. Ever told yourself to NOT focus on something? That.
However, when we take time to name what is, we deflate some of its power and intensity. The ability to be with what is, is a powerful skill and vital to building resilience.
So, when the next challenge, obstacle or disappointment happens, because it will, take some time to ask yourself these questions:
What impact does this event, information or change have on me – emotionally, physically, logistically, financially, relationally, spiritually?
How do I feel about it? (and actually feel those emotions in your body)
The next step is to name it. Here are some of the things I’ve heard myself say or think over the past six months:
This is hard.
This isn’t what I planned.
I didn’t ask for this.
I feel powerless.
I don’t know what to do.
Please, please, please DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! If you don’t acknowledge what’s happened, it will keep nudging you in different ways until it gets your full attention. Deal with it now, so you can integrate it and move forward. The only way out is through, baby.
Step 2: Accept
The next step in the process is easy: Accept what is.
Hahahahahahahaaaaaaa! Right?! Because we’re so great at accepting things that are out of our control, that we don’t like or feel scary.
Truthfully, this step can stump the best of us, and can take some time. Here’s a distinction that may help:
Accepting something doesn’t mean you condone what happened or is happening; it just means you accept that you can’t change that it happened or is happening.
When you accept what is, you free up your energy to focus on what you can control (your response to the obstacle, challenge or loss).
Acceptance can require a mindset shift to move out of resistance, and it can take some practice. Some helpful things to tell yourself might include:
Change is inevitable.
This too shall pass.
I cannot control what happened/is happening to me; I can only control my response to it.
I can do hard things.
Two tools for helping adopt an accepting mindset are gaining perspective and activating your Sage.
To gain perspective, notice that you are in the immediacy of your life. You are living in this moment, right now. Then, imagine riding in a helicopter that zooms up to a 50,000-foot view of your life. This six-month, or one-year, or even two-year period can be seen as a blip (a difficult, challenging and unwanted blip, yes) in the full horizon of your life. The average lifespan for Canadians is 80 years (males) and 84 years (females). So even two years of mask-wearing and social distancing constitute only 2.5% (males) and 2.4% (females) of your life. To put that into perspective, you spend more of your lifespan sleeping (up to 30%), at work (16%) or eating (5.6%)*.
Sometimes taking the longer view can provide context and lessen the urgency of the immediate situation. (Obviously, if your health or a family member’s health or livelihood has been directly impacted by COVID, this ‘blip’ carries a much different weight.)
Another option is to activate your Sage mindset. This concept is popularized in Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence(TM) research and program. Your Sage is the wise, compassionate, knowing part of yourself and is oriented to look for the gift in each experience. The Sage stands in the belief that every experience or circumstance can be a gift, no matter how awful, scary or negative that experience or circumstance is.
Now, some people are naturally wired this way (I’m one of them -- I see silver linings in everything) and others find this perspective incredibly challenging and are highly skeptical of it. I encourage you to consider it as an helpful tool to build resilience. To do so, there are three inquiries that can help activate your Sage:
The first is based on the gift of knowledge:
What knowledge would I need to gain so the outcome is better than this moment?
What will I know (or know how to do) in the future because of this experience?
An example during the pandemic might be that you learned how to use online meeting software to continue to perform paid work, and subsequently you connected with family and friends through it to maintain social support.
The second is based on the gift of power:
Which of my Sage powers (skills, traits, characteristics) must grow to handle this?
What is the gift of that power growing?
Again, a pandemic example might be that your compassion for front-line essential services workers, those living in care facilities and service industry workers who lost income grew. The gift is that you are more compassionate toward everyone now.
And the third is based on the gift of inspiration:
What inspiring action can I take that would never have occurred to me if this “bad” thing hadn’t happened? The action itself becomes the gift.
A ready example of inspired action is the production of masks by home-based fabric artists to fill the need for non-medical masks at a local level. These folks would never have created and shared patterns, mass-produced colourful and comfortable masks had the pandemic not presented the need.
Accepting what is, especially when it is bad and long and full of uncertainty, is difficult. It just is. And, once you can begin to accept, you can move on to the next step of building resilience.
Step 3: Assess
Assessing is the step where you shift from reacting to responding. It’s when you begin to look forward and formulate a plan.
This step is about moving from uncertainty to possibility.
Typically, your emotional brain has been heard and managed and it’s time for your logical brain to step up to the plate, along with your heart-brain. In times of great strife, logic might take the lead; in times of lower stakes, you might let your heart run the show.
At this point, ask yourself the following questions to assess what you want and what you’re working with:
What do I want? Or, What’s the best I can hope for?
What do I have control or command over?
What are my choices?
What are my skills and capabilities related to this?
Who and what are my current supports? (This is where community and connection come in, so pay particular attention to this question, and the next.)
What additional supports do I need or want?
What will it take to get through this/make that happen?
What can I let slide right now so I can direct my energy to this plan?
Based on your assessment, formulate your plan of action. Then move on to the final step.
Step 4: Act
You guessed it: the final step is to take action. This action might be doing something or not doing anything, based on your needs, capacity and assessment. Maybe all you do is keep surviving. Maybe you focus on what you can take off your list of responsibilities. Maybe you reach out for connection with another human. This is not necessarily a time to take on more, or new, or big….unless it is, for you. Then have at ‘er.
One of my favourite frameworks for creating a realistic action plan that you can actually implement is to keep it simple by asking yourself these three questions:
What can I STOP?
What can I START?
What can I SHIFT?
Begin with the easiest first step, and build from there.
As this pandemic continues for the foreseeable future, circle back through the 4 A’s as needed to absorb new challenges that come your way. Because they will come. And, take note of how quickly you bounce back, or don’t. No judgement; only grace. Remember: We’re all doing the best we can with what we have available right now. That’s enough. You’re enough. We’re all enough. We’ll get through this.
And if you need help, reach out. Here are a few ways I’m offering it:
Thriving in Uncertainty: Weekly conversations to help you adult during these trying times. While the conversations are targeted to working parents, being either working or parenting is definitely NOT a prerequisite. All are welcome.
Mental Fitness Program (coming soon!): As a PQ Coach, I’ll be offering a 6-week mental fitness program to help you activate your Sage and dial down your Saboteurs. I’m working on the details over the next couple weeks, but if you’re interested in being notified when dates are announced, please be in touch.
One-on-one Life, Death and Leadership Coaching: If you’re looking for personalized support during this challenging time, contact me to discuss how coaching could help. I have flexible packages and offer a sliding scale to accommodate varying financial needs.
Originally published September 29, 2020 at jillyhyndman.com