What is Resilience? (and what its NOT!)

Resilience in the 21st Century

Let’s talk resilience! This is a really poignant time for us to get to grips with what it means to be a human being at this time and be resilient.

What does that actually mean? What does it look like? And what are the components that make up whether somebody is resilient or not?

Is resilience a trait? Is it a process? Are some people naturally born more resilient than others?.

Unpacking Resilience

If you were to cast your mind back about 20 years’ I wonder what that term resilience meant to you? Perhaps you would have viewed the term resilience in that classic bounce back capacity?.

The ability to ‘bounce back in the face of adversity’ from an experience and recover from that much more quickly.

At times when I hear people talk about other generations, like our parents and our grandparents generation, and how people were more resilient back then, I would suggest it’s understanding what did that actually look like?

Is the ability to grit your teeth, put your head down and get on with things making you resilient? Is that an effective way to move forward, get through situations and respond to situations effectively?

Developing a thick skin can also imply that we have to stuff down any emotions that are trying to get our attention and emotional state like vulnerability, pain, hurt, grief, loss, and stuffing those emotions down in order to just ‘get on with things’ isn’t a helpful way to respond to situations.

In fact it actually has the opposite effect. Because when we stuff our emotions down, we hold the body in a stress response and the survival response. Also if we think about our parents and our grandparents and what they faced, they lived in very different times compared to where we are now. They didn’t have the internet, they didn’t have all the choices that we have nowadays. They didn’t walk into the supermarket and get faced with a hundred different brands of toothpaste, different set of values, social norms.

They also had a much greater sense of community, especially in our grandparents’ generation. People came together to support one another.

Therefore I don’t really think that we can compare our parents and our grandparents generations with what we’re going through now, because that’s like comparing an apple to a banana.

Are we really ‘bouncing back’?

Now when we talk about resilience and we think about this old classic bounce back, what does that actually mean in today’s world? What does bouncing back actually mean? It could be fair to say that in today’s world, for a lot of people, we’re not just bouncing back from one thing. We’re bouncing back from a lot of things.

It’s like we are a human pinball machine going from one thing to the next. Think about the demands that people have on themselves in today’s world which are completely different. There’s a lot more families where mum and dad or dad and dad, mum and mum, single parents, they’re having to juggle working and caring responsibilities, school systems and nurseries that don’t operate the same hours as the nine to five culture, the nine to five regime.

We’ve got so much more pressure in the workplace and focus on KPIs, on targets, objectives and costs and savings, lean working and improving productivity and performance. And that in itself can put a lot of pressure on people.

There’s pressure for people to be at their best, a fear of maybe not being seen to be good enough, having to prove ourselves. We have so much more choice, so many more activities that we cram into our lives, and that can make us feel quite time fatigued.

Like we don’t have any time to just be. We have this always on culture, social media, people constantly connected to devices. And that creates overstimulated minds.

People really struggle to switch off, to just breathe, to be at one with themselves, to be in their own company.

I’ve heard so many people say “I don’t like being in my own company because I don’t like being at one with my thoughts“. It’s like they’re running away from themselves and their minds are like a pinball machine.

People are so used to being overstimulated and being distracted from themselves that they struggle to switch off and just be in their own company, be on their own. People distract themselves with Netflix and Facebook, social media.

We also have far more people that live in isolation that live on their own that perhaps the other generations wouldn’t have had as much of. So we have more people feeling alone, perhaps feeling lonely, people that live their life more through devices than human interactions

And while social media can be a positive thing, depending on how it’s used, it can also create a lot of sense of “my life isn’t good enough”. We look at other people’s lives and see what’s projected on Facebook and can compare ourselves or create this fear of missing out.

We have a much greater choice of things we can buy things. And often it’s this focus on what we need to buy, what we need to own and what haven’t we got instead of appreciating what we have got.

So when you add all of that, into this big mixing pot, into where we are now and pop on top a global pandemic, it’s reasonable to understand why people might be cracking and showing cracks!.

The Power of Now

Let’s take a moment to think about time and the concept of time,

We know that all we ever have is right here right now,

When you first started listening to the podcast, that was like five minutes ago, that’s now in the past that’s history.

And even in few minutes from now is the future. It’s not happened yet. It’s like that saying yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift and that’s why we call it the present. So all we have is right now.

Therefore how can we bounce back from something if all we ever have is right here and right now?

With that in mind, I’d suggest that resilience isn’t about bouncing from anything. I’d say that resilience is about where our focus of attention is at any one time.

Is your focus of attention on the past on things that you can’t change or is that focus of attention on the future? trying to control outcomes? worried about things that haven’t yet happened?

Or is that focus of attention on the now, which is where all of your power and your ability to create exists in this present moment?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the fact that we don’t need to plan things!.

Can resilience be taught?

A lot of people ask the question, can you teach resilience? Or is it something that we’re innately born with?

I absolutely believe in every single cell of my body that yes, resilience can be taught fundamentally without a shadow of a doubt, because I believe that resilience is actually a state of mind.

There are people that suggest that resilience is something you are born with. But we all come into the world same way, pretty much. And we all have experiences, experiences that shape and influence the way that we think and that we feel.

The love and support that we grew up with, the environment that we grew up in and the messages we received from our caregivers all influence our identity. And all of that is learned. Whether you do that consciously or unconsciously, more often unconsciously, you’ve still gone through a process of learning.

Therefore can resilience be taught? Can we learn it? Absolutely!

The brain is like plasticine!

The brain is made of something called neuroplasticity, which means that it’s mouldable. Therefore when we’re consciously creating a new state of mind, a new way of thinking, a new way of emotionally responding and behaving, then we’re changing the ‘operating platform’ of the brain.

Imagine the brain as a giant computer that has an operating platform, and we’re deciding what software that we need to download that programmes how we show up, how we manage and navigate our way through situations.

When you learn something again and again you reinforce that learning, it becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. It becomes a state of being.

Every time you learn something you developed between one thousand three hundred and two thousand six hundred synaptic connections. However, unless you revisit that information, often within a matter of hours, you start to lose those connections.

Yet the brain is the most amazing operating platform that you can rewire, and create new ways of being, new ways of thinking, new ways of responding emotionally.

When you reinforce that through pattern and repetition, then you’re creating a new state of being, a new state of mind.

When it comes to resilience, it’s not always about challenges and choppy waters, because challenges present themselves every single day, especially with what we’re going through now.

Resilience also isn’t about being perfect. You can still loose your cool and have an emotional wobble because you’re human, and as humans there’s always going to be an area of growth of development, of fine tuning the way that we experience and respond to life.

If you are having a trying day or even what feels like a rubbish week, does that mean that you’re not resilient? No! But it is an invitation to ask yourself what needs to change here? What’s triggering me. How can I do something different here so that I can manage this experience better and I don’t get stuck emotionally.

Resilience and the workplace

While resilience can be taught, you can’t be as resilient as you’d like to be if you’re not applying self-care. Therefore if we think about stress in the workplace and the challenges employees are facing during this pandemic, if you’ve got employees with their foot on that gas not taking proper care of themselves, overriding ultradian dips, not getting outside, getting fresh air, not taking a walk, stimulating their Vegas nerve, not taking a proper lunch break, working into what would have been their commute, not taking the supplements that they need, not staying hydrated, not switching off properly to be able to get a really good restful sleep – that’s going to impact even the most resilient of people!

Therefore we need to teach people about a resilient state of mind and being and break away from the idea that resilience is this grit your teeth get on with things, develop a thick skin and bounce back! Because if that’s your approach, trust me, you’re going to be putting your body in the stress response – the freeze fight and flight response.

And if you are holding your body in that stress response for a period of time, then sooner or later, you’re likely to get sick. And 99% of physical health conditions start with the stress response.

Building resilience in the workplace

It’s a fact that most people don’t know that they’re stressed. Many employees don’t know what the signs are, the basic signs of stress, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

We operate in a world that tends to deal with things individually instead of holistically. For example, if you’ve been experiencing headaches or migraines, do you look at that in isolation?

Or do you look at things from a big picture perspective and consider if this is actually the bodys way of telling you that you need to take a step back. To create change so that the body can go back to its natural state of coherence, that it can be at optimal health?.

That’s why a big part of creating a resilient workforce comes from starting with the basic. Educating employees about what a lack of resilience looks like!

The key influences of resilience

  1. Emotional awareness

To develop resilience you have to have an awareness of the way that you think, feel and behave before you can create any changes.

About 95% of everything that you think feel, behave, your beliefs, the structures of the brain and physiology is all controlled by the unconscious mind, which means that you show up about 4% of the time consciously.

Therefore teaching employees how to be self-aware is key. Educating people about the mind and body, helping them to raise their awareness of the mind and the body consciously so that they can join the dots.

During stress management training, it amazes me how many people say “I tick every box for pretty much everything you said!. I didn’t realize I was stressed!”.

2. Emotional Intelligence

In order for somebody to be emotionally intelligent, there has to be two factors in place;

a) they have to have a level of self-awareness to be able to recognise how they think, their emotional responses and their behaviours. Unless they’ve got that, how can employees be emotionally intelligent?

There’s a clue there, the word intelligence! For example, if you’ve got somebody that flies off the handle all the time, or shuts down or runs away from conflict, then that’s not emotionally intelligent!.

Therefore if we want to help our employees become more emotionally intelligent, it’s not enough to simply teach them about emotional intelligence. It’s not enough to lay on an emotional intelligence course. We have to give employees the practical resources and techniques to help them to change how they feel, to regulate their emotional responses, to fundamentally rewire their emotional responses.

There are many ways to achieve this. We love to teach an amazing energy psychology technique called ‘Tapping’ or EFT – emotional freedom technique.

Within our employee wellbeing portal employees can get access to videos that teach them about tapping and give them videos that they can tap along to that can help them to regulate their emotions and take their body back into a place of coherence that place of wellbeing neutrality.

3. Self Esteem

Self esteem plays a big part in resilience. I don’t think we’ve really acknowledged how much of an influencing factor on somebody’s state of mind, their resilience and mental health self esteem has.

Somebody with low self-esteem that doesn’t believe they’re capable, that doesn’t believe they’re good enough, that second guesses themselves, doesn’t recognise their self worth, or doesn’t believe that they can cope is going to find their ability to navigate situations, to deal with situations, respond to situations compromised. And I do think that low self esteem is actually a pandemic. I think a lot of people out there suffer with low self-esteem.

4. Locus of Control

I come across so many people who would fondly describe themselves as control freaks!. I might not put it that way!. I would say that they ‘over’ control outcomes, conditions and situations. They are often trying to do that because they feel anxious. And when we feel anxious, we try to control things in our environments so that we feel safe, or it’s quite often because they’re trying to be perfect. They’ve got this massive fear of failure.

So they try to control things because they just can’t cope with feelings of failure. Therefore recognising what we can control, and letting go of what we can’t control of course will impact our state of mind.

5. Sense of Humour

Having a sense of humour may not be necessarily joined with having a positive state of mind, but our ability to laugh, to laugh at ourselves, laugh at life, not take things too seriously plays a huge part in resilience.

6. Self Care and Positive Coping Mechanisms

A lot of the time when people are under pressure, when they feel that their back is up against the wall they’re more likely to go for things that don’t necessarily help them in the best way such as ice cream, cake, alcohol, and Netflix. They do this to shift the way that they feel. To distract them from how they feel rather than do something that’s going to positively change how they feel like going for a run or doing a meditation or using a particular technique. Positive self care goes out of the window and quickly spirals into poor coping mechanisms.

Therefore the more that we can teach employees positive coping mechanisms that they can learn, when when life throws them lemons, they know how to make lemonade!

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