According to Wikipedia, “Psychological resilience is an individual's tendency to cope with stress and adversity.” There are many other articles on the web explaining the key aspects of resilience, such as optimism, feeling in control, adept social skills, flexibility, problem solving ability and positive values.
For me, when I think of resilience, I remember the Weebles, a toy from my childhood. If you’ve never heard of this, take my word for it, a whole generation on hearing the name, will burst into the, “Weeble’s wobble but they don’t fall down,” song. Sad but true.
You can hold a Weeble flat on its side and it will bounce straight back up when you let it go. Some people do this too. Take Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa. After spending 27 of his prime years in jail, he came out and continued to work against apartheid with more compassion, wisdom and determination than ever - definitely a human Weeble in my book.
We’re not born with a fixed quota of resilience. Like every other skill, it can be learnt. Setbacks come in all shapes and sizes: missed opportunities, mistakes, bad decisions, personal problems and human tragedies. Most of these happen to all of us at some point. It’s how we react that makes the difference.
How can we learn to be more resilient?
To develop resilience, I suggest using these three key steps:
1. Detach any inappropriate meaning you have applied to the event/s
One of the most important aspects of how we deal with a crisis is not what has happened but what meaning we apply to it. For example, losing a job might result in reduced income, more free time and some new information about what that client did and didn’t want. It doesn’t change who they are or many other aspects of your life.
However, if you apply meanings to it such as: “I’m useless”, “They hate me”, “My life is ruined”, the event can become a catastrophe rather than a surmountable set back. It’s important to recognise what the real effects of the external event are rather than take it to the dizzy heights of ruining your life – a state of mind not a fact of reality.
Instead, take a step back and look for facts and evidence. Keep your finger off the play button of your own mental disaster movie! What does it mean? It means you have lost this job and now you need to do something about finding the next one.
It’s important to put this event in the context of your life. Take a moment to get in touch with all those areas that have gone well and are still in good shape, e.g., relationships, family, health etc. So whatever happens is only part of the picture not your entire existence.
2. Consider what you can learn from what has happened
The most useful activity now is to understand what happened so that you can learn from it. This is not an opportunity to feel bad about set backs or mistakes. Mistakes are an integral part of learning. None of us learned to walk without falling down a few times. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from doing things perfectly. So really, this is an opportunity! Now what is needed is information:
- What else was going on that influenced this decision?
- What part did you play?
- If you received negative feedback, was it justified?
- How is this situation perceived by someone who’s opinion you rate?
- What could you have done differently?
- What lessons can you learn from this?
- What can be salvaged, if anything, from the situation?
- How was this experience useful to you?
Once you have answered all of the above, you can put whatever has occurred into perspective, and into the past, and move onto making decisions about your next steps.
3. Identify what actions you are going you take next
Resilience is getting up again and taking action after a setback. I love the Japanese saying: “Fall down 7 times, get up 8.” Now, it is the time to look into the future, make or amend your existing plans, and do something. If you are not sure what to do, do anything. If that doesn’t work, do something else. This is the time to focus on what you can do.
Resilient people have an optimistic belief that somehow things are going to work out fine. Not necessarily how they envisage them now, but fine. This is a powerful belief because it makes everything bearable - no matter how bad it is, it’s only temporary. Just like being rolled onto your side if you are a Weeble!
All together now, sing… “Weeble’s wobble but they don’t fall down!”