Resilience as a Verb…
It often looks as if there is a ‘thing’ called resilience which we can acquire, or train ourselves into, and we become ‘resilient’. But I like to see it more like a capacity for recovery, just like I have a capacity for healing when I cut my finger. (you probably had to be on the call for this to make sense ;-) ).
If this perspective is true, then life kinda works like this:
- we generally do OK and we go about our day-to-day;
- life gives us a knock;
- it hurts; sometimes a lot;
- our innate healing capacity kicks in and takes over the process of ‘doing something about it’;
- at some point we feel better.
OK, there are a few pieces to this, but the overall process was summed up by one of the participants who said,
I usually know, if I’ve had a bad day, that I’ll feel better the next day.
It sounds simple, and obvious perhaps, but the ‘knowing’ part is critical.
Because she knows this, she doesn’t ‘do’ anything other than what occurs to her to do-some soothing tea, a restful evening, a refreshing walk, or even just ignoring it and doing whatever work or household chores need to be done. She knows the ‘bad feeling’ will pass, because that’s what feelings do, and ‘she’ doesn’t need to do anything consciously to let it take its course.
This is a very different response to someone who doesn’t realise that resilience is there, like a backup generator, or a thermostat control, that works all by itself, and so tries to intervene to make it work, or make it work faster. I know I’m being a bit flippant about this, but it is what many of us do-either for ourselves or for others-we think that we need to manage the process of recovery, rather than allowing it to take its course, longer or shorter.
If Resilience is a Capacity…?
We shared the example of a small child cutting her finger for the first time who may not realise that blood stops flowing after a few minutes. If she doesn’t know that then she might panic. But the parent, who knows that there is nothing to do here, that healing happens, and maybe a plaster or a kiss are a good short-term aid, has no need to panic. The parent can reassure the child, give her some love and let her see that the bleeding stops, the cut heals and new skin grows over.
If resilience is a capacity, then there’s not a lot ‘we’ need to do to find it or turn it on; and it isn’t true that some people are more resilient than others. What might be true is that some people-probably all of us some of the time-either don’t know or forget that we have this capacity.
The Normal and the Extremes…
This process is happening all the time, all day every day, and we don’t realise. We only see the extreme at one end where we get severely knocked down, we experience pain, frustration or sadness, not for seconds or minutes, not even overnight, but sometimes for days, weeks, even longer. Or it feels as if there is one blow after another, like some kind of not-so-funny boxing game.
It’s the same, it’s just one extreme.
Like the other extreme which we probably don’t notice-the microscopic disappointment because you ran out of milk for your morning coffee, these small ups and downs that pass by so quickly that we don’t even notice or pay attention to the emotional flux of the day.
What to do when we need those extra reserves?
I guess, in answer to my original question, there are two things that help:
The first, is the understanding that there is a capacity and a recovery process that happens all by itself. That we don’t need to wonder whether we are strong enough, like that parent who doesn’t worry that the bleeding will stop and there is a natural process occurring.
And the second is then the easy part-do whatever occurs to you to do. If that’s to take care, put a metaphorical plaster on the injury, take a pause, or shrug it off and carry on, knowing you can rest later but that right now you’re going to finish the marathon.
It’s very freeing to have less to do, to have the responsibility for feeling better taken on by your innate resilience. It means you can do whatever you want, you can rest, relax, come along and listen in to a call like our one yesterday. You can ‘learn’ but you can also simply ‘be’ with whatever shows up, relaxing into a shared space and allowing yourself to rest in the peace.
I do know that some of us are struggling, and I know that resilience looks like a quality that can be rationed, but what if it wasn’t?
What if you were just taking a few more knocks than usual and, therefore, you needed to allow a little more space to let the natural recovery process take over. Nothing extra to do.
This was the final one of this series of five leadership seminars.
If you’re on the email list (head over to my website, link here if you’re not), then you’ll be the first to find out about other events.
And of course, you can browse around the rest of the articles in this series starting here.
Right now I have some more free leadership events taking place and I’d love to hear from you if you have ideas for what would be helpful for you.
Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on November 27, 2020.