It’s an attribute we desire, the characteristic we should be helping the next generation to build, the jewel in the crown to our personal growth – but WHAT IS RESILIENCE?
In the 2003/4 football season, Iain Dowie coined the word ‘bouncebackability’. His Crystal Palace team had risen from the depths of relegation in the December to winning promotion through the play-offs in May. In 2005 “bouncebackability” entered the Oxford English Dictionary.
Bouncebackability and resilience have a lot in common. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It’s a toughness and a grit. But bouncing back from adversity isn’t the whole story.
With two children at school, I hear about building resilience from them, it’s a word that’s in their vocabulary in a way that wasn’t for me at their age. The school ran a session with parents looking at how we can build resilience in children. Teachers actively use the word with children and give them examples of experiences in life which will help them to build it, usually in the context of their perceived failures.
Resilience is intertwined with failing. This is something we’re all slowly learning is a good thing, but it’s still a challenge for us because for the most part we don’t like to fail, even when we ‘fail fast’. Without failure, we can’t test our metal, yet often the ego gets in the way of fully embracing the opportunities it presents us with.
Herein lies the stepping stone to resilience – the acceptance of failure. Podcasts such as Elizabeth Day’s hugely successful ‘How to Fail’ are showing the positives of our perceived failings. Often we are set on our course in life, predetermined by what we feel success looks like – this could originate from culture, society, our education, and role models to name a few. However when we set our goals, we are imposing a rigidity based on what we know about the world, and what is open to us.
Jonny Wilkinson recently spoke on The High Performance Podcast “If there’s great disappointment, be curious about the disappointment, don’t be angry at the situation, be curious – it’s an inward journey. And if you point inwards, there’s no limit there. So a degree of pure curiosity, exploration, with the aim of finding new space which is new opportunity, which keeps passion alive”
Being curious, open, and having an elasticity to our view of success is a cornerstone of building resilience. What Jonny is describing here is and emotional fitness that enables us to cope with unpredictable circumstances that arise in life. In the same way that a runner may prepare their body for a variety of terrain, so we need to prepare our minds. And just like a running, it’s a practice, it needs daily attention.
There is a difference between being (unconsciously) resilient, and having a toolset that you consciously activate when you need to be resilient. In some areas of life we will develop resilience to experiences unconsciously: it could be the ability to train hard for a sport; to cope with our commute on an overcrowded public transport system; to juggle the children with the many other demands of life; to work in a mentally demanding role such as front line services. Conscious resilience comes into play when we are dealing with more irregular challenges, perhaps lockdown, a divorce, losing our job, or grief. In these cases we consciously draw on our toolkit of curiosity, gratitude, and a mindset of looking to and accepting what that new future may hold for us. Leaders are good a building resilience because they are often faced by obstacles that can overwhelm them, and so examining resilience is a good leadership lesson.
You can’t build equal levels of resilience to EVERYTHING, it’s OK not to be resilient to everything – you can walk away from people and circumstances that do not serve you. This in itself is a type of resilience, and part of your toolkit for dealing with the unpredictability of life.