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Resilience and challenges

Are you wondering how to become more resilient? Resilience is a hot issue at the moment. Schools, workplaces, the army are all interested in increasing resilience of their students, people and recruits. But why?

Resilience, loosely defined, is someone’s ability to bounce back (rather than crumple or shatter) in the face of challenges or some sort of trauma. Clearly bouncing back is an important life skill – at school, work, the army – and every life situation we find ourselves in.

There’s a big industry working to help people become more resilient. From workshops, to seminars, to coaching, to books, to apps – there’s a solution for anyone looking to increase their own or other people’s resilience.

It’s good to see preventive mental health being taken seriously by so many. It’s good to see investments being made in the psychological and emotional well-being – in giving people strategies to help manage challenges without being destroyed by them.

The thing is though, resilience can’t be taught theoretically and out of context – it’s more a life-subject where you need to learn on the job.

There are lot’s of strategies people can use to increase their resilience – everything from laughter yoga and mindfulness meditation to assertiveness training and relationship skills.

It’s wonderful and healthy to have the skills these things teach you. Yet it’s not until you are in a challenge that you learn anything about resilience, that you learn when and how to use these strategies or understand their power to help.

It’s like most things in life – you can’t learn or grow or develop expertise unless you sweat and persevere and make every mistake in the book and then some. Only then do you understand your range of response to challenge. Only then do you understand the depth and range of resources for coping. Only then do you know (and own) just how crucial laughter yoga or mindfulness is to your wellbeing.

Because without the challenges that bowl you over and make you sweat, you might seem to sail through life – but you don’t even know if you have developed the right muscles to respond in the face of a challenge that knocks you off your feet. You might not have the right antibodies to deal with stress.

None of us lives a life without challenges. It just seems to be the way to the world that we don’t have growth without pain. We all get bowled over from time to time – at school, work or in life. And each time we get back up we have added another resilience muscle to use for next challenge that will inevitably come.

So that’s why resilience is best friends with challenge. Resilience knows the challenges will be there – and uses them to help you grow as a student, a colleague, a person. Becoming more resilient puts polish on your personality with each challenge you master.

If we are honest, there are so many wonderful aspects of our lives could not have come about were it not for the pain and challenges. Indeed, I am finally finding thankfulness for some of the most painful times in my life because the blessings that have come as a result could not have come any other way. It takes my breath away to see the wonderful things that have grown out of pain. And gratitude, of course, is another string to the resilience bow.

Fair enough that being resilient makes the most of difficult situations, but how can it be that challenges appreciates what resilience brings? Doesn’t challenge and pain (often at the hands of wickedness) wish only to trip us up? Well the only way I can make sense of this is to understand the world as more purposeful and holistic than we see on the surface.

What if we see the world as a place where challenges secretly want us to pass each test thrown our way. What if challenge is the stick to resilience’s carrot – all part of a greater plan to get the most out of us? What if challenge cheers every time we pass a test? Then things start to look a little different.

It doesn’t stop us suffering, crying out in pain or asking why? There is spice and savoury in the world just as there is sweet. But perhaps it leaves us open to finding a small spark of resilience deep inside and fanning it into a fire of  absolute strength.

I doubt that I’ll find evidence that things work the way I have proposed. We can’t find challenge and resilience and ask them and do a study on their responses. But this is a way of seeing the world I’ve found that seems to bring some level of peace – and that itself is strengthening.

So how do you see things? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Rob Burnside

    In my twenties, I had an old friend named Sylvia. She used to say, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” I wasn’t certain what she meant back then but now I think I am. Sooner or later, everyone weakens. The trick is to do what you can to make sure it’s later rather than sooner. And all the rest is luck, good and bad. To me, now at the same age Sylvia was back then, it seems a great deal of the latter comes from our fellow travelers, though I can’t quite agree with Sartre that “Hell is other people.” I do, however, believe miscommunication
    (or worse–non communication) is the chief offender here, and that, in addition to the suggestions you make, anything we can do to improve in this area will bring immediate and long lasting benefit.

    • Thankyou Rob – You always have such wise things to add. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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