By the time most of you read this, the person I was talking with this morning will be 90 years old. I’ll call her Ann. Over a cup of tea I asked her a question:
“Why do you think some people are more resilient than others at managing life’s challenges?”
Ann’s answer was very interesting and I’ve captured her responses here:
Understanding and building resilience starts very early in life
When you are young you hear conversations around you, almost without realising what you are hearing. You see the way people behave and the way they react to situations. Friends and relatives around you discuss life issues, the effect they have on people and the way some people manage to get through these issues and overcome adversity. The culture you find yourself in is a powerful influence and helps you to realise what is possible and achievable in life and how your own resources form a key part of your success.
One of the great influences Ann is talking about is what in today’s language we would call role models. These are people in your life who you look up to and see as the kind of person you would like to be. We cam probably all recall someone from our childhood who we remember being influenced by in a positive way and thinking that we would like to be like them when we grow up.
Observe and take time to reflect on what you see
Ann talked about observing the behaviours you see and “keeping your mouth shut”, which I interpret as taking time to reflect quietly on what you have heard and seen rather than broadcasting it immediately. The way people tackle life is a great source of learning and this learning forms the bedrock of how we develop over the years. We start to form a view of whether or not we agree with the way the person went about managing their personal challenges. And our view may change over time as our own experience of life broadens.
Finding role models is not just for childhood and teenage years though – it can continue throughout your life. Observing people who you consider to be successful and learning how they got where they are, what survival skills they have and how they sharpen these skills depending on the role they are in is a great way of reflecting on your own strengths and weaknesses. What is it about them that enabled them to secure that role? And what can you learn from them?
Absorb your experiences – good and bad
I find Ann’s word “absorb” interesting. And I think it’s at the heart of our journey towards building resilience. Good and bad experiences will happen. We will be caught out one day if we haven’t prepared properly. We may receive unexpected congratulations and thanks for a job well done. We are likely to find ourselves “no longer required” in a role, which we’ve given our heart and soul to creating. An exciting new job or promotion is likely to come our way at some stage in our work life. The organisation we work for will change into something different with new processes to adapt to or a re-structured team to work with. These things will happen.
So it’s a useful strategy to try and accept all experiences equally and to learn from them. When things are not so good, could we have done something differently and influenced the outcome? When things went well, how did it happen? What did we do to prepare ourselves, advertise ourselves, skill ourselves up or influence others? Take time to accept the situation, absorb the experience, take the learning and be prepared for your next challenge.
Looking at Ann’s 3 observations about resilience, there seems to be one underlying thread. The words she uses: observe, reflect and absorb. These have something in common – they are all aspects of the art of disciplining the mind. Developing the ability to manage the activity of the mind, to speed it up, slow it down, focus it and rest it is a core skill set. We hear about Mindfulness, meditation, Yoga and other techniques for quietening and mastering the mind. And there is plenty of research out there on the impact of early influences on the development of resilience in children as well as useful resources to help us learn how to develop our resilience as we grow older too. And one thing is certain – resilience and adaptability are key skills for today’s world of work.
I enjoyed my cup of tea with Ann and I thanked her for sharing her insights with me. Inspired by what she said, I have found some further reading sources, which I hope will help you as you look for ways to understand and build your own personal resilience.
The Science of Resilience
Why some children can thrive despite adversity
Harvard Business review: 5 ways to Boost your Resilience at Work by Rich Fernandez, June 27 2016
Izzy Ixer, Blue Pebble Coaching