6th of December

Resilience Is More Than A Business Buzzword

Since the initial lockdown in March many people are still trying to find ways to cope – both personally and professionally. Having being dealt the initial blow of being locked down, then lockdown lifted, then tiers, then lockdown 2.0, then harsher tiers, we now have the prospect of a vaccine and maybe normality by April. That is the hope.

Trying to plan and guess what will happen seems to many like a fool’s errand and is incredibly stressful. People are feeling the strain. Businesses are feeling the strain. I have friends who are trying their best, taking on other jobs to help with the financial burden, but who say things like ‘I just can’t be bothered now, I’ve had enough.’ But what is clear to me is that these friends do not give-up, they get knocked-down, but they get back up and they keep trying, keep moving forwards. To me, this is resilience in action.

Within the dictionary, resilience as a term is described:


Noun: resilience ri’zil-yun(t)s [N. Amer], ri’zi-lee-un(t)s [Brit] 1. The physical property of a material that can return to its original shape or position after deformation that does not exceed its elastic limit – resiliency 2. An occurrence of rebounding or springing back – resiliency

Derived forms: resiliences Type of: backlash, elasticity, rebound, recoil, repercussion, snap

It’s an interesting word. Firstly, because it conjures up particular ideas and stereotypes such as corporate training, people behaving in a particular way, and it also suggests that if we have this quality, we will not suffer any human set-backs. It is a term most often associated with strength, steeliness and remaining unaffected by life’s challenges. But as the definition suggests, it is not the same as strength. Strong people aren’t necessarily resilient, and likewise a resilient person might not appear very strong. Resilience is about experiencing life’s difficulties – pain, fear, anger, despair, but then being able to come back from this and ‘rebounding or springing back’.

Where does resilience come from?

Diane Coutu in the Harvard Business Review states that resilience is dependent upon 3 qualities:

“Most of the resilience theories I encountered in my research make good common sense. But I also observed that almost all the theories overlap in three ways. Resilient people, they posit, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.”

So, let’s look at the components of this resilience formula:

1) Acceptance of reality:

Or, as Michael Bernard Beckwith says, ‘It is what it is’. I’m a great believer in acceptance. Or another way of putting it – the truth. I really believe that you cannot move forwards unless you look objectively at reality and take it for what it is. It’s no good trying to put a positive spin on things, or sprinkle glitter on it. And this isn’t being pessimistic, it’s staring reality in the face. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, acceptance is not about resignation or putting-up with something. It is about allowing things to be as they are, regardless of whether they’re pleasant or painful. It’s about dropping the struggle with how things are.

2) Life is meaningful:

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” Viktor E. Frankl

And this is a key point, as the meaning of life in general is elusive, fickle and the more you try to find meaning, the more it seems to move away from you. However, Frankl does suggest some ways we can create meaning:

  • By creating a work or doing a deed.
  • By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  • By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

3) Ability to improvise:

This is about being able to move away from rigid rules and use whatever is at hand, to adapt, morph and to make the most of what is at hand. It’s about thinking beyond the box and trying things out.

Can resilience be taught

Psychology professor Martin Seligman would say yes, and has taught resilience extensively within the United States Forces. These resilience programs are based on substantial evidence from well controlled studies and teach skills which increase resilience, including positive emotion, engagement and meaning.

However, there are many other ideas and theories about how we can develop resilience. Other theories about resilience include influences such as genetics, early life experiences and luck – and these are things that cannot be modified nor taught.

It’s an interesting concept, and the more you look into resilience, the more you find that there are many definitions and many theories surrounding the idea. Certainly, as a coach I am a firm believer in providing people with the tools to be able to move forwards through life with authenticity, awareness and resilience. Coaching is a brilliant helping model, but I don’t believe that any helping model can somehow make us perfect and cure us of being human. Because, beyond the tools, tricks and theories I’m not sure resilience is entirely a conscious thing. From studies, we know that roughly a third of all subjects under specific conditions of hardship will never become helpless – and what we are asking within all of this, is why this is so. Seligman attributes this to optimism, but again this begs lots of questions about definitions of optimism, how etc, etc. I think that ultimately it is a question which relates to, and asks what it is to be human. And that is definitely more than a buzzword.

“In my experience, resilient people don’t often describe themselves that way. They shrug off their survival stories and very often assign them to luck…… Resilience is a reflex, a way of facing and understanding the world, that is deeply etched into a person’s mind and soul. Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not. This is the nature of resilience, and we will never completely understand it.” Diane Coutu

Categories:  Mental Health

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