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Resilience: Don’t Wait to Bounce Back

With all the collective struggles we are facing - pandemic, economic and political upheaval, remote work, unemployment - there is more need than ever to be able to respond with resilience.

But, most of us want not only to survive - we want to thrive. There is a shared understanding that resilience is having the strength to endure challenges and overcome adversity, and I think you’ll agree that resilience is a positive trait to possess. When I ask workshop participants to tell me what resilience is, the most common answer is “resilience is the ability to bounce back after difficulty.” 

I have heard this in 100% of the resilience workshops I have facilitated.

It’s not wrong, but...it’s not enough.

While “bouncing back” after failure, disappointment or difficulty is certainly good, it already implies a “reactive” tone - it asserts that we bounce back after something happens. And while that may be when resilience shows itself, we don't want to wait until adversity hits to start thinking about resilience.  We live in an extremely volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where “bouncing back” may no longer be sufficient. Bouncing back refers to what we do after difficulty, instead, we should focus on how we prepare before hard times.

Let’s expand the way we think about resilience and talk about resilience-building as a proactive skill set. Evidence shows that there are many practices we can use before facing difficulty to be more prepared to go beyond mere survival to thrive in all areas of life; to not only bounce back, but to Bounce Forward! When we think of resilience as growing from a set of skills and rituals we can practice, we’re empowered with the capacity to grow our resilience in advance of challenging times. That’s encouraging because it gives us the personal agency to DO something before adversity hits us. It gives us the chance to BE resilient.

I like to define resilience in this way: 

Bouncing Forward

Resilience is our ability to bounce forward from adversity while maintaining flexibility, and being prepared for challenge, with the ability to recognize and fulfill our own needs so we have strength, balance and joy. When we do this, we can bring our whole, authentic self to our life and work.

There’s a lot there… let’s expand a bit further.

Resilience is the ability to grow as a result of difficulty, that’s the bounce FORWARD. In cases of extreme difficulty, it’s actually called “post traumatic growth.” Resilience grows when we are open to new learning and can find a sense of optimism about our circumstances. It happens when we ask “what can I learn from this?” or “what new opportunity is this presenting to me?” instead of “why is this happening to me?”  Bouncing forward is about practicing a flexible, growth-oriented mindset and taking purposeful action during challenge, it’s not just what happens after the fact.

Having a flexible mindset means you’re open to adapting to varied and changing contexts and can be flexible in your expectations. When we cling too tightly to rigid ideas of how things “should be” we experience more stress and reactive emotions. Practicing letting go of expectations and being open to possibility improves resilience. As the saying goes, let’s not “should all over ourselves.”

Resilience is built mostly on the relationship you have with yourself. Being able to recognize and fill our own needs requires self knowledge and self acceptance that we can actively work to deepen. Reflecting on our values, strengths, emotions and experiences deepens self awareness. If we can be true to our own sense of self while being open to growth, change and transformation, then we can ask for what we need or set boundaries that honor our values. This is when we feel strong, balanced, joyful, and fully present.

Resilience starts with your connection to self and knowing your own inner resources.

We build resilience when we use practices, both personal and communal, that fuel, nurture and prepare us for a broad variety of experiences. A central tenet of proactively building resilience is the importance of developing and accepting our whole person; we need resilience in all areas of our lives – connection to self, body, career, family, community, relationships, spirituality, creativity; being a whole, integrated person is key to resilience and resilience is key to success and joy! 

Lastly, let’s remember that resilience is valuable not only in times of crisis; we can use resilience practices even in times of calm. In fact, increased resilience helps us achieve a state of calm more easily. Practices like mindful meditation, caring for our bodies, reflective journaling, building community and purposeful personal growth, among others, are ways we can increase resilience in anticipation of needing strength and perseverance. The benefits of “preparing in advance” are many.

The more resilient we become, the less we will experience challenges as “difficulty or adversity” because we will be ready to persist through them. Resilience doesn’t eliminate adversity, but it softens the negative impact we experience.

What practices can you put in place NOW to enhance your resilience?

Need ideas about how to apply the concept of “bouncing forward?” I’ll be sharing soon about building your own “Resilience Portfolio.” Send me a comment or a message to learn more!


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