What is resilience – and how can we build it?

Since starting my business, there’s been one question I’ve been asked over and over again: “What exactly is resilience?

I usually head straight for the dictionary definition that’s on my homepage – the ability to spring back, rebound or overcome adversity; achieving good outcomes regardless of life events or circumstances – and that, plus the shorter version (‘bouncebackability’), goes some way to helping others understand what it is that underpins all of my work.

But from lots of discussions on the subject, I know that, for some, those definitions can be a bit superficial or even emotionless, suggesting that resilience is just about soldiering on regardless of how we’re feeling, and perhaps even an example of the stiff upper lip approach that suggests we all “Keep calm and carry on.” And that fits more closely with those at the other end of the scale who dismiss resilience as ‘one of those soft skills’ that don’t really matter or deserve attention in the workplace, and certainly can’t be taught.

Having lived and breathed this word both professionally and personally for the past 4 years (and for a lot longer than that before I even realised it was a ‘thing’), it means so much more than a dictionary definition, a throwaway comment or the kind of cliché we see on mugs and Instagram posts.*

So what does it mean to me?

My definition of what resilience means changes the more I learn, read, talk, listen, train, coach and experience – and I fully expect it to continue to evolve – but, particularly in the light of my recent reading and work around coaching, it means this:

1) Self-awareness – to be truly resilient comes from a strong sense of self and a clear understanding of our values, strengths and purpose, giving us the confidence to make decisions that serve us well, even in challenging times. Our sense of identity is often challenged or eroded as we take on greater responsibilities, experience significant or ongoing change either personally or professionally, work in a role that doesn’t align with our values, feel unsupported, or find ourselves focusing more on the needs of others than ourselves – that’s why training and coaching that focuses on understanding ourselves and our values, and developing greater emotional intelligence, is invaluable for leaders, teachers, parents: all of us. And it’s the kind of topic we should be exploring and celebrating with children and young adults before we even start to talk to them about careers, or invite them consider what they want to do with their lives after they leave education.

2) The regular practices that enable us, and those around us, to thrive – our environment and our regular or daily actions have a significant impact on our ability to feel resilient. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant advocate in their brilliant book, Option B, we don’t have a fixed supply of resilience: we can continually build it. And we can do this in ways that can positively affect whole organisations – workplaces, schools, hospitals, every kind of business big or small – our homes and families, and ourselves as individuals.

So how can we build it?

Building resilience in our workplaces and homes includes:

  • encouraging growth rather than fixed mindsets  (if you haven’t already come across Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets, this short video gives you an idea of its impact – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTXrV0_3UjY&safe=active )
  • recognising and praising effort rather than achievement
  • exploring and celebrating our values, strengths and purpose
  • challenging the idea of perfection
  • encouraging each other to try new things – taking risks in a supportive environment
  • saying and meaning that it’s ok to make mistakes
  • believing that ‘failure’ is an opportunity for learning
  • allowing everyone time to think and to contribute their ideas – and really listening to what they have to say
  • valuing and developing ‘soft’ skills – empathy, confidence, listening, communication, teamwork, leadership, flexibility, problem solving, positivity, creativity: they all make a difference.
  • talking about and placing real value on mental health, and that includes accessing specialist mental health professionals when it’s needed
  • taking time for yourself and encouraging it for others
  • spending time outside
  • connecting with others
  • sleeping
  • eating well
  • making the most of the micro-moments (check out @suzyreading on Instagram for some great ideas)
  • making time to enjoy whatever it is that brings you joy.

For the record, what brings me joy is dancing around the kitchen (with or without 2 small people in tow), cooking (sometimes I dance whilst cooking), singing (in the car, whilst cooking, whilst dancing), reading, writing, spending time laughing with friends, a long walk, rattling through a good boxset (Suits with my husband, The Gilmore Girls on my own – I’m a bit behind the times) and making time to enjoy the thing my Mum used to ask for every Christmas and birthday: peace and quiet. 

What does resilience mean to you?

How does your organisation build resilience in the workplace? How does your school develop resilient children and staff? How do you build resilience in your family? How do you build resilience in yourself? I’d love to hear your ideas.

And if you want to talk about how I could help you, your team, your colleagues, your leaders, your students or your organisation to build resilience, click on the contact page and get in touch.

*(I feel I should point out that those who know me would be the first to say I am always partial to a good inspirational quote…!)

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