Can we cultivate resilience?

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There are many definitions and explanations of “resilience” out there and I’m sure we each have our take on what it means for us. But I came across one recently that inspired me to explore a little deeper!

“Perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs.” 

I believe I am a fairly resilient person. But why am I? Is resilience genetic? Does it need a trigger to develop? Does it grow over time? Can we create it? These are the questions I have been pondering. In particular the last one. I try to care less about why I am how I am (good and bad!) just for the sake of knowing – what does it really matter why I am resilient! But I am interested in whether resilience is something that can be built and nurtured, and if so how. Both at an individual level in our personal lives, and within the teams and organisations that I work with.

Generally we think about “the ability to bounce back” as being a key descriptor of resilience. But what if it is about more than that? I really like Dr. Gregg Steinberg TED talk on resilience, “How to FALL UP”. He talks about how tragic events demonstrate an ability to use adversity as a super-power for personal growth. He shows how resilience isn’t just about bouncing back to where you were before – but bouncing onwards and upwards to new heights! I really like this concept!

I believe that being able to reframe – to shift one’s perception of a situation, person, thing or event – lies at the heart of achieving resilience. Most things can be viewed quite differently depending on a whole raft of factors. Mood, knowledge, pre-conceptions, bias, personal drivers, priorities… to name just a few. And most importantly, nothing is forever! I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my life I realised this. Nothing lasts forever. And I mean really realised it; I internalised it, sub-consciously moving it from the “logic centre” in my brain to the “belief centre” in my heart such that it became a defining characteristic of me. It may sound so simple, but what an epiphany it was for me! I want to take the statement above even further:

“Perceiving all times as a temporary state of affairs.” 

This is now even more powerful. Not only does it enable me to keep going through the tough times – because I know they will end. Not just hope or wonder if… but really know. It also gives me the incredible gift of appreciating the good times! I know they too will not last, and I am able to focus on them and value them so much more.

Now lets bring this back to business. I have spent some time in my career working in the ‘lessons learned’ space. Retrospective analysis of what happened (or didn’t happen) and what we can learn from it. Most often in process-related scenarios. Sounds great doesn’t it! In reality though I have seen that most of the time we identify lessons – but don’t learn them. We list them, but we don’t make changes because of them. We don’t use them to drive future decisions and activity. What’s more, we often have a tendency to focus on what went wrong and why, and are less inclined to look at what went well and really understand the drivers for success. Akin to this, I have also supported dozens of individuals and teams of people with ‘culture’ and ‘climate’ and ‘change’ challenges; helping them to identify what is working well in their environment and what is not; to identify opportunities for improvement, but also to harness the positive things so that they can consciously continue to do them.

What makes one team or company survive and thrive where another, apparently very similar entity, struggles or disappears? I don’t have all the answers yet…!! But I do believe there is something in this concept of buying into the transience of everything when it comes to cultivating individual and organisational resilience. Accept it, embrace it, and use it to grow. Consciously create sustainability in order to bounce forward (not back)!

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