The recent pandemic has made me reflect on resilience once more. Sometimes we take it for granted that we will cope, and we just keep going. Because usually, we do cope. But what happens when we can’t cope anymore?
Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors. The good news is that some of the qualities of middle age — a better ability to regulate emotions and perspective gained from life experiences — may give mature people an advantage over the young when it comes to developing resilience.
Resilience is actually a scientific principle which applies to materials that can return to their original shape, even after being tested, bent, and stretched. Just think of this in human terms and consider how, even after being tested and stretched, we can return to our original physical and psychological shape. Wow! But we’re not superheroes and we’re not made of rubber, so how do we bounce back? What does it take for us to be resilient?
When I work with women in leadership roles I check-in to see how resilient they are. I ask them how they feel about the problem they are dealing with and I listen to the way they describe it to me. They often tell me that it feels ‘insurmountable’ and they feel ‘overwhelmed’ like they are ‘powerless’ or ‘unprepared’ and they don’t know what to do next. They tell me that there’s just not enough gas left in the tank. They tell me they just want to get through this, and they want to still be in good shape when it’s over. So, I ask them to consider the stage they are at right now, and where they really want to get to. To help them, I talk about the 7 C’s of resilience. This method was initially created by Kenneth Ginsburg, a paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and then successfully developed and applied to other contexts, including professional environments.
The 7 Essential Building Blocks of Resilience
Think about the confidence you need to face this setback or issue and to get through the day ahead. Some prompts can be, ‘just think of something that makes you smile’ and as if by magic it does just that, it makes you smile and immediately lifts your mood. Try to adopt a strong posture and face forwards. Take deep breaths and focus on the here and now. Remember a time when you overcame something and did a good job.
Set yourself an activity like making a cup of tea or coffee and focus on the task and practise your coordination. Take a walk, one step at a time, and realise that you are putting yourself in the middle of a task and you are completing it. Remove any distractions and focus. Keep your balance. Coordinate your daily activity and plan what you can achieve that day and be realistic about this.
Start to take control and own the task in front of you. Rely on yourself to complete one task until the end. Keep control of your self and your emotions. Give yourself a metaphorical pat on the back.
Maintain your sense of self and your internal dialogue. Reframe negative thoughts and think about the best-case scenario and not the worst. If you remain composed, you will see that this is infectious, and others regain their composure as well. If you need to take a break, give yourself a break. You cannot expect your body and your mind to just keep going. Sit down and close your eyes, just for a few minutes. Breathe deeply and drink a glass of chilled water.
Find your purpose and remind yourself why you are doing this. If it doesn’t fit in with your purpose, then you may struggle to be committed and this may be why it’s hard to complete the task. Revisit this and ask yourself why are you doing it and what will happen if you don’t do it?
You don’t need to do this alone. Seek out others who can help you and support you. Learn from their experience and ask them what they think you should do. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.
This is sometimes the hardest part. It’s challenging to get up and to carry on when you really want to stop, turnaround and run away. This is understandable. But remember it will pass. Accept any failure and learn from it. Mistakes will happen along the way, because we are only human, after all. Keeping the emotional “muscle” of resilience strong by practising certain behaviours, it’s a way to have our emotional-survival toolboxes at the ready for when a crisis will hit again.