Resilience and balance

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These past few weeks have been all about resilience. Things have been incredibly stressful and both physically and emotionally draining, and I’ve had to marshal all my resources to stay focused and to flex with the challenges.

That’s what resilience is: being able to adapt in the face of adversity. It’s all about steering your way constructively through difficulty and taking learning from your experience.

It’s not about ‘bouncing back’ – a popular characterisation that has the unfortunate suggestion that you’re meant to instantaneously recover from a crisis. It’s natural and ok to be reeling for a while. Take the time you need. Reflect. Learn. Grow. And then realise that you’re not back in the same place – you’re further down the road, wiser, and often stronger.

When things get tough, think 4S*. What skills can you draw on to help you in this situation? What strategies can you develop to keep you moving? What pieces of sagacity can give you comfort? And which supports – friends and family – can help to keep you upright?

Whatever life is throwing at you, you’ll get through it. Have faith.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

(*4S taken from Carole Pemberton, Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches)

Visualisation and imagery

phoenixinflames

Yesterday, during the course I was on, we did some work on resilience-enhancing imagery – visualisation can be a really powerful tool to help us tap into performance-enhancing thoughts.

I have two images/visualisations that help me. I’ve shared one on here previously – walking down a peaceful, deserted beach and doing mindful breathing, which is a lovely one for feeling calm and centred.

A long time ago, I discovered, through some genealogical research that my uncle was doing, that the Snodgrass family had a crest: a phoenix in flames.

My second image is precisely that: the phoenix rising from the flames. I may burn, but I will always rise again.

Do you have images or visualisations that help you? Do share them!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Resilience

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I bend, I don’t break.
I always bounce back.

Do you use any of these metaphors when you talk or think about resilience? Personally, I like the picture of resilience that’s summed up by this plant.

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It illustrates nicely the definition given by Carole Pemberton (2015) in Coaching for Resilience:

The capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours when faced by a life disruption, or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser, and more able. 

In other words, resilience is gradual adaptation in the face of adversity.  Being resilient doesn’t mean you have to be somehow invulnerable to life’s hard knocks – it’s all about learning and growth, and the ability to steer your way constructively through difficulty. I think the danger of the popular characterisation of ‘bouncing back’ is that it gives the impression that recovering from setbacks is as effortless and instantaneous as the rebound of a rubber ball. You just pick yourself up and carry on as you were, utterly unchanged by the event. Except you’re not.

Even if you’re of the true grit school of thought, it’s important to recognise that resilience isn’t a you’ve-either-got-it-or-you-don’t thing; it’s a continuum. Life continually tests us, and our ability to respond well to this can vary depending on context and domain. You may be able to cope very well with pressure in your professional life, but feel crushed by the breakdown of a personal relationship. You may historically have had no problems navigating the ups and downs of life, but find yourself unexpectedly and completely derailed after being made redundant. Our resilience can become overwhelmed in all sorts of different ways – and we will all respond differently, too.1,2

I find it useful looking at this from the perspective of the three-factor model that combines the effects of genetics, external protective factors, and learning (diagram below adapted from Pemberton, 2015):

3-factor model of resilience

What this tells us is that although some people may be more naturally resilient than others, resilience isn’t just a product of our personality. Research has also shown the important contributions made by the support networks around us (the availability of ‘secure attachment’) and what we learn from experience. That latter factor is probably most crucial for me. I love the way Ann Masten puts it: resilience, she says, is ‘ordinary magic’: something we develop through the demands of living. I love this because it marks it out as something that can be available to all of us, even if we haven’t had the most fortunate start in life.

So how, then, can we cultivate resilience? It’s worth spending some time thinking about these factors:

  1. Finding meaning
    I’ve written before about purpose as a key factor in what drives us – the desire to connect to a greater and meaningful cause. Purpose gives us direction and a reason to keep going. What purpose can you find in what you may be going through? What can you take from this experience that you can channel positively into something meaningful?
  2. Flexibility
    Fixed patterns of thinking stop us being able to see the larger picture and its possibilities for learning and growth. How can I widen my perspective? What other ways are there to think about this situation? What can I learn from this setback?(For more on this, I recommend Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets.)
  3. Support
    What company am I keeping? Resilience is not developed in social isolation. What positive and mutually supportive relationships can I build?
  4. Mindfulness
    Pain is typically seen as a problem. Mindfulness helps us learn to detach from our negative thoughts and feelings in order to observe and accept them without becoming trapped in them – moving forward despite them, rather than trying to remove them from our lives. As Camus says, the human condition is absurd. But man’s freedom, and the opportunity to give life meaning, lies in the acceptance of absurdity.
  5. Proactivity
    What action are you taking? Sometimes all we need to get ourselves out of a pit is to take back control – by taking one small step at a time.
  6. Perspective and taking responsibility
    Ask yourself these questions: What can you control about this situation? What contribution are you making to it?

What someone needs in order to help them become more resilient will of course vary. In coaching, there are many tools that can be drawn upon, including mindfulness, cognitive-behavioural approaches, narrative coaching, and positive psychology. If you’re interested in how coaching can help you build your resilience, why not get in touch?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd


1I’ve previously written about how it’s not events in life that affect you, it’s the personal meaning that you attach to those events (typically because they’ve destabilised or taken away some core aspect of your sense of identity). It’s a little out of the scope of this article, though.

2It’s important to know that the loss of resilience is something that happens in response to normal life experiences. It is typically temporary. This needs to be distinguished from abnormal physical or psychological trauma, such as childhood abuse or involvement in a major road traffic accident. These kinds of traumatic life events are not part of our normal life experience, and any inability to cope with them is never any reflection on your capability. If this has happened to you, there is help out there. You may wish to read about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) here.

 

 

Thoughts become things – cognitive behavioural coaching and taking psychological responsibility

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of themLast week I wrote about learning more about cognitive behavioural psychology as part of my ongoing professional development – often encountered in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but also increasingly employed in the coaching domain. This post also links to my previous post on freedom where I wrote about making active choices.

I think the quote above, from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, sums up the core of CBT very pithily. The origins of modern psychotherapy can legitimately be traced to classical philosophical schools like Stoicism, which is, if you will, the original cognitive therapy (Albert Ellis, who founded the first form of CBT, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), has acknowledged the lineage from Stoic philosophy).

There is a great deal of synergy between the cognitive behavioural approach and coaching, particularly from a constructivist perspective. People can fall into the trap of being a passive participant in their own lives, and it’s very easy to tip over into becoming a victim of your circumstances. I often talk to clients about becoming actively involved in constructing their own realities (note: which is not the same as ignoring objective facts!) rather than playing a part in a story someone else has written for them. Learning and growing occurs when you are actively involved in a process of making meaning in your life, understanding the thoughts and beliefs that you hold and then taking conscious control of them.

The concept of mental control, heavily distilled, might look somewhat like this.

 

 

In a nutshell, there are things we can control, things we can influence, and things we can’t really do anything about. Although we might have legitimate concerns about what other people do and what’s happening in the world, very often we have little to no control over these things. What we do have control over are what we choose to think and feel, and how we choose to behave. And the kinds of thoughts and beliefs and feelings that we hold, and our subsequent behaviour, can make our realities happy or miserable. This is at the core of the cognitive behavioural approach. CBT and its coaching counterpart, CBC, teach that it is the meaning that we attach to events that causes our emotional reactions, not the events themselves, and that we can learn to choose different behaviours through retraining our thoughts and beliefs.

A key word here is ‘choice’. Everything that we do is a choice. Sometimes we may think that we have no choice but to respond or react in a certain manner – we say things like “she made me angry”, “I was forced into a corner”, “he is the reason I am in this predicament”. The trouble with this is that it opens up the door to everyone else being the cause of your problems, and us discounting or forgetting the part we have played in any given situation (often also the part that we continue to play, if we’ve fallen into the role of victim).

What’s the alternative? Accepting responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Viktor E. Frankl said that “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I very much like this quote because I think taking psychological responsibility – responsibility for our thoughts and feelings – is fundamental to our psychological wellbeing. This is a world away from a damaging  blame game – it moves us right across into the empowerment of realising that you do not have to rely on changing others, or your situation, before you can feel better or act differently.

Your thoughts don’t have to become your reality. They’re opinions, not facts. (Opinions welcome in comments below!)

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Faith or fear?

The way of the cross

Faith and fear both demand that you believe in something you cannot see. You choose!”

I love this quote from Bob Proctor. I also love the symbolism of this image from the Camino de Santiago. Even if you’re not religious or spiritual, there’s something to appreciate in the scallop shell as a symbol of journey and renewal, and the Cross of St James as a symbol of faith, courage and hope in the face of difficulties.

What’s your choice going to be? Will you run from fear or stand firm in faith and conviction that you have been given the resources to meet the challenge?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Goodbye 2017, hello 2018

A year ago today, I bid goodbye to my year of crisis. In 2016 depression got the better of me and I spent the rest of the year hauling myself back to a better place. I learnt lots of things, including how to take much better care of myself. Like how not to take things personally, leaving work in the office, knowing when to say no, making micro-resolutions, not sweating the small stuff, and embracing lots of new experiences. I started playing rugby and running regularly, joined a choir and dabbled in acro yoga, and attended my first music festivals and live gigs.

2017 has been kind to me, and I’ve been kind to myself. I’ve been altogether more sanguine about life. I completed my postgraduate qualification in career development and coaching, then took the plunge with a year-long work sabbatical. In just two months since leaving the 9-5 in October, I’ve launched Quiet Space, established a website and social media presence, networked, designed and developed programmes, and learnt so much about business development, branding, sales and marketing. None of this has actually felt like work, because I finally feel like I’m doing what I should be. And above all – I’ve been proud to be part of the transformational journey of my amazing clients.

I have lots of plans for 2018, but for now I’m looking back to appreciate all the things I’ve achieved. I’m proud of myself, and enormously thankful for all the love of my family and friends, who’ve gotten me through it all.

Look back on 2017 and see just how far you’ve come. Notice what skills you’ve learnt. The insights you’ve had. The people you’ve helped. The new experiences you’ve embraced. The challenges you’ve faced head-on. The friendships you’ve made. You are amazing. I guarantee it.I wish you all an amazing 2018. Love is louder than all of it.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Kintsukuroi

Example of Kintsugi

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

This photograph is an example of Kintsukuroi (also known as Kintsugi). It’s a Japanese tradition and art form whereby broken pottery is repaired using lacquer that’s been mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The philosophy of Kintsukuroi is that breakage and repair is part of the the history of an object that should be recognised and valued, rather than being something to disguise.

It may well be a cliché but our mistakes, pain and setbacks are all part of the experiences that make us who we are. We have a choice to fold and give up, or learn from the experience and keep going. Breaking can make us better, given the right care, time and someone to help us see the way.

Image credit: Found via a Google search – original photographer unknown.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Change: Choice and commitment

A boat is safe in the harbour. But this is not the purpose of a boat.
One of the things about changes that you actually want in your life and your career is that in the main, they don’t happen unless you make a choice to do things differently. That often requires a foray into the unknown.

Sometimes it’s a leap of faith. Taking a chance doesn’t need to be terrifying, though. Careful evaluation of the situation and your options, while remaining open to unexpected opportunities, can be a great start. Coaching can help you to make the change you’ve been wanting to see, focusing first on awareness and understanding, followed by an openness to learning, a call to action, and then commitment to making it happen.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Self-care

Drawing of a flower
I’ve been thinking about self-care. The course of 2015/16 for me was a year of crisis, during which I learnt how vital it is to be nice to yourself. Everyone’s needs are different, but I thought I’d share some of the things that helped me recover my sanity and wellbeing.

1) Running and spending time outdoors
2) Singing in a choir
3) Leaving work in the office
4) Seeking out new experiences
5) Listening to lots of new music
6) Giving and getting hugs (and flowers!)
7) Not taking things personally
8) Knowing when to say no
9) Making micro-resolutions
10) And remembering:
– Not everything has to be excellent
– No one has everything sorted out
– Sometimes it’s all just stuff.

What do you do for self-care?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd