Resilience

I originally wrote this article in 2018. Since then, coaching for personal resilience and mental wellbeing has seen a surge of interest, with individuals and organisations both keen to find ways to reduce the toll of ever-increasing demands on their mental and physical health, increase their ability to adapt flexibly and positively to change, and start thriving rather than simply coping.

The extraordinariness of 2020 has brought this into even sharper focus. In the early weeks of the pandemic, many of us went into a heightened energy state of adaptation – described by Ann Masten as the ‘surge capacity’ we draw upon in short-term survival situations, rather like an emotional and physical power bank to help us navigate a crisis effectively. Except that, as the acute phase became chronic, our uncertainty over how long the uncertainty would last continued to stretch out, and we found ourselves with little opportunity to recharge through many of our usual means of self-care, we were all left significantly depleted. 

In the immediate crisis stage there is often increased clarity as people are forced to focus on a delimited set of priorities and they pull together more than ever before. Individually, however, the adaptation can often come at profound cost to our wellbeing as we try to prioritise performance. Crisis can bring out the best in us, but can also make us revert to a lower level of emotional function. 

I’ve read a lot of very well-written pieces in the past few months about finding new ways to be in this brave new world. There is so much in the resilience science to draw from and so much good advice out there about identifying your own set of primary resilience factors – certainly far too much to distil into one short article. I hope, however, that some of this will prove helpful to you. If you’re finding life particularly challenging right now, there are really just three things that I hope you will take from this: 

(1) You are not alone and there is plenty of support out there. 

(2) Be kind to yourself; there is no shame in struggling and feeling overwhelmed. 

(3) All you need to focus on is the next step. The rest can be something for another day.

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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.

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):

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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 Masten puts it: resilience, she says, is ‘ordinary magic’: something we develop through the demands of living. It marks resilience 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 resilience factors – here are some that I think are particularly important, although resilience studies have identified dozens more: 

(1) Finding meaning

Purpose is a key factor in what drives us – the desire to connect to a greater and meaningful cause can give important 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, Perspective and the Big Picture

Inflexible patterns of thinking stop us being able to see the larger picture and its possibilities for learning and growth. What can you learn from this adversity? How can you widen your perspective? What other ways are there to think about this situation? What can you control about this situation (conversely, are you expending energy in wrestling with what is actually outside of your control)? 

(3) Thinking Space 

It’s difficult to get perspective when you’re mired in the doing and the detail. What time are you taking to get the necessary headspace that will allow you to take a step back for a more objective evaluation? Resting from its incessant activity is what the brain needs to really harness its creativity and problem-solving capability. 

(4) Support

Resilience is not helped by social isolation. How can you reach out for help? What positive and mutually supportive relationships can you build? 

(5) 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.

(6) Proactivity

What action are you taking? Sometimes all we need to take back control is to take one small step at a time.

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 personal resilience, why not get in touch?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass, Quiet Space Ltd

The power of positivity

IMG_7257The power of visualisation and deciding to be positive. I received lovely feedback from some clients a couple of weeks ago who said that they found me very energising to be around! I do find that positive energy is infectious – not just for those around you but for yourself. It is possible to decide to be happy. There are lots of things we can’t control, but we are certainly in control of how we choose to react and relate to the world. Decide to be positive, and you start to attract positivity.

Photo: Photo: From “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, Scott Adams

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Celebrate the small things

I Love You banner
I’ve had a lot of conversations this week about celebrating the little things, remembering to pause in the moment and understanding that you have the power to define achievement within your parameters and on your terms. Happiness is a choice.

What are you celebrating today? I’m giving thanks for this winter wonderland and for the love of my two beautiful children (in this photo: a little love message from my eldest.)

Have a wonderful weekend.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Career Reinvention Day

Career Reinvention Day instagram advert (grey)

Take some time out this April to invest in yourself! This special career reinvention day is for you if you’ve been feeling a little (or more than a little!) disillusioned or dissatisfied with your career. Maybe you’re in a job you hate or in a career rut, but you don’t know what else you could do or what you really want. You’d like to take action, but you feel stuck.

This reinvention day is also for you if you’re someone who’s looking to return to work after a long career break. Maybe you’ve been dealing with illness, or perhaps you took time out to raise your family. You’d like to get back into the working world but you don’t know what you would be suited to and you’ve lost some confidence.

Bookings and full details at www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events. Come join us!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Some direct advice

DIRECT acronym

I’ve been thinking about leadership today – topic for this week’s blog post. About a week ago, I attended a talk during which the speaker referenced this acrostic:

Dedication
Integrity
Respect
Energy
Credibility
Trust

That’s what you need to look for not only in the people you hire, but also yourself. What example are you setting as a leader?

More on Friday.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

There is no one alive who is youer than you

Today you are you that is truer than true there is no one alive who is youer than you

Your unique experiences mean that no one else can be who you are and that you are uniquely placed to do what you do. You’re authentic and beautiful and this world needs you simply to strive to be the best you that you can be!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Lightbulb moments

Moment of clarity

I love this moment when it happens. Just as you’re doing the heavy lifting – and then a pause, and sometimes an ‘oh’ or a ‘hmmm’ or equivalent, because a light’s gone on in your head. Aha.

Have you had any moments of clarity this week? What are you going to do with those revelations?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Virtual coaching: yes or no?

Velvet virtual coaching

I read a really helpful article the other day about virtual coaching. Until now I’ve always coached in person; I’ve never been sure about virtual work in terms of potential issues for rapport and engagement. However, a recent enquiry from a potential client living in New Zealand has made me reconsider.

The article’s in this month’s Career Matters publication (from the Career Development Institute), by Jude Tavanyar, and positions virtual coaching as an entirely different way of communicating, with its own unique benefits and possibilities. Jude uses the VELVET acronym which sums up six factors that help coaches to achieve a trustworthy and engaging presence across distance:

V – virtual etiquette
E – emotional connection
L – listening with curiosity
V – vocal presence
E – engaging visually
T – technology.

Some great tips in there if you can get a copy of the article: www.thecdi.net.

If you coach across distance, what are your thoughts? Any tips?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

What do you believe in?

The Apostles' Creed

El Credo (the Apostles’ Creed), etched into the floor at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela – today reminding me of my faith and what I believe in.

We all believe in something, whether we are religious or spiritual or nothing of the sort. It grounds us, keeps us on track and reminds us of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

What are you working for? Who are you working for? What purpose are you working towards?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd