For me, resilience was a badge that I wore with pride from a very early age. Dealing with trauma taught me how to keep on keeping on, no matter how fierce the storms or how daunting the battlefield. I learned to armour myself in preparation for any and every challenge. I mastered an array of tools and techniques that allowed me to carry on regardless. Also, I was strong, I was fierce, happy with my warrior capabilities and ability to hold my own no matter the attack. At that time I didn’t realise this wasn’t true resilience.
I wholeheartedly bought into the positive thinking movement, and willingly embraced the ‘put on a brave face’ and ‘stiff upper lip’ mantras for dealing with stress and discomfort. I taught myself to push aside any negative feelings in favour of more powerful and motivational thoughts to strengthen my resolve. There were so many coping strategies available I honestly started to feel as though I could handle anything! I even made a career out of sharing these tried and trusted techniques with others. Yes, I was one of those trainers encouraging others to dig deep, stand tall and attack problems fully armoured with grit and determination.
Our most powerful source of information
These days I know better. Now I’ve come to understand that the trend for creating coping mechanisms ultimately does more harm than good. The constant pressure to tough things out, means we’re slowly and surely being led away from our most powerful source of information. Our intuition.
Let’s look at it this way. When something’s not right, it’s our instinct that kicks in to let us know. That makes sense, yes? So then how is it that when we feel uncomfortable about something or someone, we’re encouraged to find a coping mechanism to deal with the situation. The idea that we can tool up and prepare ourselves for difficult circumstances is actually both misguided and a waste of energy when we have a much more natural solution that’s been here all along.
Most resilience guidance advises us that mental toughness is key. That it’s about gearing up for a fight of some sort. It isn’t. It’s actually the opposite.
The stay strong mantra
In these times of COVID-19, we’re facing things that are beyond our control on a global level. Fighting and staying positive does nothing to change the situation around us. For me, it’s validation again that actually, we have very little control over the things that are going on around us – and the more we buy into the ‘stay strong regardless’ mantra, the more we feel out of control. The more we feel out of control, the more we tense up to be resilient, and the more we feel helpless – because nothing changes. And so it continues. Armed to the teeth, weighed down with weapons, and yet a gnawing sense of dread and emptiness inside.
People talk about great spiritual and powerful breakthroughs they achieve when they have no choice other than to surrender to what is… and herein lies the key to true resilience.
Rather than fight what is happening, it’s so much more effective to accept and acknowledge, and then move forward from there. At first, this is a confusing concept for most people. So please allow me to guide you through what I mean, step by step.
A step by step guide to true resilience
Let’s use the scenario of a challenging encounter with someone at work. It could be a boss, a new client, or a colleague who is behaving in a way that feels somewhat threatening.
What tells us to stay alert and be aware? Where does that message come from? It’ll be a feeling we have somewhere within – a churning or sense of unease usually around the gut area.
Typical resilience advice would be to instantly employ coping strategies so that we feel stronger and in control, rather than give in to the feeling of dread. And herein lies the root of the problem. Because by ignoring (covering up, changing, pushing down) these warning signals, we’re setting ourselves up for a fall.
So instead of brushing it aside, the first step is to go within and recognise the message that your gut is giving you. Acknowledge what is happening, and start an internal dialogue that could be something like this: “Ok, great, thank you – message received. I hear you, I recognise what you’re telling me, thank you for alerting me to what’s happening”
Make sure you continue this recognition until you know the message has been received. It won’t take long.
What is it, or who is it, that’s activated this warning signal?
Having acknowledged what’s happening internally, it’s time to focus externally on the challenge that’s being presented. Let’s assume it’s a new client. We may believe that we feel uneasy because we’re nervous – and that the resilience advice that may have been given before, is to appear calm and in control. Immediately. The problem is, if we charge headlong into battle without first acknowledging the problem, we’re again automatically setting ourselves up for a fall.
So instead, imagine looking the person in the eye and saying something like: “I see you. I’ve noticed what’s happening. I understand and feel what you’re doing to me. I’ve got your game. I can feel the truth in this situation”
There may be an emotion attached to these words. There may not. You may find you feel a sense of relief. You may not. Simply notice what you notice and continue giving the message until you feel it’s done.
Move forward authentically with calm and certainty
Rather than relying on armour or ‘act as if’ to carry us forward, it’s now much more possible (and natural) to call on our inner resources to resolve the situation. Having acknowledged what’s happening internally and externally, we’ve created a level playing field.
So, now’s the time to focus internally again, to connect with that place deep within us that just knows – the place that alerted us of the situation in the first instance. It’s our inner knowing, that small voice within, gut/intuition/core (people identify with it in many ways!) which, having now been acknowledged – and the external threat having been acknowledged as well – can now come into full play and lead us to true resilience.
Go within to that place (and if you’re not sure where it is or what it is, simply imagine you do – you’ll find it) take a few deep breaths and ask it to grow. Notice what you notice. You may feel a sense of peace, you may feel your body relaxing, you may feel powerful. We all do it our own way, so simply notice what you notice. And keep growing that feeling until it surrounds you…
Whatever happens for you, I’m sure you’ll be feeling better about the situation you’re facing. I would also hazard a guess that the person who previously felt a bit threatening to you, will have somehow softened in your imagination. They’ll be less intimidating, which means you can move forward with more confidence and certainty than before.
This is true resilience. No armour required. No coping mechanisms. Not even mental strength or determination. Simply understanding, acknowledgement, awareness… and authentic confidence.