Resilience - Reality, Reason, Rehearsal and Response
We all will have known and heard about the person - let us call her "Jane" - who suffers from a relationship breakdown and is left so bereft that she effectively withdraws from life and no amount of encouragement or encroachment from her friends will persuade her to do anything other than ‘resign’ from life. Of course life can be shocking.
"Mary", on the other hand, has weathered a divorce, single parenthood, numerous redundancies and the death of a close loved one. Regardless, she just seems to survive and get on with her life, continually meeting challenges head on. Of course, life can be absorbing.
The difference in responses is often known as ‘resilience’, which might also be likened to our ‘shock absorbers’ - that technology in our cars that cushions us from the buffeting and sometimes the crashing as we drive along the road. We probably don’t even know we have them in the car and may not even enquire about them when we buy a new car. They are there, and we only know we have them after a shocking event.
The resilience we develop as humans is similar but different to this form of technology. It is similar in that it acts as a buffer, and it is different in that it is adaptive. That is, whilst a car may need to slam on its brakes and the shock absorber cushion the impact, the car will not learn. As humans, we tend to learn from experience and adapt our behavioural responses, also called patterns.
Ideally, as we experience, we adapt and build resilient ways of responding to the events of life - good and bad - which Mary seems to have achieved. However, sometimes our patterns of responses are not healthy (as in the case of Jane). Instead of resilience, a pattern of learned helplessness is developed (never fear, it is possible to break this pattern and learn resilience).
There are three factors which seem to mark out resilient people:
- An ability to accept reality. This is not the same as being positive; optimism is a powerful and useful ally, but can create a force sense of hope. We can guess that those with learned helplessness would give up when faced with a mighty challenge. The optimist might respond well initially, but should they feel to meet their optimistic goal, we could equally imagine how they could ‘give up’. Instead, a healthy assessment, coupled with a pragmatic and tenacious response, will be more real.
- Having a sense of meaning – of life in general, but also of the difficult and challenging times. Those with learned helplessness often feel and behave like victims. A resilient response finds meaning in being able to plan and plot away from the difficult place now to a more comfortable place in the future. These are best stated as concrete goals.
- An imagination – that sparks ingenuity, improvisation and problem solving, normally by generating as many options as possible, but taking action too, in short incremental bursts. This is so vital to learn, because the evidence shows that when people are put under pressure, they will revert to what they have rehearsed and planned to do. Choose the ways you plan and rehearse to respond well.
Many resilient people are modest and simply shrug their shoulders and attribute their strength to “luck”. That belittles what they do and distracts those with learned helplessness from taking action, which often is about attitude of mind and openness. For example, whilst both approaches to a “shock” are likely to ask for help, those with learned helplessness will feel their predicament to be "fixed". This tends to keep them helpless. The more resilient will seek help, support and guidance from those that will encourage independence and self-generated solutions.
A coach will help you by building and rehearsing more effective responses with you and for you to use. This is an effective use of the imagination. This will include helping you make sense and purposeful meaning of your life. They will also help you foster resilience through a sense of strength, independence and a can do attitude that is often closer to reality than cannot easily be experienced when we try to “go it alone”.
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