Whilst resilient people may appear not to dwell on their emotions, Authentically Resilient people are able to fully engage with a wide range of emotions – both their own and those of others- including the tougher more challenging emotions. Many writers (even writers on resilience) talk about ‘positive and negative emotions’ – but to label them this way is to judge them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ which may lead us to steer away from the ‘bad ones’ or believe we should be avoiding them. This is not so. Emotions are simply emotions – varied, complex and paradoxical, yes, and sometimes tough, but they are not good or bad. When we try and avoid the emotions that we find more challenging (e.g., anger, fear, shame) we actually decrease our resilience. By having the courage to face them – to be able to sit with them – we learn that they don’t have the power to destroy us.
faced with a difficult situation, many emotions will arise in us. Some we can
identify, others can be harder to pinpoint. They may be familiar, or
unfamiliar. Some may feel overwhelming or downright terrifying. And that is when
it can be tempting to simply shut them down, or hide them away for fear that
they may undo us.
shutting down our emotions is simply not sustainable. They need processing. If
we try avoid our emotions we can be sure they will trip us up later. Supressing them can cause
damage, or they’ll come out sideways impacting our health and wellbeing as well
as our ability to interact with others authentically.
Authentically Resilient people ‘do emotions’ -they engage
with them, learn to bear them and are able to emotionally regulate. What we can
be sure of is that if we don’t do emotions, they are going to do
It is often assumed that resilience is all about being tough, being strong, being assertive and hardy, not taking no for an answer, pushing through regardless of how your feel in a way that is bordering on being forceful or persistent in the extreme … sort of like going into battle with a suit of impenetrable armour to protect you from the world. The truth is that this kind of attitude may appear to serve you for a while BUT Authentic Resilience is in fact borne from deep within – it is a capacity you develop, nurture and build during challenging times deep inside of you. Paradoxically, the most Authentically Resilient people are the ones who have the courage to be vulnerable, to fail and to forgive – all characteristics that can be traditionally thought of as ‘weaknesses’.
When we look to nature we see that the most resilient trees and plants are the ones that are in fact more pliable and flexible and, whilst they don’t look the strongest, they are capable of withstanding severe weather conditions. Think of images you have seen of palm trees being lashed by hurricanes- they are able to bend without breaking. With its pliable trunk and deep root system, palms are able to weather unpredictable storms and severe winds. Yet the same storm might send limbs of a taller and stronger tree – such as the mighty oak- crashing, or even uproot the entire tree causing devastation.
When we resist rigidity (the more defensive position) to embrace flexibility and uncertainty , and allow our hearts to soften to allow our vulnerability, that is when we begin to grow more Authentic Resilience and are able to bear the toughest of life’s circumstances.
Google “resilience” and the term “bouncing back” will crop up again and again. But the truth is that for anyone who has experienced severe trauma, loss or adversity there simply is no bouncing. When you are faced with tragedy, with severe calamity you do not bounce; and nor would you want to, because “bouncing” back from anything truly heart breaking is a farcical notion. Working through trauma takes intentional time and dedicated attention – it requires deep processing, ideally with the help of a qualified professional, to ensure that the trauma is processed fully in both a safe and held space so that the person who is working through their trauma isn’t retraumatised and emotionally flooded. To “bounce” after trauma would mean that absolutely none of this processing has in fact taken place and therefore you can be guaranteed it will overwhelm you at some stage in the future.
So that’s the ‘bouncing’ .. what about the ‘back’ part? Well here’s the other thing… again; you never go back. You can’t un-see what you’ve seen; and you certainly can’t un-experience what you’ve experienced. Every experience we have shapes, moulds and forms us into who we are right now; or who we will become. You can’t go back … but you can integrate, assimilate and try to make sense of your pain and suffering so as to give it meaning and grow forward.
Gabi and I were talking recently about how we are noticing so much more of nature now that things are quieter. Our senses are quietened which allow us to observe more, and it feels like Mother Nature has had a chance to re-establish her presence whilst we are all taking a break. I have been acutely aware of the changing seasons as last week’s dying days of our Indian summer faded away and autumn fully came to the fore. On my weekly trip to the shops I am so aware of the colour of the leaves and how the trees have started shedding their foliage as they head into winter. Gabi is noticing the huge – and surprisingly noisy – flocks of birds visiting her garden. Further away there are reports of herds of goats and deer moving into town centres, dolphins visiting areas they are seldom seen and a leopard in a wine cellar now that there are fewer cars and people moving around.
We have an unique opportunity to become quieter
and pay attention to nature at the moment -and
one thing that we can be sure of is that however uncertain things seem to be
at, the seasons will continue to change.
One thing many people are struggling with at the moment is how much they CAN’T control. For those who are used to being in charge, who like routine and order, who plan a long way into the future, this can be especially hard and emotionally frustrating.
How can we
change our mindset from focussing on what is out of our control, to what is
within our control? We may not know how long lockdown is going on for, but we
can plan for today. We may not be able to follow our normal routines, but we
can develop a new routine for ourselves and our families for these new and
different days. And we can ALWAYS control our response and our attitude to what
is going on in our world.
In our 3rd R – Response-ability – we talk about the difference between reacting and responding. The difference between them lies in ‘mindful conscious choice’ -something that is always very much in our power to control, even when it feels like our lives are out of control. Lockdown provides opportunity to really submerse ourselves in mindful conscious choice, and to reflect on how we are going to take that forward into our new lives with us once Covid-19 subsides.
Like many of my friends, it seems, I have been unable to get properly stuck into reading a book during the last few weeks. I just don’t seem to have the mental energy for it. So earlier this week I reached instead for a magazine that I had bought pre-lockdown. The April edition of a women’s magazine, it featured all the normal things that one would expect at this time of year – Easter feast recipes for family get togethers, new autumn fashion, things to do and places to visit. And I found myself flicking through thinking just how much of it doesn’t apply any longer; the review of a restaurant – closed now, and will it even exist after this is all over? Lovely things to buy; but no shops open to buy them from and quite honestly, do new clothes seem important when we have nowhere to get dressed up and go to? It is tempting to become despondent when everything seems to have changed and nothing is the same, and when there is little we can be sure of in the future. Now is the time to dig deep, beyond the temporary affects of life and look at what remains – love, friendships, our values, faith, nature. What can you find that is sure to remain steadfast through the months to come?
1. REALITY Staring down the brutal truth and making meaning of the mess. Until you face the facts -the truth – you won’t get out of the starting blocks. When faced with a crisis, such as the one we are currently facing, we tend to either go into denial (avoidance of the truth) or dramatization. The aim is to avoid denial and avoid drama -to stay in the middle in ‘realistic optimism’ which means being prepared for all eventualities whilst remaining matter of fact and calm. Avoid sensationalism, catastrophizing and fear mongering BUT denial and burying your head in the sand is NOT a good idea at this time. Separating facts from assumptions is critical at a time like this when there is so much fake news available. This means making it your business to become and stay properly informed. You need to know how the virus spreads and how best you can protect yourself, your family, your staff and your community. All research, in the short window of history that we have, has shown conclusively that prevention and containment are key – especially in a country like South Africa where our health systems are already under pressure and large portions of our society are physically vulnerable. Take the necessary measures that have been proven to help by reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation.
2. REACH IN “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” – Nelson Mandela These are uncertain and volatile times but imagining the worst or believing you “won’t get through this” will greatly impact your ability to cope. Stay informed but open-hearted and community-thinking. Take charge of what you can change and control and let go of what you can’t. This challenge can bring us all together and make us a stronger community as we are all in this together. The definition of vulnerability is that it requires uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure (Dr Brené Brown). Never before have we lived with such vulnerability on a global scale. This is a time to hunker down at home and deepen your relationship with yourself and with your family, friends, team members and community members -albeit remotely. Self-isolation doesn’t mean isolating yourself from your feelings and your loved ones. Continue to stoke the fires of your important relationships. We have a shared cause, vision and goal … to stay healthy and protect each other. To care and stay calm. If you find yourself panicking or feeling overly stressed remember to ground yourself in your body and your breath and remain present. Stay with the facts, you control your thoughts … don’t allow them to control you and run wild. One day at a time – plan and be prepared for the worst but hope for the best … use breath, journaling and stillness to help with your emotional state.
3. RESPONSE-ABILITY You always have a choice as to how to respond. The way you choose to respond today, and in every moment going forward is crucial. Emotional maturity (mindful conscious choice) is at your disposal all of the time. In our workshop, we talk about Dr Martin Seligman’s work around the 3Ps – that when we make things personal, permanent and pervasive we are setting ourselves up for failure. Coronavirus is not personal; it is a global phenomenon. This is not permanent (this too shall pass, eventually) and although the impact feels quite pervasive at the moment, it is important to remember that we have the power to limit this pervasiveness by containment and “flattening the curve”. It is our responsibility to respond quickly, effectively and maturely so that we can contain the spread of the virus. It is all of our responsibility to remain informed and respond cohesively for everyone’s communal protection. Think and act thoughtfully – accessing your emotional intelligence is vital right now. Challenging times such as these can make it hard to remain positive. Avoid behaving like a victim and stay out of apathy, accusation, blame, complaining and criticism. We cannot control the pandemic but we can control our response to it. We cannot change the situation, but we can change our attitude.
4. REACH OUT We are wired for connection, we can’t go it alone. The coronavirus calls for social isolation, but this does not mean that we cannot reach out to each other to be heard, to be seen and to connect. Or that we cannot stay in touch in a meaningful way. Be aware of your needs – stay in touch with your vulnerability and also your strengths. Think strategically and reach out to others for support, share solutions and ideas and offer help. We need more than ever to stick together as a community not to shun each other and shut down … working together, collaborating, has never been more important, albeit at a distance. Notice the isolated elderly person who needs you to shop for them, the friend who isn’t coping. This is a time for ‘we’ thinking; not ‘I’ thinking. Check all decisions with this question: ‘is my decision just serving me, or is it in the best interests of the whole community?’
5. ROBUST REVOLUTIONARY THINKING Living in the landscape of possibility. When crisis hits, and change is exponential, it is easy to lament our losses, complain, blame and hang on to comfortable old behaviors. A much better strategy is to force ourselves to adapt to change – find new ideas, new tools, and new resources. How could you, right now, look for totally new opportunities, new ways of being and new ideas to implement going forward. Maybe it’s time to think about forming your own Board of Advisors – people who have other strengths and skills to complement the ones you have – and add a few more experts to it. Or become an expert for someone else using your own strengths and skills. Have you had a meeting with your family to discuss your coronavirus strategy? Have you implemented changes at work and written a policy for staff – how are you going to deal with the challenges head on and prepare for remote working. Are you challenging your own thinking? For example, if you need to lay off staff, could you rather change their salaries and hours to keep them going for longer whilst they make changes to try and reduce their own expenditures in any way? Times of crisis are when you can really dig into your strengths and use them to serve others. Think creatively!
6. RELENTLESSNESS OF CHANGE The one thing we know for sure is that everything will change. Dare we say more? Nothing is ever permanent … this is one of the main pillars of our teaching and yet one of the hardest to come to terms with. Nothing could demonstrate this better than the coronavirus pandemic. It calls for both grit and perseverance, to keep on keeping on, AND flexibility and adaptability, to roll with the punches, like nothing else we have seen globally in our lifetimes. Many of us like the feeling of being in control of things – it gives us comfort, and unplanned events can leave us feeling chaotic or depressed. The truth is that accepting that you can’t control events is key – but you can control how you are responding to them. That is where you need to put your energy, efforts, and focus. Don’t cling on too tightly -if plans need to change – daily or hourly even – go with the flow. Staff have to stay home? How can you help facilitate this in a way that you don’t lose productivity? The Covid-19 news updates are changing hour by hour … if you get stuck in your way of thinking you will soon be left behind. This is not the time to hold on to the way things were, but to adapt to the new and accept that nothing is permanent.
7. REFLECTION Becoming a human being rather than a human doing. What you do is not who you are. Often, we are so busy doing that we forget how to be human beings. In the end, who we are is about our values, ideals, connection, community and what matters deeply to us. When we define ourselves through the external – both in terms of circumstances and in terms of the things we acquire – then the loss of these, or of abrupt and extreme change can be painful collateral damage and we can think we feel a loss of identity. In truth your own innate wisdom, your ideals, your values and your guiding principles will remain intact no matter what. If you are able to turn away from external confusion toward your internal self, find the stillness and focus on becoming self-directed, self-regulated, and self-motivated then you will not lose your sense of identity because that identity lies deep within. In this sense having more time at home can be a real positive. Use this time for valuable and purposeful self-reflection. This could be the ideal first-time to sit and meditate with family members, to start a regular journaling practice, to learn to paint or engage in other creative activities such as drawing, gardening, cooking, baking, crafts etc.
8. RENEWAL “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live” -Jim Rohn More than ever self-care is essential – not optional. The three basics – good sleep, nutrition and exercise – are not negotiable. Plus, we should be adding specific protocols and regimes to build our immunity and remain strong so that if you or anyone you know contracts the virus you are more able to cope with it or nurse a loved one. Ensure you are stocked up on all health supplements or chronic meds you may need – and don’t forget the importance of continuous hand washing and sanitising. If you have specific health concerns, you need to speak to your health provider but use this time to consciously take care of yourself and increase self-care awareness. Be very wary and cognisant of addictions of any sort … be it over-exercising, excessive alcohol or smoking, excessive eating or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, this is time for practices that calm the nervous system. What you need at this time is nurturing and caring behaviors that will help you renew, restore, stay calm and healthy.
9. RATIO Consciously seeking perspective. Keeping perspective and holding onto hope are essential at a time like this. Allowing fear and negativity to engulf you is futile. Everybody has a choice to make: to complain and fearmonger or to be grateful for what you do have and the choices you are able to make. Remember, the ability to laugh and find humour in even the darkest of situations can be healing and uniting. An attitude of gratitude, even when it’s hard, can rewire your thinking, bring a fresh perspective and give you access to your best creative thinking, so that positive actions and results can emerge. Focus on everything you’re grateful for, remember it, hold it top of mind, communicate it, and remain open no matter how hard that feels right now. Often at the worst of times we come face-to-face with the best of ourselves and others.
Moving toward a new year, never mind a new
decade, is a powerful time. The ideal time for Reflective 0bservation,
one of the most powerful ways to learn. Taking the time to reflect on the past decade,
and more specifically the past year, allows us to look carefully at what we
did, what we experienced, what choices we were faced with, why and how we made those
choices and how they made us feel. Observing in this intentional way means
looking from a new perspective, one with no urgency or intended outcome,
observing from a place of patience with a curious mind. If we make the time to
really do this effectively then we are better placed to make informed choices
for the present and future that we wish to have. This type of learning is
sustainable, powerful and embedded because it helps turn lived experience into
gentle retrospective analysis helping us to find and make meaning of our lives.
Find the time, in solitude, to reflect on your
year and ask yourself these few questions…
What do I want to let go of completely?
What do I want to cultivate and nurture?
What do I
want less of and what do I want more of?
What am I
going to do differently?
the world notice when I do this?
What will I
notice when I do this?
Welcome in the New Year and the new decade with positive intention. May you be well and at ease.
And may you find the Authentic Resilience you need to continue engaging in the world with an open-heart filled with loving kindness, compassion, courage and trust.