Understanding Resilience to Save Your…Tail.
What doesn´t bend breaks.
– Ani DiFranco
Welcome to the first of a two-part series on resilience. Together we will better understand the power of resilience by taking it apart and looking at it closely from a unique perspective. You will come away with clarity on what is impacting you at the moment as well as self-diagnosis whether you are at risk of a painful crash and burn. For a sneak preview of the second part in next month´s series, I can promise you I will dive deeper by debunking three myths of resilience and sharing strategies to develop it through stress management. I will also reveal one surprising group that may have particular challenges to developing resilience.
Ok – let´s get down to the nitty-gritty. It has been established in the research that those with resilience are able to perform better and be happier than those with lower resilience. Sounds promising but what do we really mean when we talk about resilience? Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:
re·sil·ience The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.
Its medical equivalent is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
Can I be honest? This doesn´t help me at all. In fact, now I feel like crap because I should be able to recover from misfortune “easily” and bounce back from something bad like a rubber ball. Thankfully, more and more in the research, resilience is being discussed as a process, mindset as well as a lifestyle. These concepts are highly valuable to guide change in our lives; however, today I invite you to play with the perspective offered below to reflect on your own resiliency.
Unique perspectives inspire so I turned to a highly scientific, peer-reviewed reference …ah ehm…Wikipedia to explore the material definition of resilience. Here is what Wiki had to say:
re·sil·ience The ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically, and release that energy upon unloading.
It went on to explain proof resilience, which is “the maximum energy that can be absorbed within the elastic limit, without creating a permanent distortion.” Ok – now this is something I can sink my teeth into. This definition opens the possibility to see resilience as our ability to take on a heavy load and release it. Resilience is the ability to bend, without breaking. Ideally, it is the ability to go to our limits without causing permanent damage.
Feeding the nerdy scientist in me (and maybe you), let´s play with this idea further. Below is a simplified version of the theory of resilience that I stumbled upon. Beyond its application to the material world, let´s explore what this might mean for our own lives:
The strain axis is the part of our lives where we are getting stretched. What I find misleading about many conceptions of resilience is its role as a buffer for when bad things happen. While this may often be the case, we need resilience when there simply is a lot on our plates or when things get tough – even when all is well. Resilience is valuable when a couple welcomes a new baby into the home, while planning large celebrations or during a relocation abroad. Take, for example, an expatriate manager who is excited about the challenge of leading a team in a new cultural environment. His “stretch list” is long: He leads an ethnically diverse team in a foreign language; he is managing staff in his home for the first time; he comes home late to witness his children struggle as they adjust to the new environment; and as icing on the cake, he is learning to relate to his career-oriented wife in a new way as she struggles to find work in the new context. Most of these stretches are far away from being a “misfortune.”
Even if we are not suffering from adversity, it is important to sit back and acknowledge the strain in our lives – both positive and negative – as they are an important factor in the resilience formula. In fact, the Latin origin of resilience is to jump back or recoil. So here is my invitation for you to recoil and discover what is on your strain axis.
Your Strain Axis
- List all of the neutral or positive ways you are getting “stretched” right now (e.g. learning a new language, raising a toddler for the first time, leading a new team, etc.)
- List all of the negative ways you are getting “stretched” (e.g. dealing with a difficult employee, taking on a double-work load, managing a crisis situation, etc.)
The stress axis, for the purposes of this discussion, could simply be the amount of emphasis or the importance we give an aspect in our lives. Essentially it is the pressure or weight that we allow our life circumstances to produce. In the example of the expatriate manager above, it is easy to imagine an out-of-my-comfort-zone cloud hanging heavily over his head.
Your Stress Axis
Look back on your “stretch” lists. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being high importance), rate each item.
- Reflect on the “positive” stretches. How much importance are you giving them? How enthusiastic are you feeling about learning in this way?
- Reflect on the “negative” stretches. How much importance are you giving them? How much weight does each have on your life right now?
- What does your assessment say about your ability to both perform and live well at the moment?
Here is where it gets interesting – ultimate strength. This is where you are at both high strain and high stress. Look at your lists from above – are you near your ultimate strength? Your first thought might be excitement: after all this is where you are at your best, right? Ultimate strength is where you are taking on your maximum capacity of stress and strain while still performing, right? It sounds like a great place to be but the bad news is that your ultimate strength is perilously close to crossing the line.
If you feel you are operating in this zone, it is time to take major precautions. If anything small or large tips you from the summit, it’s breaking point (unless, of course, you have the right strategies in place). Under these circumstances, a serious fracture in some important aspect of your life (such as a relationship, job or your health) could happen. It is pure physics. You are not immune to it. Teeter on the apex of ultimate strength and you are dancing with the devil.
Diagnose Your Risk of Fracture:
- Take a look at the diagram above. Where along the curve would you place yourself?
- How much more can you take? Do you have additional capacity for additional strain or stress?
- Is additional strain or stress foreseen in the future?
- Be honest. How high is your risk of a fracture?
If you are at your maximum capacity – it is time to get serious about making change in your life. We all know that picking up the pieces is much harder than putting on the breaks. Putting on the breaks, however, does not necessarily mean slowing down. When speaking of building resilience it means replacing old habits with an on-going process of developing the right mindset and a healthy lifestyle to keep you performing and living well.
Be sure to check out next month´s blog post for the second part on resilience where I dive deeper into resilience by debunking three myths as well as share powerful strategies to develop your resilience. If you can´t wait to get started, contact me and together we will identify how you can reduce your strain and stress as well as shift your mindset to avoid a fracture in your life.
Kylie Bevan says
“Your ultimate strength is perilously close to crossing the line” – so very true. I’ve seen this happen in my personal life (the one that springs to mind was a health challenge), and as an expat (when a ‘something extra’, sometimes tiny, causes tipping point). I have certainly been close to fracture many times, but would say now by being more mindful and open, I prefer life on the ‘room-to-move’ side of ultimate strength wherever possible.
Hi Kylie, you totally said it, making efforts to establish “room to move” instead of taking it to the total limit (and hoping nothing pops up!) is a much more sustainable solution. It also forces us to live in ways where we have very clear boundaries and priorities around the quality of health, performance and relationships we aim for.