Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Art of Resilience in Times of Challenge and Change

by :

child with ruler“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” Nelson Mandela

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived” Robert Jordan

Up until very recently, the word ‘resilience’ never really entered my vocabulary. In fact the only time I ever used or heard the word ‘resilience’ was in the context of young children and usually to reassure ourselves of how they would cope in a challenging life situation.

I often heard, “Oh children are resilient, they will bounce back,” at times of family bereavement; or the break up of parents; or perhaps a serious illness the child had.

I think some people are naturally resilient and seem to sail through life and challenges and yet most of us do need to do a bit of work on it - particularly if we are going through a very challenging time in our lives.

In this world of constant change and challenge I would say resilience is now not an option - it is a necessity.

I have been unconsciously resilient for quite a long time. In fact, I have probably been resilient most of my life, but it is only recently, during a time of great challenge in my life that I realised just how resilient I am and how important it is to be resilient.

In the space of a few months, I lost my dad; my financial situation took a turn for the worse and this was all set against the backdrop of coping with an extremely challenging individual in my life, who I allowed to control and manipulate me, causing great levels of stress and a serious dent to my self-esteem.

All this inevitably had a knock on effect on my health - so I had another thing to worry about on top of everything else!!!!!

However, in the great words of Chumba Wumba, “I get knocked down and I get up again - you’re never going to keep me down,” I kept up my resilience and after a period of time realised I had completely strengthened it.

I am now utterly convinced that it is my resilience that has kept me bouncing back and getting up again. Even when I was knocked down quite harshly and quite relentlessly!! Not only that, but I have come out the other side the happiest and healthiest I have been in a very long time.

I would also like to quote the amazing lyrics of Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” I always thought that was quite a rousing and uplifting song, but it means so much more to me now and I am sure this resonates with anyone who has had a few serious challenges to deal with, but has managed to come through.

I wasn’t really sure how I was going to structure this blog in terms of ‘How to be resilient’ and then I realised I had the answer in the very first paragraph.

Why not look at children as an example? What is it that makes them so resilient? Why do we actually seem to get less resilient as we get older? You would think with experience and wisdom that we would actually become more resilient and yet it seems to get harder, the older we get.

Thinking of children also made me think of being at school and for some reason an image of the old wooden rulers we used, popped into my head.

I’ve learned to take notice of these funny little random thoughts that pop up in my head and straight away I could see how the ‘ruler’ analogy would also be a useful approach.

So, let’s explore this a bit further and see if we can take any learnings from children and rulers in terms of being resilient.

Finding Your Inner Child

We all still have an inner child in us. It pops up every now and then in moments of joy and being carefree. So how do we find that inner child again and what is it about children that makes them so resilient?

Here’s my thoughts on what makes children so resilient:
  • They are not weighed down with the worries of the world. Any worrying thoughts pop in and straight back out again
  • They don’t think too deeply about things. They act on instinct and follow their intuition
  • They very much live in the here and now. They are ‘present’ in the moment and therefore fully engage their minds in the current experience completely free of cluttered thought
  • They have an ability to put things behind them and quickly move on - without holding a grudge
  • They do not look back - they look forward - but only to the next thing that is immediately going to happen. They do not worry about what is going to happen later today or tomorrow
  • They do not sit mulling over things - they sit day dreaming
  • They seem to have an innate optimism for things. They do not have a little voice in their head saying, “You can’t do this” or “What if” - they quite simply believe that good things will happen to them
  • They have the ability to make believe and they really do believe that their dreams will come true
  • They do not fear failure - in fact they don’t even think about it. If they want to do something, they just get on and do it
  • Little things mean so much more to children than they do to adults
  • They have a general demeanour of excitement and joy about things. Look how excited a young child gets before a trip out or when they are just about to go on a playground ride or have a treat
I think this is a pretty good way to approach life and I will explore ‘Finding your Inner Child’ in the next blog.

Levels of resilience and the result

Thinking about the good old fashioned ruler made me think it is quite a good analogy to use in exploring the potential outcomes when we display different levels of resilience.

I am old enough to have seen all connotations of the ruler - from the good old fashioned wooden one (which we used at school and which were usually covered in our own version of graffiti) right through to the ones I bought my children, which you could pretty much bend into any shape.

So, the wooden ruler on the face of it is pretty strong and unbreakable. It is also unbendable and unyielding. The wooden ruler might withstand a heck of a lot of external pressure and usually withstands a lot before it breaks. However, if enough force is applied it will snap and when it does break it leaves some really sharp, jagged edges around the break and the damage done is pretty hard to fix and heal.

I then moved on to think about the next generation of rulers which was the ‘shatterproof’ ruler. This ruler is pretty resilient and will bounce back into shape if it is bent. However, even this ruler will only stand so much pressure and if enough is applied - it too will break.

So even though the ruler is called ‘shatterproof’ (and sometimes even proudly displays this fact across it’s front), it actually isn’t under extreme stress. The point at which it breaks might not be quite so sharp and jagged as the wooden ruler, but it too is pretty irreparable.

Now onto the bendy ruler. These are great and my kids (and me, if I am being honest) had much fun bending them into all sorts of shapes. The ruler is so bendy, it can be bent at any point along its length and the rest stays intact. The ruler does not break under challenge and pressure but becomes transformed.

You are in full control of how much it bounces back to its original position and when it does bounce back. In fact, if you like the new look ruler that has a bend in it somewhere and it works for you - you can keep it that way.

As a first time author, the whole process of writing and publishing my book has caused me to become that very bendy ruler. I actually quite like the new look ruler so have kept it that way.

How I developed and harnessed my resilience is explored in These Wings Can Fly. I hope that my experiences might help you deal with those challenging situations and see how you can make your ruler bendy and find your inner child.

In the book, my husband Jon contributes regularly in his ‘View from the Ground’ section. People seem to enjoy his witty repertoire in the book so we thought it would be good to have him join me in my blogs.

View from the Ground

Let me reflect on how to be resilient. Interestingly, we were with some friends last night and one of the conversations led into discussing the resilience of sportsmen.

A very good point was made about the psychology of a boxer, American football or rugby player where they have to truly believe they are going to win - that is all they can believe when they climb into the ring/ run onto the pitch. 

So, looking at the boxer, what happens when the first punch received knocks them flying? Do they fall to the ground bawling their eyes out and screaming for their parents? Of course not, they get up with same determination as before they climbed into the ring, and fight with the belief that they are the winner.

Well, that is the determination that we all must show in every day life, and I can truly say that this is the determination that Viv has shown through very difficult times; when it would have been easier to curl up into a ball, and cry. But that resilience has made her the inspirational person that she is today.

I like my own analogies and maybe one day I might write a book on the subject, but I actually like Viv’s use of the different types of ruler - particularly when related to a recent need for Viv (and me) to show the resilience that she has discussed.

When writing the book, it had been agreed that we would seek out a publisher to get it out there to the masses, because we really believe in it. 

After completing the first 3 chapters the book was submitted to a publisher who, after a short period of time, confirmed they wanted to see the full manuscript. This was it - Viv’s book was going to be published, or so we thought. The book was completed and submitted and the period of waiting started.  

We received an email saying the book had got through the submission team and then the review panel. We really thought we were on the home straight. Then we received the disappointing news that, whilst the book is excellent, it didn’t fit with their strategy.

Bang - the hopes and dreams could have been shattered - like a plastic ruler, or a wooden ruler, leaving those nasty jagged edges. Had this happened last year, the wooden ruler is exactly the correct analogy and those jagged edges would have taken a lot of time to smooth out.

However, Viv now has a very bendy ruler, which is as resilient as ‘rubber’ and will always keep her on track, just taking her in a slightly different direction. As a consequence, we bounced back, sat down and planned out a strategy on how we needed to bend in a slightly different direction to ensure the book could be released to the wider world.

Within 4 weeks, Viv proudly published the book via Kindle e-book and it started selling almost instantly with some lovely feedback coming through shortly after. It really is good to be resilient!

A closing comment, I also have a ruler - I like to call my ruler ……………………………….. Viv.


I’m glad Jon knows his position in life!

Would be great to hear your story. How has your inner child kept you resilient in times of challenge and how bendy is your ruler? Would love to hear your stories of resilience.

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