A client once came to me, and she’d recently been through a series of challenges and she told me her goal was to “go back to the person I used to be”, unhappy with where she’s ended up in her life and career right now. But that’s an impossible task because we are fundamentally affected and forever changed by our own experiences, that person who you used to be doesn’t exist anymore. So instead of asking her “who did you used to be?” I asked her “who do you want to be now?”
A lot of the time, resilience is described as being able to “bounce back” like a spring, and years ago I learned that it’s also about bouncing forward. Once we go through a challenging and difficult time, we come out the other side different and forever changed.
What is Resilience?
The first aspect to understanding resilience the window of tolerance (WOT). When you are inside your WOT, you are able to respond in a resourceful way to stressful situations, come up with creative solutions to challenges, and overall able to self-manage.
When we are outside our WOT, we react in a way that is unfavorable, on one side either by overreacting or on the other side of the window, not reacting at all and sometimes retreating and avoiding any reaction.
The second aspect of resilience is recovery - what is the frequency and speed at which you are able to recover from setbacks or challenges? This is what “bouncing back” means, to go back into your window of tolerance.
So knowing these 2 aspects of resilience we can notice that resilience is inherent in all of us. It’s a state that connects us to a more positive, resourceful place. It also keeps us more open, more alive, and more hopeful towards the future.
Research shows us that there are certain factors that affect cultivating and building our resilience, and it comes from a collection of studies that looked into how humans who have faced prolonged situations of trauma and stress has managed to survive and also thrive - in other words, humans who demonstrated a high level of resilience.
These are people like children who come from abusive backgrounds, army veterans who experienced violence, and survivors of domestic abuse. And these are some of the key resilience factors to having a more connected and contributive life post their experiences:
Connection to art - music, film, dance, painting/drawing, reading, poetry, etc.
Connection to at least 1 other person
Connection to nature & the world around us
Connection to animals
Making a difference for others
What do we need to develop resilience:
There are many different ways to cultivate your resilience and one way is to look closely at the above factors. You can choose 2 of these factors that you’ve recently experienced yourself and note down your experience. Once you have your 2 examples, choose one for now and remember all the details of that experience. Where were you, what were you’d doing, who was there, how did you feel? What other sensations can you pinpoint?
If you take away one thing from this post it’s this “we become what we practice” and we’re ALWAYS practicing something. Then we can practice, meaning do the thing that you've just identified again, have the same or similar experience again, but this time on purpose.
What’s one thing that you can do (maybe it’s once a week, or once a month) from these 5 factors that will help you build your resilience? If you practiced ON PURPOSE then you would be working on widening your window of tolerance, and increasing your frequency and speed of coming back into your window.
Increasing your resilience doesn’t all of a sudden make everything “easy”. Challenges will still be, well, challenging. But your ability to overcome and move forward becomes stronger. Stress, frustration, anger, etc. all the “negative” emotions and responses, will still be a part of life and the way we experience it. But when we can accept this in ourselves, then we can make space for it in others, and ultimately create more coherence, understanding and invite others to also widen their Windows of Tolerance.