Header: Etienne Boulanger via Unsplash.

The very first time I was introduced to the concept of resilience was in middle school during what was then called “technical education” class. As you might expect, the context was quite different from the one I refer to when talking about resilience these days. Back then, we learned that resilience is a property in material science that defines the “ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically, and release that energy when unloading. Proof resilience is defined as the maximum energy that can be absorbed up to the elastic limit, without creating a permanent distortion.” (Wikipedia)

It might help to look at the origin of the word resilience to better grasp its meaning. The term comes from Latin: ‘re’ (back) and ‘salire’ (jump), meaning “to jump back, to spring back, or to bounce back.” Taken literally, it describes the physical property of a material to return to its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed. But it has also become frequently used as a metaphor for a specific psychological ability. Mark McGuinness, author of Resilience: Facing Down Rejection & Criticism on the Road to Success, refers to psychological resilience as “a person’s ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.” Looking at the first half of 2020, the world definitely needs it and the good news is that resilience is a skill that can be learned and developed, not just in individuals, but also in teams.

There’s a beautiful Zen story I love going back to whenever I need inspiration to boost my resilience:

“A Zen master was walking through the forest with one of his students down a narrow trail, along a steep incline. The student lost his footing and slipped. Just as he began falling down the hill, the student reached out and grabbed a small bamboo tree. The bamboo bent nearly all the way over as the student continued to hold on tightly. He pulled himself up and brushed himself off with the Zen Master’s help.

‘Did you notice that when you fell, you grabbed a hold of the bamboo and it bent nearly all the way over and still supported you?’ the Zen Master asked.

‘Yes,’ the student replied. The Zen Master gripped the bamboo and pulled the bamboo over.

‘Be like the bamboo,’ the Zen Master said as he let go of the bamboo and it sprang back to its up-right position. ‘It is pushed around by the wind and yet it always bounces back and grows upward, towards the sun, towards enlightenment. Have you ever felt as though you were going to snap? Have you ever felt as though you were at your breaking point, emotionally?’

‘Yes,’ the student replied.

‘Then bend, do not break, such is the way with the bamboo. It endures the stress and finds a way to bounce back.’ The Zen Master stated. “This is called resilience.’”

Resilience is also one of the elements essential to happiness according to Vanessa King, author of 10 Keys to Happier Living: A Practical Handbook for Happiness, that I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Transcending beyond immediate concerns. King explains that resilience is not about “putting up with bad situations or never asking for help. Quite the opposite. It’s about recognising when times are hard and focusing on what we can do, control or change, acknowledging difficult feelings and managing them and knowing who, or where, to get support from.” King recognises several ingredients that contribute to resilience, from using active coping strategies, optimism, and humour to nurturing relationships, helping others, and keeping learning and challenging yourself. Do you recognise any of these elements in your personal life and in the way your team tackles difficult situations?

Today, I would like to focus on this last ingredient of keeping learning and challenging yourself (and your team). When you push yourself and your team to address difficult or new situations, allowing the space to “feel the fear” and try anyway, you incentivise the development of resilience. King observes that “as we master new skills and have novel experiences, we see ourselves progress, our sense of self-efficacy grows, which can boost our ability to solve problems creatively.” That sounds terrific, but it is not a smooth ride. The road to resilience is full of bumps, diversions, flat tyres, and empty tanks. There will be numerous setbacks, failures, and rejections. Are you and your team ready to face them? Here is a wellbeing recipe for you and your team to rethink rejections and boost resilience, inspired by Jia Jang’s book Rejection Proof.

You can access the full guidelines here. The theme for the next month is Altruistic August so the next blog post will look at ways to increase your capacity to deal with others’ suffering.

About Greta and Recipes for Wellbeing

Greta Rossi is a changemaker involved in multiple not-for-profit initiatives, including Recipes for WellbeingAkasha InnovationPitch Your Failure, and ChangemakerXchange. Recipes for Wellbeing works towards shifting the culture of changemaking to include a focus on holistic wellbeing to enable anyone to contribute more effectively to creating positive change in the world. From freely accessible wellbeing recipes, through wellbeing talks and workshops, to immersive wellbeing labs, we make wellbeing accessible to changemakers and their teams. If you’d like to host a talk, workshop, or retreat for your team or organisation, reach out to us at info@recipesforwellbeing.org.

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