Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some of us to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. But why are only some people able to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent?
Why is it that some people can handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart? Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.
Living resiliently is more than just ‘bouncing back’. It is about shifting our perceptions, changing our responses, and learning something new. In Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive, Dr Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, claims that the more mindful we become, the more we broaden and build several inner resources that help us strengthen our resilience. According to Fredrickson, these include compassion, acceptance, openness and creativity.
How mindfulness helps
Mindfulness, then, is a tool for re-contextualising and reframing experience. ‘Being mindful is about cultivating our awareness in the present, practicing self compassion and being conscious and intentional in our choices and actions,’ explains Karolyne Williams, Head of Coaching at SACAP, who adds that ‘resilience involves building a set of personal strengths so that we can not only cope, but thrive.’
A key focus of Williams’s coaching approach is to assist clients in crafting what she terms ‘dynamicbalance’. ‘True balance is not about finding stability,’ she explains. ‘Instead, it is ever shifting, depending on current priorities. It is about proactively creating what works for us, rather than reactively responding when feeling overwhelmed’.
Reactions to what are some of life’s harsh realities – such as losing a job, for instance – often reflect a fear-based survival framework for viewing the situation, whereby we filter the external facts of what’s happening through the internal lens of what we feel (our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and body sensations). In this way, our fear creates our reality, locking us in anger, powerlessness, and blame.
‘People are not afraid of things, but of how they view them,’ said Greek philosopher Epictetus. Although it’s understandable why we might react from fear when facing the prospect of losing a job, or another challenging situation, mindfulness is a powerful tool that offers us the opportunity to make a radical shift in orientation.
The power of the present
According to Jack Kornfield, a leading American Buddhist teacher, mindfulness is the practice of bringing our awareness to what we are experiencing in the present, both internally and externally, without judgment. It is a wake-up call to become conscious of the ways we perceive and respond to life’s situations. When we live mindfully, we shift our entire ground of being.
‘We live in a rapidly changing world, where uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox abound,’ admits Williams. ‘Things are unpredictable and a form of consciousness is required that can resist the need to impose order and control.’
Coaching helps to develop a reflective practice, says Williams. ‘And clarity of self offers an opportunity to explore how we show up in the world.’
According to Williams, effective leaders are most often ‘those who are comfortable with uncertainty, thrive in ambiguity, and are able to play changing roles.’
Along with mindfulness and resilience. Williams identifies ‘wholeheartedness’ as key to achieving ‘dynamic balance’. ‘Being wholehearted is about fully engaging in life, despite the risks and lack of guarantees,’ she says. ‘It is about having the courage to be vulnerable and authentic, to not shut our hearts down, in spite of the challenges life throws at us.’
‘Rather than having the loudest voice, it’s having the readiest ear,’ she adds. ‘It is being aware of the whole system and understanding its dynamic web of relationships. It is living with vision and values, thinking on the “edge of chaos” to evoke creativity and initiative so that we become even more resilient and adaptive.’
Learn more about the power of the mind by studying coaching at SACAP. A coaching course can give you greater insight into the motivational techniques used by great leaders and managers, as well as qualifying you for a career as a life coach or business coach. For more information, enquire now.