A lot of parents often bring their young people to see me at my therapy clinic in Hertfordshire when they are struggling with the problems and challenges that life often throws at us. They are in need of some resilience boosting. But what does that actually mean?
Resilience is your ability to get yourself up, dust yourself off and crack on with life with a smile on your face even after something has come along and slapped you down good and hard. Resilience isn’t about not having bad stuff happen to you. Resilience is not about being brave and putting on a brave face when something unpleasant happens to you. Resilience is about your ability to get yourself straightened out and back on your feet and good to go again as quickly as possible after something bad happens.
Resilience is like a muscle. It is like a muscle that you might want to build up, the same way you would build up your physical if you were getting fit. Let’s say that you had arms like me, where there’s a little bit of flesh that wobbles around when you move it because the muscle isn’t toned up. In order for me to grow proper muscles here, I’m gonna have to do some exercise, and I’m going to have to really push myself; I’ve got to start lifting weights or whatever else it is that I might do in order to get that muscle formed in my arm. And with the growth of that muscle, with that exercise and that stretch, there is very often discomfort. Speak to anyone who does a decent circuit at the gym – if you do a good job in the gym the next day your body can be a little bit on the achy side. The same is true for developing resilience.
Resilience isn’t necessarily like a set of things that you can think or learn; it’s not like you could come and see me and I would say ‘right to be resilient do this, do this and do this’. I can give you some ideas about what it’s made of and I can give you some strategies to be able to cope with tricky stuff. However, real true resilience comes from having a rough time.
Sometimes when you go through difficulty and you get better from it, what you teach your brain is that you can cope with tricky things, and later when you’re faced with a similar tricky thing (even though it might still feel horrible at the time) deep down your brain will know ‘we’ve got through this before we can get through it again’. You will develop a slightly thicker skin so that you maybe don’t feel the pain to the same degree or it doesn’t last for as long a period of time as it did before. You’ll notice that the nasty bit is shorter than it was before.
Resilience is something that you grow in yourself; it’s not something that you can learn from someone else. You can learn a few bits and pieces but real, true, organic resilience comes from you having tough times in life from time to time.
The reason why I’m telling you this is because I think it’s easy to shy away from the tough stuff sometimes. Sometimes we like to just keep ourselves safe and comfortable and not step out of our comfort zone. We might avoid doing things that we haven’t done before because we’re not too sure how it’s going to work out. Sometimes we avoid doing things that, even though if it worked out would be really positive, it might seem a bit risky and we don’t want to have to face the failure or rejection that might come along with it.
Do it anyway! Do those things that aren’t a hundred percent guaranteed to work out in your favour, because if you fail you will get feedback. You will get learning, you will have an opportunity to grow and that’s where your resilience muscles can really start to get exercised and begin to get stronger. And as you get older you can look back on your life at some of the tricky stuff that’s happened, and even though it might be years and years and years and years ago, you can look back and very often go ‘oh I’m kind of glad that thing happened to me, it taught me this and I need that now’.
Sometimes the rough stuff can give us the best learning experiences for later on. Take those opportunities to be uncomfortable from time to time, because when you do your resilience muscles will grow and later on – when you’re faced with other challenges which are almost but not exactly the same – you will find that you are much better at dealing with them.