How to Build Resilience
If you're like me and many other people I've spoken to recently you may have found 2012 thus far a rather challenging year. The thing about challenges or crises or whatever you like to call them is that they knock you off your game, divert your attention away from what you want and send you into a reactive spin - something which can take you a while to recover from.
Whilst pondering this I watched a great TED talk about sustainability and change, in which the speaker extolled the virtues of resilience and the ability of systems to be internally self sustaining. Now, much has been written about resilience but what always comes to mind for me is the poem 'If' written by Rudyard Kipling and inspired by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, who led a failed raid by British forces against the South African Boers in 1895.
"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise."
How then would you create an internally self sustaining system for yourself - and your personal mastery - that will allow you to absorb external shocks without blowing you out of the water? (read - 'Lose focus and get reactive to other people's agendas').
For me this is all about creating systems and processes that support your way of 'BEing' in an existential sense. So, let's come back to the model for being that I've used before.
I've written a lot before about how we all exist in these three domains of time - Past, Present and Future. In each domain we need to do specific things that will allow us to BE how we want to BE.
Most of us live about 90% in the Past/Present loop so that the majority of the time we are simply reacting to events as they occur. All of this is fine, as long as there is not any major change in the environment, we can simply settle into our routines and make continuous improvements to make our lives easier.
However, living this way is not systemically sustainable or resilient to major outside influence because by definition it is reactive so an outside shock can knock us way out of alignment. Consider how a major shock such as loss of employment, relationship breakdown, illness or financial difficulties affects a person living mostly in this realm.
In 2012 I believe that we have faced and will continue to face ongoing major external shocks to our systemic way of being.
So, how to become resilient?
First step is to clearly determine how you want to BE. This is a question of character.
"A person's character is their destiny."
Character is about what's under the surface - about what you see as being most important in life - about the principles and values that you live by. Values provide us with a foundation for our BEing. Now lots of people would say they believe in common values such as freedom, justice, truth, peace, love and acceptance but we live in a cause and effect world so belief is not enough.
"Action is character."
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Action though in our modern world comes with attaching consequences and the thing is, I'd suggest, that most of us have become consequentialists when it comes to determining our response to ethical or moral dilemmas. Although we may believe in higher values what we consider is what the outcomes of our actions might be and what the consequences may be for us - yes - "What's in it for me?"
So, what's this got to do with resilience?
Well, a value is not a value unless you're willing to pay a price to uphold it - and in most cases the price you pay will be a loss of a beneficial outcome to yourself. A banal example would be working for a bank where you are privy to market sensitive information about a corporate client. You could rush out and buy shares in the company hence exploiting your inside knowledge - or you could be honest and do nothing. A consequentialist might consider the risk of trading, might even consider getting a friend to buy the shares so the risk of being caught would be almost non-existent. The payoff might outweigh the risk. The justification may be that 'others do it all the time' or 'they pay me badly and I deserve more'.
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Martin Luther King Jnr.
But what happens when we do things that compromise our values?
Even if nobody else ever finds out there is always one who knows - ourselves. And the self that knows tells a story about who we are based on what we've done.
This story about ourselves lives in the past and helps us to construct our story about who we are, our place in the world and how the world works. We carry these stories with us where ever we go. These stories can either strengthen and nurture us or they can become unwanted baggage that weighs us down.
Resilience is about building a strong foundation and then acting with integrity in alignment with that way of BEing. So aligning BEing and DOing.
An internally self sustaining system is one which is internally supportive. In an existential sense this means recognising the benefits of DOing in a way that supports your intended state of BEing. Knowing that you can never escape yourself - you can never escape your conscience.
How do you line it all up then?
In that model for BEing time is going from right to left - the Future becomes the Present which then becomes the Past.
Vision and Values live in the Future - we aspire to BE them. First step then is clarity - where are we headed? What's going to guide us? Clarify your Vision and Values.
In the Present we need to translate the Vision and Values into action. What systems and processes would support this? Daily practice - setting intention in the morning for how we want to BE during the day. Taking the time to undertake activities that allow us to broaden the gap that is the Present - so as to allow us to be less reactive and more proactive - read - meditation, yoga, walking the dog, exercising, staring at sunsets etc. Ending the day with focus management - ask 'What did I do right today?'
It's never too late to change.
"History is constantly being rewritten by the present"
Your actions in the Present flow into the Past - today becomes yesterday.
The Past either nurtures you with supportive stories or it becomes your baggage that you must carry everywhere.
Good actions in the present need to be integrated into a habitual way of being.
"Excellence is not an act but a habit"
What systems and processes will support your way of BEing? Daily practices become weekly routines. A good workout can become a weekly ritual of supportive practice. A weekly ritual soon becomes a supportive internal story - remember you can't escape yourself so even better if your internal story is self supportive and hence promotes resilience.
Then you need to take out the garbage. Look at any sustainable and resilient system and it will have a method of dealing with garbage - what's yours?
Garbage in this sense is any limiting beliefs and fears associated with past performance failures and/or any painful or disturbing emotional issues from past events or relationships that negatively affect self confidence and self esteem.
Effective garbage control systems vary from person to person but can include insight meditation, exercising with intent, talk therapy, acupressure taping, breath work, yoga, bilateral therapy (walking). There is NO one answer - anyone who tells you otherwise is delusional - we are all different and different things work for different people - the key is to work out what works for you. The important thing to note is that, in terms of creating a self sustaining resilient system for self management - you need a garbage control system.
So - resilience, existentialism and self mastery - recognise that we all exist in three domains and that in each domain there is work required to establish and then maintain a sustainable system for BEing. Know that there is no one cure all answer - that you have to find your own answers but the blueprint for a sustainable system is readily available - you just need to fill in the blanks.
In peace and love always.
(Image credit Jimmy Deguara)