Published on February 9th, 2017 | by Nancy F. Clark0
How To Develop Resilience And Make Yourself The Hero Of Your Story
By Andrea Simon—
Do you want to be better able to bounce back from difficult experiences? Resilience, as defined by Psych Central, is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.
Well, there is certainly no shortage of sources of stress today. One of our former clients was struggling with total disarray in her company, leading to significant financial losses, downsizing and job elimination, not to mention loss of trust in the markets her company serves. Describing how she was coping, she said: “I am resilient and somehow I will do just fine.”
Another client was also going through major stresses, facing a divorce. Not sure exactly how it will all work out, he said to me: “I’m a winner. I can deal with this. I’m resilient.”
And when I asked a female acquaintance how she was doing, she immediately started to vent. “I’m parenting my parents and coping with my daughter who is getting divorced,” she shared. “I finally sat down last night and turned on a silly TV show and went brain dead. But I’m resilient and will figure out how to come out ok.”
So what is this resilience that people believe they have as they cope with the unexpected, unfamiliar, unwanted or simply the pain and challenges that life tosses at them? And how can you adapt to the stresses that life brings you? After all, that is what life is all about.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of research chronicling the sources of people’s stresses and from where they get their resilience. Two good examples are Sarah Bond and Gillian Shapiro’s Tough at the Top and the Harvard Business Review article, What Resilience Means, and Why it Matters.
But of greater significance to me, as an anthropologist, is how these colleagues’ statements reminded me of the ways in which Homo sapiens have evolved, adapted and become the dominant Homo species on earth, as described in the excellent book by Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Harari believes that there are three major forces among a wide array of factors that propelled Homo sapiens into dominance:
1 Language and the symbols and meaning they give to our lives.
2 The stories, myths and fictions we create with language. Our fictions have allowed us to build everything from worldwide religions to huge corporations of strangers with a shared corporate attachment to nation states where people share a common identity even though they live in different locations, work in different industries and watch very different television shows.
3 Herds. You can also call them cultures, but either way, humans prefer to live with others like themselves and with whom they share common beliefs, values, myths and behaviors.
What do these human characteristics and their importance in our evolution have to do with my three friends’ resilience?
First, each of them told me their story, which was their own perspective on what was happening in their business, in their family or in their marriage. Science has proven that one of the major ways the brain operates is by taking facts and organizing them into a story. Once created, that story (a person’s perception of reality) then allows that person to sort reality to conform to it. Consequently, the first building block of a person’s resilience is crafting a meaningful story and then supporting it with facts.
Second, as my colleagues told me their stories, each one started to evolve. Each started with the problem and then slowly migrated to the ways in which the person was personally dealing with the stress stemming from the problem. In fact, as I listened to them narrate, they each became the heroes of their own stories, sharing with me how they were adjusting to change, learning to manage the new situation and dealing with the other characters — whether these were other workers, staff, parents, daughters or wives. The storytelling became a powerful and simple way for them to cope, and proclaim their stamina and resilience. In their narrative, none of them were losing the battle they were fighting.
And lastly, the herd was very important. They each spoke about how they had to gain the confidence and trust of the other people in their story. They also had to shift their behaviors so that the group, the office team, the family, could cope along with them.
What might this mean for you? If you’re going through some stressful difficulties and need to remind yourself of your resilience and ability to cope, start with a story, your story. Think about who you’re telling it to. Make sure you include the correct characters in it. And make yourself the hero.
As Diane Coutu illuminates in her article, How Resilience Works, “Resilient people possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.”
So create your story. Make yourself the hero. Then tell it. And in doing so, your own resilience will undeniably emerge.
Andrea Simon, Ph.D., principal and founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC). You can reach me @SimonAndi, #CorpAnthro or [email protected] to share your story. I look forward to hearing from you.