by | Feb 2, 2017 | Blog, Flourishing Female, Workplace Psychology | 1 comment

Has anyone ever told you how remarkable you are for the way you plough on despite everything that’s on your shoulders? Or perhaps you’ve wondered how a colleague carries on confidently undeterred by criticism when you crumble and ruminate for days in similar circumstances? I recently spent an evening delving into the world of resilience with Dr Carole Pemberton and in this post I’m offering five key insights to make you stronger and better able to withstand life’s batterings.


1. Resilience has a genetic component but is mostly learned

Although there’s a genetic basis (receptor gene NR3C1) it’s not the most important basis for how resilient we are. Experiencing adversity is the best builder of future resilience and whilst I wouldn’t suggest you go out and court difficulty, when it does happen we can see it as strengthening agent preparing us for future shocks. Imagine a woman who has a great childhood, finds school relatively easy, gets picked for all the teams, sales through university, receives three graduate job offers, has a series of enjoyable relationships before getting married, and experiences rapid promotion before being made redundant two weeks after returning from maternity leave aged 34.  The odds are she’s going to have a difficult time recovering from that shock compared to someone who had experienced significant setbacks throughout her life.


2. Purpose and support are two powerful pathways to resilience

Research has shown that having a clear purpose, and a network of support to get you there, are the top two predictors of a resilient response to adversity. I have a friend who’s been through a terrible time and is entering divorce proceedings. Despite the difficulties, she describes entering a new phase filled with freedom, creativity and possibility and I imagine she’ll be thinking about her purpose and starting to shape specific goals. With the strong team of supporters I know she has, she’ll get there.  And this raises a question for me about the extent to which we are willing to stick our hands up and let people know how they can help us and that we want them to. There’s no use having a quality network if you don’t tap into it. If you don’t have as much support as you might like Dr Pemberton claims our supporters can be imaginary. Click here for Carole’s explanation:


3. Resilience isn’t universal – we all have areas of strength and weak spots

Resilience isn’t a thing, it’s an outcome, and Dr Pemberton talked about 13 qualities that support or undermine it. Imagine you think an internal promotion is pretty much in the bag and then you don’t get it. How quickly you recover from this set back will depend on how well resourced you are on each of these 13 qualities at that moment in time. Taking time to grade yourself on each one can be reaffirming (“I’m not rock bottom on all of them!”) and give you an insight into where you need to pay a little more attention.

These 13 qualities that support( or undermine resilience if they are lacking) are: optimism, flexibility, purpose, support, emotional control, confidence, energy focus, managing thoughts, proactivity, face reality, balance, grit and reflection. Thanks to Carole I have a nifty new tool to use with coachees where resilience is a focus for the coaching relationship.


4. Recycle your best resilient responses

When you get knocked down and feel like you can’t get up again a good response is to bang Tubthumping on (Chumbawumba, remember?) and start recycling. You’ve been in rotten situations before and handled them well and it’s that response we need to dissect and replicate. I do actually find when I’m feeling hopeless that cleaning the kitchen and sorting the recycling to a backing of riotous music puts me back onto the path of hopefulness.


5. Re-write your story

“We are the stories we tell ourselves,” said Indian film maker Shekhar Kapur and we can rewrite our scripts. Interestingly, a psychologist working in a medical university found that when bereaved people wrote about their feelings their blood showed a significant increase in markers of immunity. Writing gives us cognitive distance and enables us to start to shift our perspective and relationship to the adverse situation. And of course, we can write whatever we like, knowing it’s entirely private. All the work I do with coachees starts by asking them to complete an exercise called “shaping your story.”


What are you taking away?

  1. Setbacks build resilience and prepare us to cope with future shocks: ‘failure’ is data, not a judgement.
  2. Focussing on your purpose and accessing support are the fastest routes to resilience.
  3. You have a resilience profile made up of 13 markers – at any point in time you’ll have some relative areas of strength.
  4. When you’re down, consider what you did last time to get back up again. Repeat.
  5. Writing about your experience of adversity can help you move on.


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