Resilience

Resilience book cover

I recently read ‘Resilience’ by Carole Pemberton. The book is aimed at coaches and provides a detailed understanding of what resilience is and also practical techniques of how to implement useful strategies to combat a loss of resilience. Below are my key learnings and take aways from the book, to help me remember, but I hope that others may find of use as well. I recommend reading the book for anyone interested in enhancing their understanding of resilience and relevant tools that can be applied. During the covid-19 situation I would guess that most peoples resilience has been tested as we navigate our way through the unknown territory. 

Learnings from the book:

The definition of resilience in relation to human behaviour is:

“The capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours when faced by a life disruption or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser and more able.” 

I think for a long time resilience has been associated with the ability to ‘bounce back’, like being an elastic band that when stretched will be able to return to its previous state. However as Carol Pemberton points out in the book as we go through difficulty undoubtedly that challenge will impact us in various ways, by working through the difficulty we will experience a change in our perspective. By being open to learning we are more able to move forward and be better equipped for the future when faced with new challenges. I think this lockdown period will prove challenging to most people, and for some life changing. It is through recognising the difficulties, and our strategies for dealing with them, that we can gain greater awareness and look for more ways to overcome challenges. If we can be open to recognising where we need to improve and also realise what strengths lie within us, then we can we put ourselves in a better position to take on new learnings and facilitate growth. 

“Resilience is about being open to learning and growth, being able to take risks because of a sense of being able to deal with the consequences of that risk.” 

Three factor model of resilience, Carol Pemberton. The below factors all contribute in the building of an individuals resilience:

Research has categorised the gaining of resilience in the three ways;

  • Firstly Trait Theory; initially thought of as genetically determined, resilience was something you either had or did not have. Early researchers concluded that some people had a genetic advantage, hardwired to be better equipped at dealing with life’s challenges. More recently neuroscience has provided explanations as to how the brain can differ from person to person in its ability to produce serotonin and also a difference in the production of adrenaline. These hormones determine our ability to deal with and cope with stress. Moreover neuroscience demonstrates how neuroplasticity determines our ability to learn and grow, making new neural connections in the brain. This again is different for everyone, allowing some to create new behaviours and patterns more easily than others.
    Trait theory is still relevant but does not fully explain the contributing factors in building resilience.
  • Protection; research has also examined how during childhood if an environment was created for the child to feel safe, protected and warmth from parents or loved ones they gained a greater sense of trust in how the world worked. This allowed for an internal feeling of being able to deal with challenges and eventually gain a sense of purpose. Purpose is important in guiding our choices to ensure they are in line with our values and direction in life. When purpose is lost or diminished we are more vulnerable to loss of resilience; therefore, creating a sense of purpose can be the key to unlocking resources to enhance resilience. Looking at the environment and conditions around an individual broadens our understanding of how resilience may have been lost but can also be enhanced. 
  • Learned; further research has looked at how resilience is developed over time in response to learning, constantly shifting on a continuum between vulnerability and resiliency. As we go through life facing challenges and dealing with stress our ability to deal with difficulty improves. This does not mean we will be unaffected by future challenges but having the capacity to learn enables us to manage stressors more efficiently, allowing our resilience to continue to build. 

Something that stands out for me in the book is that a loss of resilience has been linked with losing a sense of identity, so that an event itself does not cause resilience loss but how the individual perceives themselves in relation to the event makes an impact. Accepting a new identity that we previously thought wasn’t there becomes a barrier to accessing other, more helpful identities and resources.
Studies with Olympic athletes found similar traits amongst the athletes in how they were able to view difficulties and opportunities from which they could learn and also in their ability to have greater control over their thoughts.
Practicing mindfulness is a powerful tool in strengthening our capacity to notice thoughts without judgement, and assess whether they are useful or harmful to our thinking and behaviours. 

“Resilience is something we all possess to some degree, and its daily use helps us sustain stability in our psychological functioning. There are times when we lose access to it but that is a temporary state before we regain stability.”

The rest of the book discusses relevant techniques that can be used to work with resilience loss, some of which include looking at the narratives that people tell themselves about certain past events. Furthermore, the book also discusses how the use of positive psychology, ACT and mindfulness can all play a role in understanding peoples strengths and how they can more easily access their resources to gain forward momentum. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, it has helped me to gain a greater understanding on the role of resilience and how to develop resilience growth for myself and clients. Reading it during lockdown was also beneficial, a period of uncertainty, sometimes fear of the unknown of the ever changing future and the disruption to my normal way of life meant a roller coaster ride at times for my emotions. I’m also aware that in comparison to some this period has been relatively straight forward for me. I feel very grateful for the training and learnings I have found over the past five years that have enhanced my coaching practice, that I could call on those learnings during this time. The covid-19 situation will impact nearly everybody’s lives in some way, for some more greatly than others and there will be no doubt that periods of grieving and acceptance may be necessary before any periods of moving forward can occur. Reading this book and continually learning has highlighted the opportunity of how using this experience to gain a better understanding of our environment and how we each operate uniquely in it. What I have learnt through this period is that nothing is certain, but as long as I am willing to learn I can continue to make new choices to ensure I am creating the life I choose. Even though my resilience has been tested I have also realised how many resources I have available and will continue to work hard to slide up the dynamic continuum toward greater resilience. 

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