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Building a resilient attitude

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jamie and paul uptodate bio pic   By Paul Dockerty & Jamie Broadley

In our previous article on getting friendly with stress we looked at how we can reframe stress to find the positives. In this post we’re going to look at the attitude that underpins this, something that we’ve been focusing on a lot at Cafcass: Resilience.

We need to start by defining resilience as everyone seems to have a slightly different take on it. The word comes from the Latin word resilé which means ‘to leap back’. We like this definition as it focuses on the dynamic nature of the quality; rather than just getting through tough times resilience is about springing back, absorbing the difficulties and getting better from them.

This can be a difficult thing for us to imagine. We use a thought experiment from Nassim Taleb to illustrate this. If you see a box labelled ‘fragile, do not disturb’ you know that if you shake that box the contents will be damaged. Now if we ask you to consider the opposite of this and ask you to label it, how would it read? We find that most people consider the opposite of fragile to be tough, that the contents of the box would not be damaged when shook, and this is how most of us approach the topic of resilience, aiming to be tough when shaken. If we think about it though the true opposite of fragile is Antifragile and that box would be labelled ‘please disturb’. If you shake that box the contents will be strengthened. This is what we’re shooting for when discussing resilience.

Hopefully that has illustrated the goal here. We want to be more than just tough, we want to welcome the difficulties in life as we know that we will be strengthened by them. That is true resilience. Whilst that may sound great and an exciting possibility, how do we actually bridge the gap to getting there? In our work we’ve identified a few key components of a resilient attitude and encourage our staff to remember these and develop them as skills until they become second nature. These components are:

  • Accepting: Unfortunately life isn’t always fair, even if we work hard and try to be a good person, lady luck won’t always be kind. Resilient people are able to accept this and move on where as others feel a sense of entitlement and get frustrated with these sticking points.
  • Positive: it isn’t a huge surprise that being positive is a key component of resilience. Our outlook governs the lens that we view the world through; if we are positive we will see more of the good and vice versa. We can choose to see more of the good in the world by being positive.
  • Confident: Resilient people know what they are good at and focus on these things. Those that aren’t often focus on their weaknesses. In difficult times it can be hard to find your strengths, if you have them engrained it makes it easier to navigate these times.
  • In control: Knowing what is within and outside your control and then focusing solely on the controllables is a huge part of resilience. So many people waste effort and emotion stressing about things which they have no control over. Resilient people internalise that locus and action the things that they can control.
  • Growth orientated: Having a fixed mind set is a great obstacle to resilience. Resilient people see attributes as flexible and able to be changed where as those with a fixed mind set see them as innate and very difficult to change. This then means that when things go wrong they see it as a reflection of their ability whereas the resilient person sees a skill that can be worked on.
  • Flexible: Whilst it is important to have a vision on how you want to accomplish something the reality is that this may have to change as the path is blocked by external circumstances. Resilient people recognise this and are willing to bend and adapt to the new terrain where as their opposites continue to bang their head into the brick wall that is in their way.
  • Persistent: Whilst the topic of persistence has been cheapened by clichéd motivational quotes it is still an integral part of a resilient attitude. If you have a goal that is tied to your passions and purpose and you can apply all of the above then all you need is the persistence to see it through. Resilient people recognise that life is a marathon not a sprint and that the things worth doing take time. Where others may get disheartened, resilient people press on until they reach their goal.

The above may sound relatively simple, and it is. The difficulty comes in the practice and the application. Our monkey minds are very strong and will want to get frustrated, angry and disheartened when things don’t immediately play out how we wished. The skill is then to remember this is natural, take a step back, and use all the above to recalibrate and refocus before trying again.

We hope this is food for thought and has given you some actionable advice to build on your own resilience. If you’re interested in learning more on this topic we recommend this TED talk by Ryan Holiday where he discusses some practical examples of these lessons in action as well as discussing Stoic philosophy which was the foundation for this mental approach.

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