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How to develop resilience

15 March 2022

Through life’s circumstances of growing up through an uprising in Myanmar, immigrating to Australia as an eight year old with nothing but our suitcases, growing up and trying to find my place in the world, resilience is a skill I had developed early on in life. However, you don’t need adversity to develop this critical skill, like a muscle you can train to become more resilient.

Resilience is typically defined as the capacity to recover (and become stronger) in the face of adversity. Resilience is not a trampoline, where you’re down one moment and then bounce back up. It’s more like climbing a mountain (sometimes without a trail map). It takes time, strength, and help from the people around you. You will experience setbacks along the way and eventually you reach the summit and look back at how far you’ve come.

Navigating work and life in a complex and uncertain world can be like climbing a mountain without a map and high levels of resilience is required. Research indicates that when we have high levels of resilience, we have more capacity to cope with and manage demanding conditions more effectively which prevents exhaustion and burnout.

Just as there many ways to climb a mountain, there are many ways to build resilience. What I’ve learnt through my childhood, living with a chronic disease and recovering from many sporting injuries is that resilience is about recharging, growth, working the problem and being consistent.

Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure

A 2016 HBR article stated that “...the key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.” As an adventure sport enthusiast, when I’ve been out skiing the mountains all day, I need to rest and recharge my aching muscles at the end of the day and sometimes even have a rest day to prevent injuries. I adopt the same approach for work and life. There are some weekends where I do very little to recharge from a stressful, busy week.

See adversity through a growth lens

Facing challenges are inevitable and part of life but that there are always benefits in every situation. When faced with adversity, try to shift the attention from threat to growth by asking yourself “What can I learn from this situation?” This mindset shift is so important to building resilience.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor Frankl

We have the ability (and are in control) to lessen suffering by simply changing how we perceive our situation. Can we find something positive in it? Are there any opportunities for growth? Can we learn anything from this?

Simplify the problem

When faced with a challenging situation or adversity, breaking down the complexity into smaller, more actionable problems to solve can be helpful. This can provide a sense of regaining control by prioritising tasks and creating a plan of action. I call this ‘working the problem’. As a skier, it’s common to have a fall or be faced with challenging terrain and by focusing on each turn and what’s ahead in my vision only has allowed me to get down the mountain.

Seek consistency, not perfection

Practising consistency over perfection means getting better as you progress. Therefore, instead of striving to be perfect, strive for take an iterative approach to the challenge and improve along the way. This works in many domains of life from work to sports to relationships and overcoming challenges we face daily.

Becoming more resilient is a skill that can be developed and is a choice. Stoic philosopher, Epictetus points out that we can’t always decide what happens to us, but we can decide how we respond. We are responsible for how we act and how we react. No one can take this freedom of choice away from us.

“You can bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.”


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