The opposite of resilience is...

Resilience comes up again and again when we discuss performance psychology, and is often amalgamated with the ideas of mental toughness, grit, and a few others. From an academic or researcher’s point of view, we could spend some time defining what each of these terms mean, but perhaps that is not the best use of this space, although without a doubt it has its use.

Whatever you call it, one ability that serves us greatly in our development is the capacity to skillfully change. Change is the only constant in our lives, and if we cannot effectively change we cannot progress - we get stuck. Perhaps in small ways, perhaps with greater consequence. You could say that resilience is to keep going, to keep making progress, to get un-stuck.

To get un-stuck is different from avoiding getting stuck in the first place. Getting stuck and experiencing setback is necessary, but as Dr Brian Marien has put it wonderfully, it’s important to find ways to recover your equilibrium - to move on.

A key tenant of resilience is the ability to accept difficulty and somehow make friends with it. My favourite example in the natural world is tree growth. When trees develop, they are subject to wind. Wind is stressful, it threatens to uproot trees, but it’s also what allows them to develop roots, which means they can stay in the ground and grow further, able to take on more wind. Without wind, trees fall over and die very young. They have accepted wind and somehow worked with it, made it their ally, and used it grow stronger.

Cheesy? Yes. Useful? Absolutely. It’s not just that we should be able to ‘take’ challenge (or discomfort, stress, difficulty, etc.). We must improve our relationship with it. To begin with, we might tolerate each other. We might exchange formalities. After a while perhaps we become curious, realising we don’t mean each other harm. It’s not personal. Over time, we can become good colleagues, even teammates. We can learn to trust each other, to be grateful for each other’s presence. We can learn to love the experience of stress, and realise that like any real relationship, in our relationship with stress we have ups and downs and it’s hard work. The more skilfully we can do this, the more fluidly we can move forward together.

What happens when we don’t make friends? We reject. What feels like ‘toughness’ can often disguise rigidity, resistance and rejection.

In practice, to be more resilient it helps me to ask myself: “What I am resisting right now?”. I’m usually resisting discomfort. Resisting failure. Resisting pain. Resisting fear. Resisting embarrassment. Resisting what my body is asking of me. Resisting boredom. Resisting feeling helpless. Resisting falling behind. Resisting the feeling of disappointing myself, or others. Resisting being wrong. Resisting change, in the big and small ways it presents itself.

Matilda MayneComment