The Importance of Resilience and How to Cultivate It – 10 Principles Overview

resilience

A favourite keynote of mine (and larger body of work too) is on resilience – why it’s important and how to cultivate greater resiliency. When I went looking for a formula or guide for resilience, I didn’t find any that spoke to me about my experience and the experience of my clients with resilience. Inquiring into what I was learning about resilience through my own experiences of shifting the shape of my life and through that of my resilient clients shifting the shape of their culture, team or organization, generated a definition and 10 lovely principles of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to find the inner strength to bounce back from a set back or challenge, to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune and it is your sense of knowing that you have the resources and abilities to handle anything that comes your way. For many of us, this does not come easy. It comes with having survived and navigated many different curves in the road – some when we imagined we must have been through enough already.

Ten principles for cultivating resilience are listed below and each of these will become a little post on its own that you can look for over the next few weeks.

Principles of resilience:

1. Inquire into what works, especially what works for you – since we all have good stories about when we have rebounded or recovered from a set back. When you know what has worked for you and why, it helps you generate more and more of what works – principles from Appreciative Inquiry.

2. Notice your self talk – don’t believe everything you think. Your mind is a powerful tool and it often seems to have a mind of its own. Not really. You can program it. You can wrest back control and use it for your advantage rather than be at the whimsy of unintentional thoughts or stories.

3. Networks of support. We all have people who are our champions and biggest fans, who will catch us when we fall. Of course, you have to let them and that often means you also have to let them in.  Those walls you’ve created are meant to keep others out but what they really do is keep you in or insulated and, in the long run, that doesn’t work.

4. Be present. Lao Tzu offers this: if you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present. It takes some conscious effort to keep yourself present in the moment and too often we allow ourselves, our minds, to wander to the past or the future. You will know where you let your mind go by how you feel.

5. Lean in – be aware of and still the voice of your inner judge. Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from a problem is to solve it.  Counter intuitive perhaps but true.

Jim Morrison - into fear

6. The Miracle of Story. You are always, always expressing yourself in story in one way or another. Usually you – most of us – are unintentional about how you do that. I love Charles Eisenstein’s reflection on story and miracles: “We have to create miracles. A miracle is not the intersession of an external divine agency in violation of the laws of physics. A miracle is simply something that is impossible from an old story but possible from within a new one. It is an expansion of what is possible.”

Not how the story will end

7. Intention. Develop clarity of intention, then let go of attachment to it. Hold it with lightness and see what shows up. Know it is an iterative process – you don’t just do this just once. Sorry. Or not. Depending on what’s showing up in the iterative process for you.

8. Act. Take steps. Look for openings, invitations and ease and also examine your limiting beliefs.

9. Life Throws Curve Balls. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out. Everything is running smoothly and life begs to differ. As you welcome it all in, you sit with it in a different way. A more accepting way. Then those curve balls lose their power to completely throw you off course.

Soul knows how to heal

10. Nourish Yourself. In the Art of Hosting world, we often call this hosting self – the first of the four fold practices. Embrace it all.

Body-mind-spirit healing

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Credible Vulnerability?

No wonder we are so challenged by the idea of vulnerability, especially personal vulnerability.  It was a revelation to me to do an internet search on the topic.  What came up first and most was this kind of explanation:

  • the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment
  • window of vulnerability as a time frame within which defensive measures are reduced, compromised or lacking
  • Achilles Heel
  • capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt
  • open to moral attack, criticism or temptation

No wonder most of us shudder when the topic of vulnerability comes up.  It is in our collective consciousness and organizational cultures as weakness not as strength although much research confirms the power of vulnerability as pointed out by Brene Brown – beautiful and powerful in her own vulnerability.

I an in a renewed deep dive into this exploration thanks to the conversation that may have surprised and delighted me the most at The Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California at the end of August 2012.  A conversation I did not expect to be witness to or our high tech company participants to be in.

It arose out of a World Cafe conversation on complexity in response to the third question: what’s stirring in you now as you contemplate complexity (after exploring complexity they’ve been in and barriers and supports for being in complexity)?  My attention was caught by a table where two men and two women were deep in a shared reflection of where vulnerability meets credibility.

The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, I know it’s a good thing to be vulnerable, but how do I be vulnerable and still be credible as a leader, in my organization.”

“It’s not safe to be vulnerable. You are seen as weak.  How can you be vulnerable and not appear weak?”

“I would lose credibility.”

“First you need credibility, then you can be vulnerable.  But how much credibility is enough?”

“Maybe allowing yourself to be vulnerable will show your credibility.”  Is there such a thing as credible vulnerability?  What does that even mean?

All of this led me to wonder what we mean when we speak about vulnerability – what’s in the field?  A lot about weakness  and protection it seems. This resonates with my journey personal journey, one of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Open Heartedness.  The invitation was to move beyond believing emotions make me weak to understanding them as a guidance system that will never steer me wrong if I pay attention.  In the context of leadership, particularly participatory leadership, vulnerability does not equal weakness, defense systems do, but how and why is that so?

Thankfully Brene Brown is turning vulnerability (shame too) on its head so we can lean into it differently.  She says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy ~ the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  And also make us the most human.

Sounds pretty personal.  What does it have to do with work? Because as much as we try we cannot be one person at home and another at work.  We suffer from the incongruency and it shows up wherever we show up.  People sense it, even when, especially when, we try to hide and know, from the place of deep knowing, when they have encountered someone in the fullness of their authentic journey and their vulnerability.  They often name it as courage.

Brown says what we are most seeking is connection.  It is why we are here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  I hear the yearning for it in so many people who are drawn to Art of Hosting and related gatherings.  In order to have connection, we have to let ourselves be seen.  Truly, fully, seen.  But then we risk people seeing our weakness, our shame, any inauthenticity or lack of integrity we feel we may be carrying. We make ourselves vulnerable.

Interestingly, when I looked up the definition of credibility it is the quality or power of inspiring belief; the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real and honest.  Seems to describe what I think of as one aspect of vulnerability.  And it’s simple.

Given this definition, the relationship between credibility and vulnerability is so intimately entwined it is hard to separate out which comes first and which you need more.  If we can begin to see vulnerability for the strength and authenticity that it is, instead of as a weakness we cannot show others, our credibility instantly begins to rise.  But how?

There is no simple solution to this.  It requires courage and risk and a path of hosting yourself, growing self awareness and presence.  It requires the courage of being imperfect and of compassion – for self and others, particularly for self.  Finding the way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable without inviting criticism or recrimination – the fear of which intimidates us and makes us believe we need to protect ourselves. This is the conundrum.

Vulnerability is part of an intentional journey of learning to find our voice from the depths of our strength, our sense of worthiness, love and belonging, from the place of whole heartedness.  It is also part of the art of what we do.  The only way to trust is to risk.  The only way to risk is to trust. The only way to do this is to do it.  Risk as much as we dare.  Pause. Reflect. Learn. Embody. Trust. Risk a little more.  Eventually we shift the shape of our experience, our understanding, our credibility and our vulnerability. We live into it as the asset it is rather than the deficit many of us have experienced it to be.  It is not our vulnerability that is the challenge.  It is our fear of our own vulnerability that brings the weakness.

We didn’t name this conversation.  It showed up in an unexpected place.  Speaks to the yearning.  Speaks to what’s missing.  Speaks to the invitation.  Speaks to the first step.  Easy.  Difficult. Complex. Simple.  Choose.

The Gift of Shadow

I have been intrigued by the notion of shadow ever since I came across Debbie Ford‘s book, The Secret of the Shadow, years ago as I began the more conscious part of my journey.  The idea that it is everywhere, in everyone of us and in our group dynamics was a revelation at the time.  The fact that there are real gifts in it when we develop enough courage to dive in was illuminating.

Shadow is not a bad thing.  It just is.  It exists. Where there is light there is also shadow.  We can really live into the light when we are ready to acknowledge shadow.

For some reason, we have made that acknowledgment really difficult in the world we live and operate in today.  We have made it “bad” through our fear of facing it, surfacing it or acknowledging it and so we try to pretend, individually and collectively, that it isn’t there.  We tiptoe around it, we dance around it, we grow frustrated by it and still it often remains a challenge to name.  We think it only exists in some places, but it actually can and does show up in all kinds of places and even in the groups and organizations that are doing amazing and, do I dare say, enlightened work.

My good friend Christina Baldwin, author of The Circle Way and Calling the Circle, and, along with her partner Ann Linnea, keeper and steward of circle practice for over twenty years (long before it became more fashionable as an effective and powerful meeting practice) defines shadow as: “the things that cannot be said or, if they are said, are said at great peril to the speaker”.

This great peril is often that the speaker is ostracized.  As the speaker is shut down, so are others who will not now venture to name the unspoken things and then any avenues for the naming of shadow are also shut down.   Unproductive group patterns and dynamics become entrenched in the group and members of the group pretend to each other that all is well.  And yet in this scenario, it means that people no longer feel invited to show up as full human beings.  They feel the need to leave a part of themselves parked at the door and this is often the part that would most wonderfully, fully and impactfully engage them in the work ahead.

Anytime things cannot be spoken, they surface in actions and interactions in a group.  They show up as frustration with process or lack of progress and as blame: “if only that one person (or that group) would get their act together, we’d all be fine.”  The impact of shadow shows up in lack of engagement by some members of the group and by side conversations that happen outside of meetings that do not serve the health and well being of the group.

It is not unusual that someone who has been perceived as the problem can leave the group and yet the actual problem persists.  It is now acted out by someone else.  The longer the patterns persist, the harder they are to surface and to break.

Aside from fear of being ostracized, the other reason people do not name shadow is because they are afraid of hurting other people in the group.  They do not have language or process around how to do this well and it is a skill that can be developed.

One of the tenets of Circle Practice is understanding there is a centre to the circle – or the work or the group – and if we focus on the centre it enables us to transcend two way debate,  personal attack and interpersonal dynamics and speak to the underlying patterns – that are often showing up in very overt ways.  To be able to name tension in a group or situation is one very simple way of relieving the tension.  “Yes, we’ve noticed and are aware that it is here.  How will we choose to move through it now?”

The simple act of naming can, quite remarkably,  diffuse a lot of tension and shadow.  How would the shape of our world shift, the shape of our meetings and the shape of our relationships shift if we could honour the fact that shadow exists, it shows up – instead of pretending it’s not there?   If we understand this, it frees us up to look for the gifts inherent in shadow and use those gifts to build our effectiveness, connection and cohesion as a group and as community.

Shadow is not something we deal with once and it is gone.  It will show up again.  But if we stay tuned to it, name it when it is present and work through it, more light will shine into our lives and the work we do.