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resilience intro

I did a series of blogs about resilience in April 2017 as part of “Kathy’s Bloom and Flourish Model.” It seems like a good time to rerun the series. Many of us are facing challenges that we’ve never seen or imagined. I know that I am. So here is information that will help us manage this crisis with as much ease and grace as possible.


April showers bring May flowers! Sometimes it’s more than a little rain; it’s a deluge! This month we are going to talk about how to survive and bounce back from adversity. We will talk about how to create a foundation that will make us more resilient and also discuss some coping mechanisms that will help when we are caught in the middle of a downpour.

What Is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. It’s our capacity to bounce back when we are hit with adversity and change.

Resilience is different from grit which is another popular concept. Grit is perseverance, the ability to stick with something over a long period of time. It’s an admirable quality, but not what we are going to discuss right now.

We are going to talk about how to get through the April showers of our life so we can go on to bloom and flourish.

When facing adversity, we are often told, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That cliché is not true.  Without some coping mechanisms and a firm foundation, a trauma can indeed damage us. We don’t come out stronger. We come out weaker and broken.

However, there are things that we can do to make ourselves more resilient. We can learn and practice methods that will make us stronger. We will talk about creating a life that fosters resilience, and also coping mechanisms to use in the middle of a change or crisis.

Much of our resilience is determined by how we interpret the events that occur in our lives. Becoming aware of the emotional charge that we unnecessarily attach to events is the first step to becoming more resilient. It is a mental shift, and it can be life-changing.

Here is how our thought process works:

Event > Appraisal > Urge to Act > Action

First, we think about an event that is happening or could happen. Then, we appraise that situation or event, and we decide if it’s good, bad, exhilarating, scary, or calming. Once we appraise the event and attach an emotion to it, we have an urge to act. If we are angry, we might want to yell. If we are sad, we might want to cry. The emotion and the urge to act are closely tied and happen very quickly. Sometimes, the action follows before we stop to consider the consequences.

The event is just an event. It isn’t inherently good or bad. For example, public speaking isn’t inherently scary or fun, but people attach those emotions to it. Isn’t it fascinating that one event can be appraised so differently? It’s important to remember that public speaking is just talking in front of people, and the emotional charge is something we add to it.

We can get rid of a lot of stress if we can neutralize the emotional charge that we attach to things. For example, let’s say someone pulls out in front of me on the highway. It’s just an event – not good or bad. I get to appraise that event. I can get angry at the person’s carelessness or I can accept that we all pull out in front of someone sometimes. It’s just a part of driving.

I get to decide whether or not to charge the event by attaching a strong negative emotion to it. Stress isn’t caused by an event; stress is caused by our reaction to an event.

[This reminds me of the difference between the order to “Stay at home” and considering myself “Safe at home.”]

Sometimes all it takes to get rid of an emotional charge is to notice that we are feeling a strong negative emotion, name it, observe where we feel it in our bodies, and then take a deep breath. Observing ourselves re-engages our neocortex and gives us a chance to respond intentionally instead of as an immediate reaction to a feeling.

The awareness of our reaction to an event and the subsequent intentional choice of how to view the event is the first step to becoming more resilient. For example, the loss of a job can be scary and overwhelming. It will lead to some tough times and decisions. The loss of a job is also an opportunity to create a new life, perhaps in a new place. We determine whether our situation is a hopeless crisis, a grand adventure, or something in between. The important thing to remember is we get to choose.

[Now we get to choose how we react to a global pandemic! It’s planet-wide and very personal. I already see that my challenge is not reacting to my family from a place of stress and worry. I am choosing to take a breath, lower the bar for my daily expectations, and savor moments in an unrushed way. Everyone will remember their experience of COVID-19 and how we made them feel during it. They will not remember whether the furniture was dusted and everyone spotlessly clean. They will remember if they felt safe, loved, and supported. That is my choice.]

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