Strategic Resilience Building, Part One

“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.”― Gever Tulley

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” ― Margaret Thatcher

Building resilience is one of the most important long-term objectives toward which a person can commit.  Resilience improves our capacity to deal with our stress triggers with minimum difficulty. This includes every day stressors, major setbacks and even disasters that impact a person on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.  It allows one to not only withstand the “big hits” in life, but to give more to others in the aftermath of the big hits and to live with a greater positive impact.  Resilience allows us to “run with the big dogs,” so to speak, living with more energy, more stamina, more productivity, and still more impact for good.

Increasing our resilience is the byproduct of encountering planned or unplanned challenges with a mixture of growth mindset thinking and grit.  If one sees challenges – even the really tough and threatening challenges – as opportunities for growth and can successfully work through them, resilience is likely to grow deeper.  For resilience to grow or expand, a combination of challenges, learning, conditioning, and disciplines can be combined with good results.

Warriors know this about resilience and preparation: “The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in times of war.”  Expanding resilience must become a lifestyle, not a temporary change.  Following are a few strategies that I have found useful and effective in my own resilience-building efforts.

Understand “The Swap” concept. If one would build an deepen resilience, there must be a swap that occurs. The swap involves trading what is comfortable, habitual or safe for what challenges us and builds resilience.  It is not possible to build or deepen resilience while remaining comfortable any more than it is possible to get stronger by avoiding the gym and watching weight lifters on TV.  It is necessary to accept and embrace challenges to build and deepen resilience.  Ships are safest in a harbor, but that is not that for which ships were made.

Understand the process for expanding resilience. Resilience is built and deepened by those events that challenge one’s understandings, skills, and reserves at the physical, mental emotional, and spiritual levels.  If one waits for unplanned setbacks and difficulties to do this work, the results may be as random as the strategy.  It is best to develop specific processes that challenge one’s capacities and reserves, along with retooling the mind, will, and emotions between challenges.  This will yield a comprehensive and proactive approach to building resilience.

For me, this includes challenges such as physical exercise, physical disciplines such as rising early each day, setting goals and pursuing them, and pushing the envelope toward greater reliance in my own living.    The key is to not take the easier path when a harder or more challenging path is available.  Take the stairs, park farthest away, walk instead of drive, take up running or long walking, etc.

Expand physical resilience through physical challenges.  It also has “cross-training” advantages in terms of mental, emotional, and spiritual conditioning.   Again, the point to work harder, take it easier in life.  A habit of physical challenge builds resilience consistently over time. Here are some of the ideas I have implemented to expand my physical resilience.

  • I pushed myself to run a half-marathon, and then continued with a lower level of running that challenges me.
  • I work out weekly at a level that builds mass and raises the heart rate.
  • I shovel snow, I don’t blow snow
  • I bike or walk to work gigs, meetings, the store, and for fun.
  • I walk my dog (although not as much as he thinks I should)
  • I plan wilderness adventures several times each year to keep my skills sharp and to give a challenge to work toward regularly.
  • I volunteer for grunt work, because hard work and new tasks expand resilience

Expand mental resilience and build mental toughness.  Mental toughness is the ability to will oneself through less-than-ideal situations and conditions. Whether it is battling cancer or taking up physical or martial arts training, surviving significant losses or waking up earlier each day, expanding one’s mental resilience helps a person to stay strong under stress, duress, or crisis conditions.  Following are strategies that I employ to build and expand mental resilience.

  • I read less, but I read more of what is really important. My reading is focused.
  • I stopped reading fiction about 27 years ago (one exception was reading “The Shack,” a great read). My reading of non-fiction is divided into two genres.  The first is books that develop me as a person, leader, scholar, friend, and professional.  The second genre is true adventure stories.  Fiction has no resilience value since whatever is happening in the story is, well, fiction.  I want to find out what real people did in real events, to know their thinking and to understand what it took to get through the situation.

In the next post I will give a few more ideas for building mental resilience before going on to building emotional and spiritual resilience.

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” ― Nelson Mandela

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