Resiliency has many dimensions. It is a quality, an attitude, an ability. But most importantly, it is a choice and that means it is an action – a verb, albeit a little known one.
The action of resiliency is defined by Dictionary.com as “to spring back.” In response to unexpected, adverse situations that might leave others flattened, the resilient person bounces back.
But Nietzsche was only half right when he wrote “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” in Twilight of the Idols. Unless you choose to use adversity to become stronger, you can be left wounded and weaker. The resilient person doesn’t passively react to disappointment; instead, she chooses her response, and exercises that power of choice repeatedly throughout her life. Each time she flexes that “choice muscle,” it gets stronger.
The alternative to positive action when things go wrong is reaction. How do we generally react when we get burned? Exactly. We pull back. We run. We avoid. We assign blame. We do everything that is opposite to the resilient response.
It is worth considering how you generally respond to adversity. A loved one leaves. A boss criticizes. A rude comment is posted on your blog. A customer signs with a competitor.
Do you blame? Do you withdraw into self pity? Do you become angry? Do you focus on the injustice of the situation and your own self-righteousness?
Here are some actions that a resilient person might choose instead (based on work by Al Siebert, Ph.D.):
- Cope: discover ways to accommodate the disappointing turn of events.
- Sustain: invest in cultivating good health and energy in the face of increased pressure.
- Overcome: finding ways to turn lemons into lemonade. Transform the negative into a positive opportunity.
- Change: “Oh well, that didn’t work. I’ll go on to Plan B.”
- Learn: practice new techniques for remaining calm, improve your problem-solving skills, develop new insights into what makes you tick.
- Laugh: come on, there’s always something silly in the worst situation.
My personal poster children for resilience are Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. When the nation turned them out of the White House, they encountered personal pain, embarrassment, and an unexpected mountain of debt:
On top of their ”rejection” by the voters, they discovered that their warehousing business had gone bad and was piling up debt at a threatening rate. But instead of seeking refuge in some social stratosphere to which their eminence might have given them entree, they returned to their old home in Plains, Ga., they rolled up their sleeves and they began to rebuild their lives by laying a floor in their attic.
They didn’t stop with the attic. Their continued hard work in tackling some of mankind’s most daunting challenges serves as an inspiration to millions.
Perhaps we will never inspire millions. But we can certainly inspire ourselves daily. And sometimes, that will serve as a light for others.
It starts with a choice. An action.
By the way, the verb form of resiliency is to resile. Who knew?