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Resilience Can Be a Verb: Just Do It!

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?

How do you respond to adversity? How do you make yourself more resilient?

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4 Responses to “Resilience Can Be a Verb: Just Do It!”

  1. Jesse Stoner says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great post on resiliency. You remind us that we have choices on how we respond to events that affect us, and you provide a list of some of the choices we have. One choice I’d add is “reframing” – changing the meaning we have assigned to an event. So many people are naturally resilient. For those who aren’t, your post provides guidance.

    • mpfriedman says:

      Hey Jesse – It’s an honor to see you on the blog!

      Resiliency is a subject I keep returning to – a gift that keeps on giving, since every time I read or think about it, I gain a bit more of it. I love your addition: Reframing is a powerful choice for dealing with adversity. We often unconsciously reframe with time and distance. A common American proverb claims that time heals all wounds, but it can go the other way; think of Gatsby transforming Daisy’s casual rejection into the motivation for living a self-destructive melodrama. By consciously pulling that reframing into the present and directing it towards the positive, we can gain immediate strength.

      [Jesse Stoner is the founder of Seapoint Center and co-author with Ken Blanchard of the best-seller Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision.]

      • Jesse Stoner says:

        Hi Mark,

        I’m glad to hear you keep coming back to this topic. I think it’s so important. Like vision, it comes naturally to some people, but that doesn’t mean it’s not available who don’t come by it naturally. I think it can be learned. I love your description of it as a verb rather than an adjective. So how does one “do” resiliency? Your list helps. I hope some of your future blogs might illuminate it further by telling some stories of what the potential actions look like. One other thought I have: I think it’s important to differentiate between action and one’s internal experience. I am certain the Carters felt terrible. The key is to allow yourself to feel your feelings, but without acting them out. And that’s a skill we all need to keep learning and practicing.

        My best,
        Jesse

        • mpfriedman says:

          Jesse – outstanding insight. I fully agree, it’s crucial to acknowledge the feelings but not let them control our actions. It’s like Kobe Bryant going through the playoffs with a broken finger: he knows it hurts, he knows it reduces his effectiveness, but there is no way he will let it stand in the way of victory. (Hey, I’m a Lakers fan and proud of it!).

          I like your idea of illustrating with stories. I’ll put that in my writing calendar.

          BTW, I like what you wrote: “a skill we all need to keep learning and practicing.” We never master resiliency. Like meditation, there is always opportunity for getting better. The trick is to make continuous improvement a priority and a welcome part of the journey.

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