Mental Resilience — we’re not designed to bounce back
Who here hasn’t considered how resilient they’ve been over the past year? Resilience was a buzzword in corporate and freelance circles before Covid-19 — over the past year it’s been applied to all from kids to those in care homes.
But how would you feel if I told you that most of what you’ve been told about resilience was false.
Let me share a truth with you -resilience is not bouncing back.
I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking what is it then?
We’ve been trained to think that if we’re resilient we can carry on as though nothing has happened. That we’ll bounce back like a tennis ball, or a rubber band.
One of the major struggles I had in my previous career, was that I didn’t feel resilient. I’d see others, particularly senior leaders, apparently bounce back from knock backs, or they’d not even let the knock back (personal or work related) affect them.
They were a bit like a tennis ball, either being served with great force, or missing the racquet and flying right over unaffected.
Indeed, I remember a particularly painful session at an awayday, where 3 leaders shared what being resilient meant to them:
- keeping going
- just carrying on
- going running to process stress
- developing a teflon approach to negative feedback.
I’m not like that. In fact, I doubt these leaders are really. I call bullshit.
It is normal to take failures and setbacks personally. By which I mean, that it’s normal to have an emotional response that causes us to pause, and inevitably effects how we respond.
My reaction to failure, is either to take a moment to recentre, to work out next steps, to process. Or maybe just to wallow in self-pity for a while.
Unfortunately this latter behaviour, if left untreated, spirals into depression.
Trying to become ‘resilient’ like these tennis ball leaders resulted in me spiralling downwards, as my reaction to setbacks was a failure if I benchmarked it against others.
After much counselling at the end of last year, and some wise words from friends, I’ve accepted that resilience is an unhelpful term. And that the standard definition of resilience is in fact, misleading.
Do I really want to be somebody who isn’t affected by knockbacks?
Who can skim over the fact that they, or their team, is struggling?
That’s not me, and it never will be. And I don’t want it to be, because if that’s the case, how can we learn, or accept our emotions and grow?
I’m more of a tomato than a tennis ball. Hit me hard enough and you’ll squash me into an ugly mess. I’m not a tennis ball that rebounds immediately with vigour!
But, take that tomato, plant those seeds, and it’ll reward you with more fruit than you can hope for.
Last year, my tomato seeds failed to germinate. So instead, I took 1 baby plum tomato, cut it into quarters, and squished it over some soil.
I placed these seeds on the windowsill, kept them moist and warm, and amazingly they grew into more tomato plants than I had space for. I gave half of them away, and grew the remainders.
We had so much fruit just from one tiny baby plum tomato. My daughter renamed the polytunnel as the tomato-tunnel! The harvest was just incredible. From just 1 tiny tomato, we grew enough tomatoes to feed ourselves, our friends, fill the freezer with passata and ended the year with green tomato salsa.
Life will squash us, now more than ever.
But that moment of being squashed is not what defines us.
What we all need are the right conditions, so that anyone, however broken, can flourish.
What do you need in order to flourish?
For me, it’s the love of friends and family, a creative outlet, moments of laughter, time gardening and walking, and my faith.
What do you need so you can be resilient — like a tomato.