What is that quality of resilience that helps people bounce back from adversity and even excel?
Resilience is a reflex, a way of facing and understanding the world, that is deeply etched into a person’s mind and soul. Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not. — Diane Coutu, “How Resilience Works,” Harvard Business Review, May 2002
Creative resilience is your most important resource during times of crisis, change & transition.
Transition is the psychological process people must go through to come to terms with new situations.
Change is situational: the new boss, new teams, new roles. It’s the psychological aspect that’s difficult to manage, and it is only after a psychological transition that people adapt to change. According to William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”
We live in a world of constant change. Nature is an example of constant birth, growth, death, and renewal. Understanding the cycles of creation will help us thrive in change, rather than fear it. While transitions can be painful, they are a source of creativity, growth and transformation.
I don’t believe we can experience a transformation without undergoing a psychological transition, and if we can cultivate resilience, we can proceed with a sense of adventure on what Joseph Campbell described as a Hero’s Journey (illustrated at the top of the page).
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” according to Campbell’s definition. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
We are all on a hero’s journey through life, and if we want to find the boon, or the gift that lies buried in the abyss, we must be willing to embrace great difficulties that are a prerequisite to transformation.
I believe creative resilience is key to helping you thrive during times of transition
1. Develop a sense of optimism
Resilient people face difficult situations realistically, yet find ways to be optimistic. Studies indicate optimists live longer, have better relationships, and achieve more success in life. Optimists are not magical thinkers, unable to see the dark side; rather, they accept reality, and put things in perspective.
Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the positive psychology field, says, “Optimistic people tend to interpret troubles as transient, controllable and specific….in other words, … surmountable, temporary. Pessimists believe troubles last forever, undermine everything they do and are uncontrollable… troubles are pervasive, permanent and personal.”
2. Find meaning and purpose even in terrible times
Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning offers profound lessons on being resilient in dire situations. Frankl says meaning and purpose is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is a point I make with managers who feel powerless in their organization: No matter what is going on, you can always choose your attitude, and show leadership, by setting an example for others.
Frankl said we can discover meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed to help others;(2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
3. Re-frame your perspective
In times of turbulence, it’s helpful to focus on what is truly in our power to control. As Albert Einstein wisely said: “Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.” Finding opportunity takes imagination and the ability to reframe perspectives.
4. Express yourself creatively
When my coaching clients tell me about times of transition, I ask what they could do to nurture themselves to reduce stress. Creativity is always at the top of the list, along with getting enough sleep, exercise, proper nutrition and being with friends or family.
I myself am guilty of neglecting my personal creativity, although I seem to be writing all the time. I felt a trace of sadness about not having painted for so long, when I read James McMullen’s poetic discourse on how to draw, in the New York Times.
He writes, “Drawing is a process of engagement for the artist, a period of both time and struggle that pulls the artist deeply and intensely into his subject and his ideas.” In my view, this is key to becoming resilient. His series of articles Line by Line, is about “rediscovering the lost skill and singular pleasure of drawing. I also see this as a metaphor for everyone.
Is there a lost skill, a singular pleasure you need to reclaim?
Creative expression has the power to heal emotions, and nurture the soul. When we enter the flow states of complete absorption in a creative process, we open our awareness to new perceptions, and new perspectives. Creativity is something you can control. When you take time out of time to create, you shift your field of attention into something generative and life affirming.
Resilient people are masters of innovation and resourcefulness. They have the capacity to improvise and to create bricolage: creative problem-solving using a variety of materials that happen to be available.
The Apollo 13 mission (launched April 13, 1970) is a dramatic example of improvisation: When the spacecraft was well on its way to the Moon, an oxygen tank exploded, scrubbing the lunar landing and putting the crew in jeopardy.
Working with Mission Control in Houston, the crew used their lunar module as a “lifeboat.” Using spare parts and spacecraft canisters, the astronauts improvised a method to reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the spacecraft. The mission ended safely on April 17, 1970,
How might you improvise at home or at work? What resources do you have available to you, to utilize in new ways?
One more strategy:
6. Hire a coach. I’m not just saying that because I am one. I have personally experienced the benefits of having a coach. She helped me overcome my mental ruts, gave me suggestions I had never thought of before, helped me feel more confident about taking risks, and helped me reach specific goals. Could I have accomplished this on my own? Yes, but it would have taken me a lot longer and it would have been much harder.
As a coach I do the same for clients. I have been a guide for people going through a transition on their Hero’s Journey, and I helped entrepreneurs win big contracts, get promoted, and create more creatively satisfying work.
Resilient people are optimistic, focused, organized, proactive, and flexible. To be resilient, learn to face reality with staunchness, find meaning in the hardship you are facing, nurture your creativity, and improvise solutions using available resources.