Research Paper By Ulla Willner
(Business and Personal Strategy Coach, LUXEMBOURG)
Resilience has formally defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness (Oxford dictionaries), or an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (Merriam Webster). Often, resilience has been interpreted as being armoured against difficulty altogether, which is something that Dr Carole Pemberton has contested. Pemberton has instead emphasized that resilience is the capacity to remain flexible in thoughts, behaviours and emotions when under stress (Pemberton, 2015).
In this paper, I will explore what makes mental resilience important in today’s world and investigate ways in which resilience can be cultivated. I will argue that coaching can be an important way to increase resilience in a client by promoting self-awareness and flexible thinking by reframing the client’s perspective on failure and stress. I will treat resilience as the ability to keep going during adversity and to perform under pressure.
Resilience and Perspectives on stress and failure
In today’s world and work culture, the ability to deal with stress and in general with major change is more important than ever. Whether as a managing director of a company operating in difficult markets, an employee who has gotten laid off or somebody going through personal setbacks or uncertainty, all of us will face adversity at some point. Change is something we all are expected to adjust to throughout our careers and in our lives.
Various research has shown that resilient people are problem solvers and likely to choose a more effective response to any stress they may face, less likely to act impulsively. They have learned that they are not powerless in any situation, and are more likely to take action, rather than giving up. Less resilient people, on the other hand, tend to use emotion-focused coping, such as dwelling on the negative and adopting bad or even harmful habits (Resilience centre, 2019). It’s meaningful here to distinguish between responding and reacting. A reaction is typically quick, without much thought, tense and aggressive. A response is thought out, calm and non-threatening (Acacia HR solutions, 2019). One can argue that resilient people are able to respond rather than to react to a stressful situation.
The perspective we take on stress is an important factor in how we experience it in the moment and over time. Similarly, and closely related, is our perception of failure. Perspective is traditionally defined as a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view (Oxford dictionary). Perception, in turn, is the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted. (Oxford dictionary). In a very simplified way, we can conclude that perspectives and perceptions refer to how we look (or from where) and what we see (or sense).
While we may have little to no power over events affecting us, such as job loss, illness or economic hardship and cannot be expected to feel joyful about it when it occurs, we do however have power of how we chose to regard it. Regarding something from a different perspective will hence affect how we perceive it, or experience it, and this will ultimately determine how it affects us; how we react or respond to it. With this background, one can argue that resilient people master the art of perceiving stress and failure in a more positive light and the ability to respond to it in a more thoughtful and constructive way.
While some people seem to be naturally blessed with a more positive mindset, there’s growing evidence that the elements of resilience can be cultivated. (Psychology Today, 2019, Resilience in Positive Psychology, 2019). It has been claimed that being resilient is not a personality trait, but more a dynamic learning process (Resilience in Positive Psychology: Bouncing Back & Going Strong, 2019). Though some may have been fortunate enough to have learned this early on in life, through supporting parenting, a nurturing environment or good education, it is not too late to change your thinking later in life.
Dr Rick Hanson, in the book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, argues that most of the stress we experience results from our needs not being met. Hanson has divided our needs into 3 main categories; safety, satisfaction, and connection. Hanson’s recipe for cultivating stress resilience comes down to finding positive matches to our negative experiences by linking our needs with internal resources. According to Hanson, it is hence vital to grow strengths inside like grit, gratitude, and compassion. These are according to him the key to resilience, and to lasting well-being in a changing world. Hanson recommends that a way to go about achieving this is looking for opportunities where you feel your needs are getting met and what he refers to “internalizing your green-zones” – such as being mindful of moments when your needs are met, you feel good and internalizing these. Doing this will, according to Hanson, build up this essential core of inner strengths that will make you more resilient (Hanson & Hanson, 2018). Hanson also distinguishes between reacting to an issue and responding to it, where the response mode is described as our home base.
Paula Davis-Laackargues, very much in line with Pemberton, that you can increase your resilience via a number of pathways, but one of the most important ways is to develop your ability to think flexibly and accurately during challenge and adversity. In contrast to this, people with fixed mindsets believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable and no amount of additional “trying new strategies out” will grow that capacity. Consequently, a person with a fixed mindset feels pressure to repeatedly prove him/herself, avoid challenges, and give up easily, none of which builds confidence or resilience(Davis- Laack, in Forbes, 2018).
Resilient people typically don’t label failure as something negative but manage to view it as helpful feedback and motivation to work more and improve. In the article Resilience in Positive Psychology: Bouncing Back & Going Strong (2019), the importance of viewing obstacles as challenges rather than hindrances is emphasized; People with a challenge perspective strive to view the problem as an opportunity for growth; as a chance to better themselves. In contrast to a hindrance perspective, a challenge perspective allows you to see your problem as something that has happened for you rather than to you. This type of victor mentality can be viewed as to encourage growth, thereby boosting your resilience. By acknowledging the obstacles and identifying the areas for improvement, you are positioning yourself for success.
Another tip for boosting resilience is to focus on progress rather than over-focusing on a particular goal (Resilience in Positive Psychology: Bouncing Back & Going Strong, 2019). With reference to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015, monitoring goal progress is crucial in ensuring that your goals are translated into action. Being able to acknowledge success and allow yourself to support even small victories can hence be seen as important for building resilience but also for a more positive self-image and outlook in general.
According to Resilience Center, resilient people use active coping such as exercising and spending time with friends when facing stress, rather than procrastinating, eating or drinking to excess or smoking. Resilience can, therefore, be strongly linked to physical and mental well-being and preserving this well- being for ensuring future strength and success. One can argue that by also paying attention to what is good in life while going through difficult times can help to build resilience.
Coaching for resilience
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. (https://coachfederation.org/about). One of the ICF Core competencies in Coaching is that of Facilitating Learning and Results. Under this heading is the important competence of creating awareness – where the coach helps establishing the conditions under which the clients create self-awareness. The coach is also to support the client in planning action, designing goal setting as well as managing progress and accountability (ICF, 2019).
Coaching can with its strong focus on creating awareness, enabling learning and maximizing personal/professional potential be regarded as an important path in cultivating resilience in a client. Coaching can help the client to identify and become aware of inner resources and strengths, create awareness over behavioural patterns and in promoting flexible thinking. The coach can, for instance, support the client to reframing his/her perspectives on stress and failure, by various lines of powerful questions or visualizing techniques that invite the client to look at the matter in a different way. As suggested in the ICA module Reframing Perspectives, the coach can by introducing an element of play and lightness, stop the client momentarily from churning up the water. Once the mind is clear, new perspectives can appear (ICA – Module Reframing perspectives).
According to Breazeale, when coaching someone in resilience, you want to build the client’s confidence, which is a resilience attitude, by keeping the client focused on the process of achievement, such as, their persistence, their engagement and their improvement in performance. In this process, your response as a coach is central; Making active, constructive responses facilitate learning and growth. As Breazeale argues, coaching can be a powerful way to increase resilience, but also by helping the client to identify and acknowledge progress and create supportive structures. (Breazeale, Psychology Today 2011). An effective way is for the coach to invite the client to remember which personal strengths the client has relied upon in the past to get through similarity stressful situations the past and promote awareness around this.
In conclusion, resilience can be regarded as central for well-being and success in an ever-changing world, as modern individuals face an increasing amount of uncertainty for instance in the workplace. Resilient people respond more effectively to stress, do not let failure or obstacles knock them down and can be argued to remain stronger when facing adversity as they have a different perspective on failure and other stressors. Resilience, however, can be cultivated also in adults through different methods that all are closely associated with techniques supported by coaching. Flexible thinking around stress, reframing perspectives on obstacles and failure, identifying and acknowledging inner strengths, developing supporting structures and habits and acknowledging progress are all useful techniques in cultivating resilience. A coach can support the client in his or her preferred way.
Books & Articles
Breazael, Ron PhD (2011); Coaching Others To Be Resilient, in Psychology Today, August 22nd 2011 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-face-adversity/201108/coaching-others-be-resilient
Davis- Laack, Paula (2018); 7 Mindsets That Undercut Your Mental Strength And Resilience, Forbes April 10th 2018 https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauladavislaack/2018/04/10/7-mindsets-that-undercut-your-mental-strength-resilience/#65edb59a5a8a
Hanson, Rick PhD & Hanson, Forrest: Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, (2018) Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Pemberton, Carole: RESILIENCE: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR COACHES (2015), Open University Press
Resilience in Positive Psychology: Bouncing Back & Going Strong, (April 2019), in https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/resilience-in-positive-psychology/