Andy Falconer

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Resilience – rising each time we fall

8 Sep 2012 | 3 Comments |

Resilience. I ran a race this year. It was my first one in roughly 20 years. I finished in 19,623rd place

Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com/AnsonLu

– my worst ever placing. 10 months earlier when I started to train for it I could only jog half a mile, then I was physically sick & had to walk home – that’s how unfit I was. As I walked home part of me wanted to give up and try cycling or table football instead, but another part of me said that next time I’d jog the same distance but this time I wouldn’t be sick and I wouldn’t walk back. There were lots of moments throughout the winter months when I would be doing a long run at 10pm after a long day, with the temperature near freezing and snow on the roads and I thought about turning back and going home.

“So up he rose to run once more,

And with a new commit……

He resolved that win or lose

At least he wouldn’t quit.”

So I didn’t quit. I dug deep, kept going and it paid off in the end as I managed to finish my first ever marathon (Paris) feeling strong and wanting to do it again. Berlin now beckons in a few weeks.

There were numerous occasions when I needed to be resilient and not give in to negative thoughts, or take the easy option. Resilience is defined as an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or change.

I think that helping our young people to develop resilience is a fundamental part of education, particularly in an age where change is the norm. However, this can only be done when parents and educators are working in partnership. Every one of us will have to face change and disappointment, many times over in our lives. Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived two and a half years in Nazi concentration camps, made this case in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning‘ and said, “we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond.”

In 1896, Francis Galton published “Heredity Genius” his landmark investigation into the factors underlying achievement. He found that success wasn’t simply a matter of intelligence or talent. Instead, Galton concluded that eminent achievement was only possible when “ability was combined with zeal and the capacity for hard labour.” Lewis-Terman, the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test came to the same conclusion. Whilst the most accomplished people did have slightly higher scores, he found that other traits such as ‘perseverance’ were much more pertinent.

How we help our children approach misfortune or change will have a significant say in the people they will eventually become. A resilient child is able to adapt when faced with adversity and feels competent when solving new problems. They view obstacles as challenges to rise to, instead of stressors to avoid.

How can we as parents help? Well, we need to model resilient behaviours and help promote resilience through words, actions and the environment in which our children are being raised. Praise our children for having a go, for their effort & resourcefulness, as Carol Dweck has talked about in her research.

So what are the keys to resilience, whether as a child or an adult? From the reading I have done, I would say:

  1. A sense of optimism – the ability to believe things will work out, in spite of evidence to the contrary. This doesn’t mean burying our head in the sand but does mean being a glass half full not half empty person, and taking responsibility for choosing how to act and feel.
  2. Physical exercise – a commitment to physical health & activity, no matter what. There is so much research to show that physical exercise and mental health go hand in hand.
  3. Problem solving capability – the creative capacity to work through a challenge in various ways. Having a growth mindset and believing our contribution can make a difference to an outcome. Remembering the importance of praising the effort not the achievement, the journey not the destination.
  4. Social connection – having a network of resources & support via friends, family and other relationships. It’s not healthy to have just one or two best friends but to have a wide circle of friends. We need people to talk to and confide in when something worries us.
  5. Flexibility – the ability to adapt to unexpected scenarios. Helping children to understand that things don’t always go as planned. Being flexible and able to change is an important characteristic of resilience. When a child is going through a life transition or big change, this can be a great learning opportunity to show how change can be dealt with and perceived in a positive way.
  6. Being able to express emotions – the honest identification & communication of emotions without habitual negativity. It’s OK to say we’re nervous, or frightened, or disappointed, or proud, or sad.

“And to his dad he sadly said,

‘I didn’t do too well.’

‘To me, you won,’ his father said.

‘You rose each time you fell.’

 

For all of life is like that race.

With ups and downs and all.

And all you have to do to win,

Is rise each time you fall.”

(The Race by DH Groberg)