1. What it is
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a setback so that you have the courage to do two things: first, to face it again if necessary, learning from the experience and seeing what you could do differently the next time. And, second, to live your life, regardless of whether it might happen again.
2. You won’t bounce back exactly the same
Every experience – good or bad, big or small – changes us. The point of resilience is that you are not permanently weakened or damaged by the experience. You might be strengthened, or you might be a little wiser. You might be more cautious – or less so. You might feel weaker for a while – anyone might need recovery time – but you will become stronger, wiser, better equipped to survive and thrive whatever life throws at you. It’s not about “getting over” the thing – it’s about getting through it and living again.
3. Know that you can grow your resilience
Resilience is a set of skills, behaviours and thought processes. And, like any set of skills, we can learn to do it better. This will partly happen naturally as you experience and overcome more setbacks and realise that usually you can do more than you think. But there are also deliberate actions you can take that will help you practise resilience. That’s what Be resilient is about.
4. You don’t have to do it on your own
In fact, one of the five building blocks I suggest in Be Resilient is your support network. No one is an island. We are all strengthened and supported by other people, whether friends, family or colleagues. And we do the same for them. So, one of the ways to become stronger is to enjoy, enhance and develop your friendships and human connections, thinking about who is there for you and how you can call on their help when you need it. And part of that is how you support those people yourself. Standing on our “own two feet” is good but there’s no prize for doing that all the time. People like to be asked for help so when you choose to ask, you are also giving. And in doing so you are strengthening yourself and the other person.
5. Resilience can shrink
We are not statues of iron. Even the strongest of us can be damaged by too many storms. And those who are younger, or less well supported, or who have a personality that makes us more vulnerable, or who are unwell physically or mentally, can find our resilience dwindling. Just as the strongest ship needs attention and repair during calms between storms, so we do. Take time to remind yourself – or someone you care about – how well they have done, what they have learnt and that they deserve a break. Crucially, that you believe that they – or you – will recover and bounce back. Use the time for repair.
6. Parents can help – or hinder
A parent’s instinct is to protect. But as our children grow older, over-protection becomes as weakening as no protection at all. We don’t learn to fight if someone always fights for us; we don’t learn self-respect if no one believes we can succeed ourselves; we don’t learn from failure if we’re never allowed to fail safely. I use the analogy of a safety-net: the safety-net is not there to prevent falling; it’s there to allow falling. Falling safely and being able to pick oneself up, see why one fell and if there’s anything one can do differently next time. And, crucially, to be brave enough to face the next time.
7. Resilience is infectious
Or not resilience itself but the behaviours and words that accompany it. If you want to build resilience in someone close to you – partner, children, students – think how you act around them.
When upset, do you withdraw? Instead, try talking about how you feel and how you are overcoming the negative feelings. When you’ve just messed up, say things like, “That happened because I let myself be distracted so I’m going to find a way to do that differently next time.” When you’ve been unlucky, show the words and actions you use to get over the disappointment. When you’re really scared or a repeated worry crops up, show how you talk yourself to a calmer state, what you say to yourself when you’re trying to sleep at night, how you use physical exercise or a hobby or a chat with a friend to distract negative thoughts, raise your mood and restore your constructive positivity.
One of the five building-blocks in Be Resilient is about positive coping strategies: if you can show yourself using those and avoiding the negative ones (such as alcohol or unhealthy eating patterns), you are being a great role model and your behaviours will positively influence those around you. Humans are unwitting mimics.
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Be Resilient teaches people of all ages how to develop the five building blocks of resilience: your support network, your skills, your courage, your coping strategies and your future. The advice is for all equally but speaks directly to teenagers. I respect them enough to believe that they can do this job of building their own resilience.
Our lives are like the ocean and we the ship trying to sail across. We can’t control the weather, or even predict it far ahead, but we can build our ship to be as strong and smart as possible. Each storm will batter it but then we do the necessary repairs and make it even better. And we must teach our young people how to repair their own ships so that they can not only survive the storms but enjoy and appreciate the calm waters and sun-drenched days.
Nicola Morgan, The Teenage Brain Woman, is a multi-award-winning author whose work on young brains, psychology and mental health is loved by teenagers, schools and families around the world. Be Resilient was sparked by two things: the COVID-19 pandemic and a personal loss a few months earlier. But the research and knowledge was already there – this book just brings it all together to help young people build themselves a strong future.
Nicola does talks, online or in-person, for conferences, schools, parents and public audiences. She has created unique teaching materials, including videos: terrific value for schools, bringing all the benefits of repeated visits at a fraction of the cost of one!