Micro-resilience – the art of navigating life’s little bumps
by Jan Niemand
The topic of resilience, your personal “bounce back” factor, has been a hot topic in recent years, especially with the alarming statistics regarding stress, occupational burnout, and other stress-related health issues. However, when we talk about resilience, we frequently encounter extreme cases. For instance, someone surviving on stranded on a desert island for 6 months before being rescued or a mountaineer who by sheer wits and guts rescues not just herself, but her entire team from certain death on Mt. Everest.
These are extreme cases of resilience and they inspire us immensely. However, they are, for the normal comings and goings of society, not very helpful. The first problem is that these extreme cases are not sustainable. True, they are inspiring, but we (ideally) don’t WANT to get stranded on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific more than once in your life (if ever). They are also not a true representation of the challenges that people in general face.
I want to suggest the emerging concept of micro-resilience. That is, small course adjustments and setbacks while rolling with life’s punches. If resilience is your ability to bounce back, micro-resilience is the ability to bounce back from the smaller, accumulated pushes and shoves.
I had to apply some interesting micro-resilience techniques this past weekend after my car was stolen at a family gathering. Unfortunately, a Toyota Corolla is quite high on many “chop shop” owners’ wish lists, so statistically, the chance of this happening is very likely. This is what you tell yourself, as you stand there at the empty parking space where two hours before, you were certain you parked your dirty little car. At that moment, I realised I had many options, but deep within me, I resolved to handle this situation as resourceful as possible.
- Breathe… Just breathe.
Many of my coaching clients know by now that I prescribe breathing exercises, three times a day for at least 2 minutes at a time. Why? The simple answer is that controlled balanced breathing balances your autonomic nervous system (ANS). There are two branches of the ANS, the sympathetic (fight + flight response) and parasympathetic (rest + digest response). There are like the ebb and flow of the sea (ideally).
As a society, we are extremely sympathetic dominant. We are constantly fighting and fleeing.
And realising that your car has just been stolen obviously does not contribute to a calm state exactly… So breathe… in…out…in…out… Why? Because we tend to make choices that we regret later when we mindlessly fight or flee.
The next step was to determine how I wish to contextualise this event. “Bad luck,” “additional financial pressure,” and “tragedy” were all unhelpful and resourceful frames. So, praying silently, I made my choice… “thank you for this opportunity…” BAM! Out of nowhere – gratitude! This reframe does not, from a logical point of view, make sense right? How can having your car stolen become an opportunity? Well, to be honest, I don’t know yet. All I know is that the other responses might have been a bit more “accurate” but they were certainly a LOT more debilitating, disempowering and resourceful.
Just because something is accurate, does not make it helpful.
- Maintain the chosen course
Here’s where the true art of micro-resilience comes in… Small course adjustments. Constantly. Because the FIRST response upon telling the family at the gathering that my car had just been nabbed, was “how terrible!” or “That’s awful! You poor thing!” Now, these responses are good, natural and kind. So don’t misunderstand me at this point. They can, however, invite a frame which is not helpful – I am a victim. The first micro-resilient adjustment is allowing space for other’s sympathy while maintaining your chosen frame. In this case, the frame had to be re-adjusted a few times back to, “this is an opportunity…”
I will keep you posted as the story develops.
September 25, 2018