Three truths no one tells you about resilience

From business magnate Sir Richard Branson to athlete Sir Mo Farah — high achievers are often looked at in awe by the rest of the world. It’s natural to conclude that these living legends got to where they are now because of magic star quality or innate talent.

But according to our founder Gemma Leigh Roberts, a psychologist who’s made it her life’s goal to help people thrive in their careers, this is mistaken. In reality, it’s relentless determination that helps successful people reach their goals. What often holds people back from fulfilling their full potential is not lack of talent, but lack of focus and endurance or, in other words, resilience.

Looking at Branson’s life, for instance, it’s not child prodigy-like talent that put him on a course towards greatness. At the age of 16, he dropped out from school, where his dyslexia was treated as a handicap by teachers. His first company Student Magazine didn’t make any money. In a bid to pay for the magazine he started a mail-order discount record business, which planted the seed for Virgin Records.

Once cashflow became a problem at Student Magazine, it wasn’t talent or skill that drove Branson to pivot, bounce back and be flexible. It was resilience. There are three truths that nobody tells you about resilience:

1. Resilience can be learned and unlearned

The idea that the more you train or practice a sport, the better you become at it is widely accepted. Yet, we don’t tend to train our brains in the same way as we do the rest of our body. The brain is like a muscle and if we train ourselves to become more resilient, then we will.

A study by Harvard University into child development and resilience concluded that “resilience is shaped throughout life by the accumulation of experiences—both good and bad—and the continuing development of adaptive coping skills connected to those experiences. What happens early may matter most, but it is never too late to build resilience.” That means it’s never too late to learn resilience, as long as you start to develop coping mechanisms.

2. Resilience is learned in real life situations

You don’t need a crash course in resilience training to learn the art of bouncing back from failures. You learn it by being more aware of setbacks during your everyday life and by reprogramming your thought processes to react differently to challenges.

The book How To Fail by Elizabeth Day is an ode to the times in our lives when things go wrong and the lessons you learn from failures in hindsight. One quote in the book puts it nicely when it explains that “…in order to succeed on a grand scale, you have to be willing to fail on an equally grand scale too. ” It is by failing, learning, and trying again that we build true resilience and grit. The sooner we embrace failure, as Day encourages us to do with her How To Fail platform, the better.

3. Resilience goes hand-in-hand with rest and recovery

Resilience is not only about mindless endurance and plodding along; it’s also about recharging and taking care of yourself. One of the biggest problems is that many organisations and leaders promote resilience the wrong way. Having restorative rest away from work, both physically and mentally, is key in becoming more resilient.

The danger of resilience without rest is burnout. Ariana Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post and now Thrive Global, learned this the hard way when she collapsed from burnout and exhaustion over a decade ago. “Sleep deprivation has gone from something you’d brag about in a job interview to a giant red flag” she wrote about her experience — and it’s exactly that. In the end, resilient person is a well-rested one.


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