Pathways to Building and Practicing Resilience

Disappointment, disruption, unfairness, failure, rejection and disease are part of being human.  We build a house of cards in our minds as to what ought to be and are devastated when it falls.  This pattern is one of the first to appear in our cognitive development; it’s also the most important, and certainly the most beautiful.  Given its importance, and the inevitable negative side of this human wonder, we need a recovery mechanism.  It’s called resilience.

Resilience is part of the biological world and it’s truly remarkable.  Cognitive resilience is uniquely human and likely in some respects genetic.  Nurturing inherent resiliency is an important part of being a parent, a grandparent, a teacher and a coach (I’ll add leader as well).  There are different pathways to resiliency, and the effective and timely deployment of a combination of these pathways is the secret.

The pathways are complex and interdependent; they’re physical, cognitive and emotional.  Some are fast, some slow, some require higher levels of cognitive function, and thus can’t be deployed until adolescence and young adulthood.  These pathways work in sequence and ni parallel; they work together like a complex circuit.  Personal experiences, learned behavior and chemical imbalances can interfere with these pathways.  These pathways need to be nurtured and practiced, and developed over time.  There are experts, but most of us always have a pathway or two that could use some strengthening.

The pathways are: self-awareness, tolerance, reframing, hope, self-determination, and action; I call them the Yep, OK, See, Can, Will, Do pathways.  As a pediatric oncologist I’ve seen a lot of disappointment and unfairness, and a lot of resilience.  I’ve seen these pathways in action.  The Yep, is acknowledging that this is bad, and that you’re sad or mad about it.  Feeling negative emotions is natural and human, it’s the depth and breadth we need to minimize to have resilience.  The first lesson we can model and coach is as follows, “It’s ok to feel bad, take a deep breath and try not to stay in that dark place too long.”

OK is sometimes accepting (but that’s hard), but mostly tolerating, or living with it so to speak.  We’ve all seen children do this step very quickly and we’ve all seen them take too long.  Why the difference?  Attachment.  The second lesson, “it is what it is, it happened, it’s in the past, it doesn’t need to take me over, or define who I am.”  You can probably see the developmental progression in that lesson.

See is my favorite; it is so uniquely human and has resulted in so many wonderful things.  It’s intuitive, but must be enabled.  It can be quick, or take a while.  It can be simple or it can be complex.  It can be constructive  or destructive.  Our role as parent, teacher, coach or leader is to enable and empower this pathway, by offering suggestions, modeling the way, or sometimes just telling them what to do.

Can is about hope and optimism.  Some call it a sense of self-efficacy or confidence.  Will is about self-determination and perseverance.  Do is perhaps intuitive, but the faster you can get to it, the better.  In fact, one ought not to seek perfection in the other pathways, or get lost in them at the expense of putting off action.

We ourselves need to have resilience when helping others use these pathways: Yep, controlling emotions is hard, Ok this takes time, I See another way to help, I believe this person Can do this, we Will do this together, let’s Do it.