What's wrong with resilience?

Exploring a more buoyant approach to health and wellbeing

It seems like everyone, and every organisation, wants to become more resilient at the moment.

When I’m asked to talk about, and train people, on building resiliency, I find that I’m often starting at a disadvantage.

The ideas that people have about what resilience means - at least from a scientific perspective - are often both mistaken and fixed. The common misconception about resilience is that it is the ability to remain strong, stoic and defiant in the face of challenge and adversity.

A, perhaps simplistic, metaphor that could be used to describe this way of thinking is a lighthouse. It stands tall, strong and defiant in the face of crashing waves and stormy weather.

 Lighthouse thinking - seeing resilience as standing tall and strong in the face of adversity

Lighthouse thinking - seeing resilience as standing tall and strong in the face of adversity

We know that this ‘heroic’ approach to dealing with stress and challenge is, for most of us, not sustainable. Overtime, our energy and resistance levels fade until we reach breaking point, crumble and burn out.

Whilst this is not a universal understanding of resiliency, it can be difficult to challenge and change people’s ideas and mindsets surrounding this concept.

Rather than battle these pre-conceptions, I’ve started to change the conversation instead. I’m using a different perspective. I encourage people, teams and organisations to think about being more buoy(ant).

Buoy(ant) wellbeing

Rather than resist or deflect waves, a buoy moves with them. In stormy weather it gets buffeted more than when it is calm, but the buoy never gets swept away. This stability is achieved because it is tethered to, and grounded by, an anchor.

In order to maintain buoyancy and stability from both a mental and physical health and wellbeing perspective it is important to have an effective anchor too.

 Buoy(ant) wellbeing - moving with, but not getting swept away by, challenges and opportunities

Buoy(ant) wellbeing - moving with, but not getting swept away by, challenges and opportunities

Whilst our natural levels of buoyancy and the weight of our personal anchors are unique to us, they are not fixed. We can all pro-actively influence our ability to move with, but not get swept away by, the challenges and opportunities we face each day.

We can all pro-actively influence our ability to move with, but not get swept away by, the challenges and opportunities we face each day.

The ability of our personal anchors to keep us grounded is influenced by our day-to-day actions, behaviours, values and beliefs. These are skills, practices and ways of thinking that can be learned, nurtured and developed. And these concepts can be applied holistically to organisations, as they can to teams and individuals.

Ultimately, the most critical element in positively influencing actions and discussions around health and wellbeing is not myths, metaphors or models. It’s the business of encouraging and enabling people, at all levels, to make the changes and take the steps that are going to make the biggest difference to their own health and the wellbeing of others. This often starts, but should never stop, with training or education. We need to bring evidence-based approaches to make positive sustainable and systematic change.

It’s not a case of stopping resiliency training. Or that ‘buoyancy is best’. But words do matter.

Our mindsets and beliefs around concepts and ideas influence how we engage and explore them.

How do we change the conversation?

It it still early days for me in developing my thinking around these concepts and I would love feedback and thoughts about the idea of buoyant wellbeing.

More broadly, I’m keen to hear and learn from others who have effectively dealt with preconceptions and misconceptions around the concepts, such as resiliency, they have been asked to explore with people within organisations.

Let me know your thoughts, tips and experiences.

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Originally published on Linkedin in August.