Potential is one of those things that many of us know we have, but knowing it is there for us, and being able to turn it into something tangible are two very different things. Potential can be elusive, it makes us work hard to manifest it in our work and life; if it were easy, we would all be able to be our best selves all the time. Knowing that potential is always there for us can be quite comforting. It can also be quite maddening when we strive to do things to maximize it, and the results are less than optimal. As Einstein says “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So too goes potential. We cannot grow, and embody healthy change with the same thinking and actions we would normally perform. Maximizing our potential requires us to learn, to evolve.
The learning curve is always interesting (particularly around new behaviours and changes), as it is not a straight line leading us to mastery. It winds and plateaus, it breaks and bends, it frustratingly requires us to face some of our deepest vulnerabilities before it coughs up growth and new capabilities, assuming we stick with it to get to this point. Even after we’ve got the hang of something, we need to keep doing it to strengthen, or even keep, the new capability, eventually making it an effortless habit. All of this points to the need for resiliency, in both the extraordinary and the ordinary facets of life. “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That is true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics and it’s true in the boardroom.” (Dean Becker, Adaptiv Learning Systems).
It helps to look closely at the building blocks of resilience to enable it for ourselves; let’s explore these pieces to help us navigate our own resilience and potential. The first tenet of resilience is being objective, able to face the stark realities of a current situation. Not an easy task. Whether you are attempting to become a better leader or break an unhealthy habit, you must first be able to see yourself and the reality of where you are. This is key because it is only through acknowledging what is happening, how you are behaving in it, seeing what your actions enable and what they disable, that you will be able to consider changes that truly enable you to make fruitful adjustments, as opposed to just “trying something new” (or ignoring it and hoping it will go away). While on the surface objectivity seems easy enough, human beings are wily characters, and sometimes we only see what we want to see, not what really is (and we may not even know it). To ensure you are looking at things with a clear lens, consider asking others for their view, helping you to see things from a well-rounded perspective (rather than a singular perspective, your own). Being objective is the first step in resilience.
The next tenant is belief. Belief in the changes you wish to undertake, that they are the right pursuits, that you can accomplish them, that they serve a wider purpose. You don’t need to be a raging optimist to achieve full potential or meaningful change, but you do need to believe it is possible and you have the abilities, support, and resources needed to follow a path that will get you there. This is often informed by your values, which is why optimism is not necessarily required. If one of your values is a strong trust that innovating provides opportunities, you’ll innovate your way to actualizing more of your potential. Of course belief in anything means that you accept there is meaning in what you do, who you are and the wider concerns you contribute to...in essence, that life is meaningful. Without a belief in that, the struggle required to achieve meaningful change would never be worth the effort. When we are sure there is meaning in what we do, we may be aware of, but don’t question, the effort it will take.
The last tenet needed to have consistent access to resiliency is flexibility. Remember how I said the learning curve “winds, plateaus, breaks and bends”? This is where your ability to adapt, to be flexible, to be open to doing things (or looking at things) differently is so key. Without the ability to improvise you will quickly give up at the first impediment. William Edward Hickson was right when he said “…if at first you don’t succeed…try, try again.” While I will be the first person to roll her eyes if someone quotes that to me when I’m stuck, truer words were never spoken. Perseverance is a highly under-rated skill, but it is the one that separates the people who get what they came for and the rest. That doesn’t mean you don’t retreat once and a while to lick your wounds, take a break or just to sit and think (remember, not a straight line here). It does mean you don’t give up. Some would have you believe you have to keep doing the same thing over and over again to get it right, and they will call that perseverance. That is an example of insanity (Einstein: “Insanity; doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”), or a more compassionate way to look at it would be to call it “practice” (as in “makes perfect”). While practice requires perseverance, practice is not perseverance in service to resilience. You will need to adapt, to find a new way in order to achieve resilience, and often it is not much different than the old way…just a slight pivot and voila, you see something you didn’t before; a different perspective, a new way forward.
In looking at these three areas, objectivity (acceptance of reality), belief based on values and meaning and the ability to be flexible allowing you to adapt, it should be noted that you need all three to be present to sustain resilience in the face of adversity, or even everyday life. Each of us can probably call one or two of theses building blocks constant companions as we face challenges, but if the trio is not there, you may overcome some types of adversity, but others will confound you (even more so because of your past success in dealing with difficulty). To be consistently resilient you need all three. When you feel yourself withdrawing from challenge or overwhelmed by something, check in and see which one of these three key building blocks is missing. It will enable you to decide if you want to be resilient or not, and (if so) how to make that happen effectively.
I will leave you with this quote from Tut.com, a service that provides daily morning e-mails offering a “trail mix” of wisdom, mindfulness and pure silliness that always makes me smile. This particular quote struck me as appropriate when contemplating resilience in everyday life: “…abundance, health, and harmony are your default settings…the reason you have dreams is to make them come true…you were born with a gift befitting gods, to turn your wishes into reality and your "thoughts into things””.
May this be a source inspiration for both your potential and resilience.
This blog was inspired by the following article: “How Resilience Works” by Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, May 2002 ; it may be found at https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works.