What makes people resilient? Is it a case of nature or nurture?
BUILDING RESILIENCE STARTS WITH UNDERSTANDING ITS ORIGINS AND DIMENSIONS
We hear the word resilience a lot. From classrooms to boardrooms, there is a big focus on building the resilience of children, adults and organisations. Some people seem to be naturally more resilient than others as if it were a personality trait they were born with. Others seemingly have to work harder to build their ability to bounce back from challenges. This observation begs the question – what makes people resilient? Is it the result of nature or nurture? Or a bit of both?
Every time I’ve embarked on an expedition, I’ve had to tap into my reserve of resilience. Over the years, I’ve come to view resilience as a muscle. Just as I train my body for big expeditions, I know I have to exercise my resilience muscle for the challenges ahead.
Resilience is a complex attribute because it’s impacted by a variety of internal and external factors. I don’t profess to understand all of its theoretical complexities, but I do believe that while some of us are naturally more resilient than others, ALL of us have the ability to improve our resilience no matter what our circumstances.
THE EVOLUTION OF RESILIENCE
Resilience is often described as “the ability to rebound from adversity” – the mental reservoir of strength that people call upon to overcome life’s challenges. But the concept of resilience has evolved over time.
Resilience was initially a scientific term used from the 1620s to refer to the ability of objects to return to their original form after being bent, compressed or stretched. I think we’ve all felt bent out of shape from time to time, particularly over recent years. The English word was derived from the Latin resiliens which means “to leap or spring back”. My mind can’t help but think of a jack in the box popping out of a lid to the soundtrack of “Pop goes the Weasel”. Unfortunately, us humans don’t come with a mechanical crank.
In the late 1970s, developmental psychologists started applying the term to children’s ability to deal with trauma. In the 1980s this expanded to include adults. Psychologists soon recognised that a lot of what promotes resilience originates outside of the individual. The concept started to evolve to focus on resilience factors relating to families, communities, cultures and organisations.
Today, you can’t scroll LinkedIn for long without coming across an article, book recommendation or event that focuses on the importance of personal and organisational resilience. As corporate buzz words go, it’s up there with ‘disruption’, ‘innovation’ and dare I say ‘pivot’. It’s hot topic for good reason – resilience is the difference between people thriving or buckling under pressure.
THE SOURCE OF RESILIENCE
If resilience is the modern world’s must have attribute, how do we get it? Can we ‘add to cart’ preferably with a promo code? Not quite. Research shows that for some resilience is built through facing adversity. For others it is something innate that is awakened by adversity. Either way it needs an activator in the form of a challenge. Luckily life tends to throw a few of those our way.
We are all born with varying inner reserves. Some people are able to build muscle fairly easily, while for others it takes a bit more effort. The overarching fact remains – if we put in the work, we reap the benefits. The more we tap into our resilience as the need arises, the more skilled we become at bouncing back from life’s challenges. We don’t flex our resilience muscles despite our challenges but because of them.
IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY, WE CAN CHOOSE TO FREEZE OR FORGE A NEW PATH
In 2018, I headed to the highest lake in the world on the upper flanks of the giant volcano Ojos del Salado on the border of Argentina and Chile. My goal was to achieve the world record for the Highest Altitude Swim. For some added flair, I was going to do it in nothing but my board shorts. And yes, I had carefully considered the shrinking impact of cold water. I’d done endless training, I was finally prepared, and it was time to jump in with both freezing feet. When I arrived, the lake was frozen over and my swim couldn’t go ahead. I was absolutely gutted.
At that point I could have given up. Instead, I chose to tap into my resilience and find a Plan B. I had taken a folding kayak with me as an emergency support boat, so I was in a position to pursue another world record – the Highest Altitude Kayak. Sitting in my kayak, I used my ice axe to forge a lane that I could paddle through and I did it! My ability to adapt and push through in the face of adversity led to my second world record.
In 2020, I returned to the volcano. Despite a whole new set of challenges, I was desperate to finally realise my goal of completing the Highest Altitude Swim. I gave it my best shot and broke my third world record! And yes, I did it in nothing but my board shorts.
THE ROLE OF A GROWTH MINDSET IN BECOMING A RESILIENT PERSON
Grit and resilience are a key focus of the UNSTOPPABULL Academy. In order to develop these attributes, you need to cultivate a growth mindset. I wrote about the difference between a fixed and growth mindset in my previous article, but to sum it up – someone with a fixed mindset believes their personality traits are carved in stone, whereas someone with a growth mindset believes in their own potential and that their qualities can be cultivated through effort.
When it comes to resilience, you have to believe that it’s something you can cultivate. Then you have to put in the work to actually do it. Having a growth mindset means being willing to take risks, embrace challenges, and persist when faced with setbacks. Resilience can only improve if your mind is open and receptive to change.
We are all works in progress. Resilience is something that we have to work on throughout our lives. It’s not something we can tick off and say, “Yep, I’ve got resilience. Next!”. Every day we have the opportunity to expand our skills and qualities. At times, building resilience will make us feel uncomfortable, drained and overwhelmed. We might want to hide under our doona and tell adversity to rack off. But that’s when we need to dig deep, maintain our self-belief and extract as many lessons as possible – about ourselves and the world around us.
Resilience is a complex quality, but the research and decades of life experience have shown me that it’s not a case of nature or nurture. It’s both. We all have a reservoir of resilience within us that we can choose to harness, expand and finetune throughout our lives. It all starts with believing we can.
What adventure can we take you on next?
Daniel Bull is a 3 x world record-breaking adventurer and inspirational speaker. He specialises in empowering leaders and teams to become more resilient, fulfilled and successful, whatever challenges they face.
Focusing on resilience and grit, peak performance, and the power of mindset, Daniel inspires audiences with his passion and authentic presence. His spectacular footage combined with the latest digital technology creates an exhilarating and highly interactive experience.
As a keynote speaker who’s headlined both live and virtual conferences, Daniel inspires audiences to find their own summits and tackle them with confidence.