Redefining Resilience & 5 Steps To Build It



1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

As a development and humanitarian worker, or a social change agent, you work hard to make the world a better place, and often you are faced with the brutal realities of this world. There comes a point in your work when the culmination of overwhelming challenges and disparity causes you to start holding back, to begin running on empty, feeling depleted, and you get so frustrated you devise a set of beliefs and strategies to cope, and to survive. Often the organizations you work for will also provide training to support you in your mission. 

In my experience, that training misses the mark.

Much of the training that I received in my career as a development worker focused on the delivery of services, and stewardship and accountability of money. Very little training focused on developing resiliency and the little I did receive was guided by the above definition of resilience. On the job advice and guidance I received was frequently to develop a thicker skin, not let things effect me, or to get over it as my struggles didn’t even come close to the struggles of those we were working on behalf of.

Deny, dismiss, diminish, and distance. Build walls, armor up, and shut down. Endure. Return to original form as soon as possible.

These are strategies for failure.

Denying your personal pain won’t lessen other people’s suffering – Danielle Laporte

I have watched many passionate development and humanitarian workers, diplomats and social change agents burn out, shut down emotionally, or simply walk away because they didn’t know what else to do. They were exhausted, exasperated and in their minds failing to live up to the ‘resiliency’ expectation and not equipped to move forward or in any other direction.  I can relate. I have been there.

My own experiences and struggles as a development worker led me to invest in training, coaching, reading, studying, and lots of personal reflection. Through this, I have come to re-define resilience. Resilience is not about bouncing back. It is not about returning to original shape.

Resilience is a set of competencies that help you to constructively move through your experiences in ways that allow you to maintain your authenticity and grow from your experiences. Resiliency enables you to do your great work in the world for the long run.

As a development and humanitarian worker or a social change agent, you have the privilege to shape and influence lives. With that privilege comes the responsibility and daring to let the world shape and influence yours. Resiliency helps you expand, integrate, and take a new form.

Change for a better world outwardly
requires you to focus inwardly.

Developing resilience requires caring for and knowing yourself first and foremost to be  of service in the world.It also requires tools and practice. This is one process that has  helped me develop my resiliency as I strive to make the world a better place.

  1. Know your pain.  Don’t deny your suffering whatever form it comes in. Instead, learn to cultivate your ability to be present to your own challenges while trying to alleviate the burdens of others. That starts with naming it. Are you frustrated? Hurt? Angry? Disappointed? Aching? Shattered? Overwhelmed? Devastated?  Don’t deny, dismiss, diminish or distance yourself from it. It wants to be known. Commit to 2 minutes of head-on acknowledgement. Set a timer. 2 minutes to be whatever is rolling through your world. Be angry. Be disappointed. Be shattered. Whatever it is, be all in. It’s only 2 minutes.
  2. Get curious.  Once you have named your pain point, befriend it. Commit to 2 more minutes of attention and focus. Close your eyes and get curious. Suspend disbelief. Explore. Ask yourself what wants your attention? What is this pain pointing to? What does it want to show you? What’s your truth in it all? Listen.
  3. Practice Self- compassion. If you have allowed yourself to know and befriend your pain, 99% of the time your brain will kick in with deep resistance and start to demand that you put walls back up. Your mind will remind you the only way to survive is to deny, dismiss, diminish and distance. Your mind might tell you things like “It’s your fault’, “Stop complaining. You have it so much better than most’, or ‘ Man up’ and ‘Cut this out. Everyone will think you can’t handle the job’. This is when self-compassion is crucial. And it also requires a cease and desist strategy. The magic formula looks like this.

“You are so weak.” Response to yourself. “I am. And I am strong’.

 ‘You are such a disappointment. ‘ Response to yourself. “I am. And I am  courageous’.

Disengage your brain by saying I am. It’s ready to rumble. Don’t go there. Cease. Disarm. Then add your “ I am’. It’s easiest to do this when you have an ‘I Am’ list at hand. So set your timer for 2 more minutes and write as many compassionate statements about yourself as you can. Say or write “ I Am’ and let the sentences finish themselves. If you are stuck, ask a friend or colleague or family member to tell you one thing they love or admire about you. Write it down. Refer to this list frequently and give yourself daily doses of self-compassion. It strengthens the self-compassion muscle and makes it easier to flex during trying times.

4. Practice Gratitude – This is a tricky practice. It is an incredibly powerful tool but it can also be a tool used to diminish, dismiss or deny your painful experiences and challenges. Finding the silver lining without naming and knowing your pain doesn’t build resiliency. It leads to suppression. Be mindful to practice the first three steps before moving into gratitude. Resist fast forwarding. Transition with intention.  Use gratitude to frame your experience, to bring the scales back to balance and to cultivate a wider perspective.

To practice gratitude –  pause and reflect. Look around. Look for the obvious. Look for the hidden. Sometimes it will all be apparent. Sometimes you will have to dig deep. You may only be able to muster gratitude for the breath you take. Be grateful for whatever it is. Write it down. Speak it out loud. Keep it as a silent prayer. However you get to gratitude is your way. And it’s perfect. To get started, again set your timer for 2 minutes and contemplate the following:

I am grateful for __________  because  _________ .

Like self-compassion, if you practice gratitude daily, it becomes a powerful reflex during times that demand resilience.

5. Soothing- this step is often skipped over, rarely recognized as critical. But it is. We all need comfort, balm for our wounds, and reassurance for ourselves. Just when you think you are finished with your pain, turn towards it. Take comfort.  Leaving yourself vulnerable, your wounds gaping, your pain bare, or worse suppressing your needs, leaves the process incomplete. If you do that, the need will express itself and seek comfort – likely in all the wrong places- addictions, pushing people away, isolating yourself, and mood swings to name a few. So practice giving yourself what you need.

Comfort can come in many forms. Ask your pain what it needs. What wound needs salve? What part of you requires some tenderness? What form would it like it to come in? Maybe it’s a hug, or enjoying your favorite movie, or reading words that inspire. Maybe it’s listening to music, or laughing with a friend, or sex with your partner. It could be a long bubble bath, a good night’s rest or simply allowing yourself a few quiet minutes to breathe deeply. Give yourself what you need. It will help you be able to give the world what it needs.


Over to you.

How do build your resilience?








































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