Resilience

As a former teacher, there are some words that are really important in my vocabulary but that I also have worries about using, because their use in the education sector has, at times, it has been overused (or maybe misused) and has taken on a position in the bulls**t bingo card of edu-speak.

I’m working hard to remind myself that resilience is not a taboo word and that its meaning is deeply important in the work that I am doing for (and with) myself as well as with my clients and group members.

I do consider myself to be extremely resilient and mentally ‘tough’ but I have also come to a place of acceptance that there are times when my toughness wavers. The important thing about this acceptance is that I know that it is OK to wobble, to have doubts and to question myself and I am learning what I need to do in those moments (or hours, or days) when my ability to spring back into shape is less than optimal.

For me, being resilient is about adopting a position of learning rather than self-flagellation; it’s about accepting the situation or problem for what it is, there in that moment of time, and being able to step back from it to identify what it is that I need to open up the space for me to recover to a position of strength again.

In my work with my own coach, I have identified the ‘voices’ of a team of ‘saboteurs’ who will casually saunter into my headspace when I open the door for them. This is my negative self-talk and I have deliberately worked on personifying them, because there are different traits and attitudes that these inner critics will focus in on. In many respects, this relates deeply to Carl Jung’s work on Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious and his theory that in moments of crisis, our psyche can tap into the collective unconscious. That is a whole series of blogs in itself. However, to give you a sense of what I am talking about, I’ll describe a couple of my key characters.

My Inner Judge

This is the ringleader of all of my negative self talk. He’s the voice that draws me into that feeling of Imposter Syndrome, who whispers in my head and knocks my confidence, asking me “Why would anyone listen to you?” and “Who do you think you are – you really think you can do this?’ and a variety of other quite toxic questions. He’s a officious little man, with a clipboard, constantly pestering about things that I ‘should have’ done – character traits of the inspectors and other leaders that I have encountered during my life and work who spend their time holding others to account whilst never taking that approach to themselves.

My inner judge controlled me for a long time and in the immediate months after my own exit from the classroom, he was larger than life and was a constant, unwelcome companion. He was the one who repeated the words that were said to me in private, behind closed doors, and caused the self doubt and anger to repeatedly overwhelm me. Until I saw him and was able to address him, I was prone to unravelling on an almost daily basis.

My Procrastinator

I suspect that most of us have one of these shifty characters lurking in our psyche somewhere. The force is strong with mine!

My procrastinator appears in so many situations, but the key ones are:

a) When I really need to do something that I don’t want to do (i.e it’s mundane, boring or doesn’t bring me any sort of joy whatsoever e.g. housework!)

b) When I’m lacking clarity about a task

c) When I’m fearful of looking stupid – this is usually a tag team affair between Procrastinator and Inner Judge.

Procrastination is a way to avoid something.

When I was a teacher the aspect of the job that I procrastinated most about was marking. Such an intrinsic part of the job, so important for providing feedback and checking where students are up to, but soul destroyingly repetitive and also, more often than not, not really read by the bulk of students. In the school environment, marking became one of those tasks that the focus shifted, perversely, into an accountability process for teachers, rather than a process that supported children. Different coloured pens, strange marking codes (assessment hieroglyphs if you like) and books regularly being taken as a ‘sample’ by senior leaders to check that you were sticking rigidly to the policy, rather than actually considering the impact of the time and effort of the teacher on the child. It would take me 3-4 hours to mark a set of English books, on a two weekly cycle. When you tot up the number of groups that teachers teach, you can see how it quickly becomes an albatross around their necks and why they procrastinate about it.

Now, my procrastination is usually in relation to situations or tasks where I’m fearful of getting it wrong or looking ‘stupid’ in front of peers. This is a result of a bit of symbiosis between my judge (“You’re an imposter!” and my procrastinator (“If you put it off long enough, you won’t have to do it and so you won’t make an idiot of yourself”).

So what?

Through coaching, I’ve worked to identify these archetypes or critics that had so much influence on my decision making and my actions and intent in regard to my own life. Don’t get me wrong, they still remain – lurking in the recesses of my mind – and there are still times when they emerge from the shadows of my subconscious to attempt to derail me.

The point is that my resilience has recovered and I am therefore better able to address the voices or feelings of self doubt, imposter syndrome, fear of looking daft and the subsequent avoidance that comes from these emotional responses to challenge.

Name your fear

In identifying these behaviours and responses, I can recognise them now when they begin to encroach and I can take the steps that are right for me to be able to push them back, so that I hold my own space to prove that I can and will achieve whatever it is that I am going to do.

I also know that I have people around me who will recognise when I am slipping into avoidance or self doubt – they “call it out” and encourage me to ask myself “what’s the worst that could happen?” This is crucial to me. They are part of what has supported the redevelopment of my resilience – it’s not always been super positive cheerleading – through asking me some hard questions, the people around me have helped me to grow stronger and to be able to recover much more quickly from knocks than I ever did before.

Resilience is like a muscle

Muscles build through use. When we start to exercise, there is a degree of pain to go through before we start to see and feel that changes are underway.

Resilience as a personal trait is similar.

To become resilient, we have to recover from challenge. We have to pick ourselves up off the floor, assess our bruises, reflect on why we fell down and then say to ourselves “try again”. Sometimes it might take longer to get up, or the bruises might be bigger or deeper, but ultimately, we get up.

Every time we do this, we are building our resilience. We are learning about ourselves, how we respond to situations and also about how to avoid being knocked to the floor in the first place. When we know our own strength, what we are capable of, we are more likely to take the chance to try something new or to stretch ourselves beyond the safety of our current experience. That is when resilience comes into its own. That is when we feel powerful enough to say “Well what IS the worst that could happen?” and to bravely step into something new or more challenging, knowing deep down that if we falter or fall, we are perfectly capable of dusting ourselves down and recovering.

To find out more about my coaching process and whether it may be appropriate for you, book in for a free, no obligation discovery call. No hard sell (because frankly, I haven’t got it in me and it annoys me when others do it to me!)

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