Thursday 19 August 2010

Practising for Resilience

About six years ago, I started taking classes in Taekwondo, the Korean martial art, at the Black Belt Academy in Norwich.  It wasn't easy at first - I wasn't very fit at the time and I could never remember my left from my right, which can be quite important.  But I went along, week in and week out, and last summer I got my First Dan Black Belt.  Getting that black belt was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and one of the things I'm most proud to have achieved.

I would never have achieved that goal without the combination of physical practice and the mental preparation that went with it.  A lot of the mental training was about learning to manage the things that you tell yourself.

How often you tell yourself, subconsciously, that you did something wrong, that you're no good at your job, that you're having a rubbish day?  Now think about the last time you mentally patted yourself on the back for a job well done.  Chances are it's easier to remember the former than the latter.  The negative voices can run in the background of our lives without us even being conscious of them; they stay a long time and wear a groove in our minds.

When I think about inner resilience, about our ability to weather shocks, I think about how important it is to practice being resilient; it doesn't just come of its own accord.  Being resilient doesn't mean being blindly optimistic; to me it means being aware of adversity and still pushing through.  Being confident in yourself and those around you; it means trusting other people and trusting yourself, taking risks.  That isn't easy - you have to work at it.

I made lots of mistakes on the road to that black belt, got the odd clunk round the head during sparring, fell over or forgot what I was meant to do next, sometimes in front of the whole class.  But every time that happened, I got up again, told myself I'd learn from the mistake, and carried on.  And every time I did something I was really pleased with, every time I did a great high kick or got a new belt, I learned to anchor that moment in my mind, to remember everything about it, so that I could draw on that positive moment when I needed it, when I was feeling down, when my resilience was low.  I learned to manage the things that I was telling myself in order to learn from the bad, but focus on the good.

So next time you have a really good day, remember it - remember what you were doing, how you felt, what the weather was like, what the day smelled like, every detail - and lock it away in your head for a day when you might need a little lift.

And next time you get out of bed, stub your toe on the door, trip over the cat, burn your toast, check whether your immediate reaction is "yep, this is going to be one crappy day".  If it is, stop that thought before it even forms and think about how you're going to create your own perfect day instead.  The first time you try it, it won't be easy, but the second time will be easier, the third even easier.  I promise you - and this from someone who has really had to make this personal transition - it becomes second nature.

Building your own inner resilience in this way will make it easier to face adversity of all kinds.  In the event of a big shock, we can all be black belts in resilience.

I'll leave you with a quote:

Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can't, you're right.

Think about it.


  1. Love that warrior mood Jon! I had to be equally determined with those negative emotional states. Seems like having a self-disciplined practice is the way to go when dealing with inner pattterns. You have to be more persistant than the pattern itself. Yours in resilience, Charlotte

  2. Awesome post and a great one to read first thing in the morning. What it is to have this kind of view on life. I'm still 'listening to what I tell myself' xoxox