Is it possible to thrive doing something that pushes us to the limit of our capability?
For some time now, I have wondered about this. Corporate jargon and social media are awash with this idea that, with enough self-care, we can always be well.
But can we be really be resilient when the shit is hitting the proverbial fan, or we’re doing something that’s really hard?
Swimming Lake Windermere
This summer I had a chance to find out when my client swam 17 km up Lake Windermere.
His goal, when I started working with him 12 months earlier, was to transition from an occasional swimmer to being able to swim non-stop for nine hours in open water. And without a wetsuit.
In other words, the challenge was a massive one! He was in his in late 40s and preparing to do it was invoking feelings of self-doubt and, occasionally, of panic.
Working as his coach, my focus was to support him to train for the event, and do the swim itself, with a “resilience mindset”.
Resilience is not the same as endurance
For me, it was a fascinating challenge because swimming Lake Windermere is an endurance event. To do it requires you to keep going, without giving up, when your mind is screaming at you to stop.
Basically, it requires bucket loads of grit, determination and perseverance. Put another way, it requires an endurance mindset.
In comparison, a resilience mindset is the capacity to thrive in a diverse range of challenging circumstances. It’s the ability to bounce back and respond to stress and difficulty. It’s a very different quality to pushing through or ignoring the tough moments.
Resilience is being more you
Through our work together, I discovered that developing a resilience mindset starts with being more you.
This means finding the tools and practices that work for you, and your particular context, and not blindly following what someone else says you should do.
Perhaps it’s obvious to say, but we are all different, so what you need to build resilience isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else. So, you have to find your own expression of it.
For my client, we found that developing a resilience mindset meant leaning into his many moments of discomfort, anxiety and panic when he was in the water. We discovered that his experience of swimming became lighter when he listened to his inner critic that was screaming “I can’t do this! I am not strong enough!” And to listen to that part of him without judgement or attachment.
As a result, he ended up approaching these tough moments with a gentleness and compassion for what he was experiencing.
Equally, when he was feeling good, he held that lightly too. He appreciated it but knew he wasn’t going to be feeling this good all the time.
By paying attention to these micro-moments, he developed a craft that allowed him to adapt to how he was feeling and what was happening around him. He described it as dancing with his inner critic.
This practice was his own expression of building a resilience mindset. It was very different approach to the conventional advice of sucking it up and suffering through the tough moments to get to the North side of the lake.
Ease isn’t the same as easy
After successfully completing the Lake Windermere swim (in a time of nine hours), he said he experienced a feeling of relative ease in doing it.
But this doesn’t mean it was easy.
Instead, it required a discipline and rigour by taking his resilience practice seriously. This included his many hours of working with a personal trainer and swimming coach. Paradoxically, his moments of effortlessness happened because he put in a lot of effort.
All this means that, by finding the resilience practices that work for us, and applying them with discipline and passion, I believe we can learn to thrive (not survive) in challenging situations.
A big thanks to my client for his permission to write this story and for his curiosity and experimental attitude in doing this work. This article is the copyright of Made to Move.
About the Author
Rowan Gray is the founder of Made to Move. He works with senior leaders, teams and organisations to build resilience using a combination of coaching techniques and heartbeat analytics. His work is focused on supporting people’s capacity to thrive during challenging times by bouncing back and using their difficulties as a source of learning. Rowan is an executive coach and training as a psychotherapist. He’s also an endurance athlete, fascinated in exploring his ability to perform optimally during long distance running and cycling events. He used to work at Deloitte as a sustainability consultant where he supported leaders to develop better ways of doing business.