Building Resilience

I recently connected with a good friend who was processing the loss of someone close to her. A fellow coach, we were both comfortable holding space. She was grateful for that space. Many of her friends wanted to offer advice and tell her how to grieve – techniques she did not find helpful.

“They don’t understand why I’m not crying. They think I’m suppressing my feelings. But I’m not. I’m just at peace with it.”

As we connected, I felt in my heart that this was true. She had reflected upon the loss a great deal. She had a lot to process. To someone who didn’t know this woman, she may appear to be avoiding her feelings. To someone who does, something entirely different shows up. I could see her resilience.


When you think of the term resilience, what arises for you? I wouldn’t be surprised to receive five different definitions if I asked five people. My friend and I observed that resilience is often equated with toughness. That notion did not resonate with either of us. When I think of toughness, I think of antifragile confidence, one of the pillars of the Heroic platform.

When I think of resilience, I think specifically of our ability to return to center. When we show up as our best selves, we are centered and fully present. Life is constantly pushing us off that stable center. Resilience is not about being centered all the time. Change is inevitable. Resilience is growing our ability to notice when we are off-center and shift back quickly.

An Example

I once read about an experiment with monks* exploring their reaction to pain. In this experiment, researchers took a group of monks who were very experienced in meditation and mindfulness and another group of adults as a control group who had no meditation experience. They told each participant they would induce pain (electric shock, I believe). They monitored the participant’s brain activity for the time leading up to the painful moment, for the moment itself, and then for the period following the pain.

For the control group, not surprisingly, brain activity began to fire as soon as they were told a painful experience was coming, as fear and anxiety kicked in. During the moments of pain, the brain registered the pain as expected, and for some time following the pain, the brain continued to register that pain as the participant remembered what they had just been through.

I suspected the monks would have no deviations in brain activity throughout the experiment. Knowing that they show no sign of disruption outwardly, I expected we would see the same inwardly. This was not the case.

In the painful moments, the monk’s brains registered the pain just like the control group. The difference lay in what appeared before and after. The monk’s brains remained calm leading up to the moment of pain, and when the pain stopped, their brains quickly quieted again.

This is the essence of resilience. Through their years of practice, the monks developed the ability to quickly return to center once the pain had stopped and not dwell on the pain that was now in the past.

Building Resilience

Let’s return to my friend and her resilience as she dealt with loss. This woman has practiced meditation and mindfulness for years. It’s an essential daily practice for her. This came as no surprise to me. If you want to build resilience, a daily meditation practice is a powerful tool. Over time you build awareness, grow your mindfulness, and strengthen your ability to return to center. Without this, you are like the control group in the experiment. You continue to focus on the pain and experience anxiety long after the pain is gone.

I am gifted with an excellent opportunity to practice this. I must give myself a shot in my thigh every three days for low testosterone. Most of the time, it’s completely painless, and even if I pick a spot with some pain, the pain is mild and brief. Yet for years, I often delayed 10 seconds or longer before I poked that needle in, anticipating the possibility of pain. Those 10 seconds of anticipation were far more painful than the experience itself. So now, I think of those monks and their ability to remain centered before and return to center afterward. Over time, I’m reducing that anticipation window and building my resilience. It’s a process. I’m getting there.

Putting It Into Practice

  • What is the “testosterone shot” in your life?
  • Where do you experience more suffering anticipating something than you do with the actual event?
  • Where do you remain attached to suffering long after the painful event has ended?

I invite you to create an awareness exercise where you watch for these moments. Consider taking a few deep breaths to help return yourself to center.

For longer-term success, begin your meditation practice.** Start at one minute a day to build the habit and lengthen the duration over time. Your future self will thank you for making the investment.

Schedule time with Josh.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* I have looked for this study and cannot find it, so we rely on my memory to accurately portray the experiment. Memory is inherently unreliable 😊.

** I had to go pretty far back to find a blog post on mindfulness. Look for a new one soon!

Subscribe to Arete Pursuits