This week’s networking event really packed a punch. The seats were filled, the pizza was flowing and the chatter resounded! We were joined by Caroline Dakin of Caroline Dakin Associates for a lively, interactive session where she asked, ‘What is personal resilience and how can build it up?’

What is resilience?


“Something that keeps you going.”

“Not letting fear stop you.”

All pretty good answers, really. Since you can’t un-ring a bell and roll back time, you’ve got to deal with the situation as it is now. Resilience is the ability to work through challenges, to bounce back and recover quickly. We don’t always know what’s coming, but resilience is something we can develop in order to handle change more effectively.

A good way to get started is to identify someone that you admire who displays resilience. Nelson Mandala, JK Rowling, Malala Yousafzai – they have all demonstrated personal resilience. In harsh circumstances they didn’t give up; they kept focused on their purpose and direction. These were just a few of the examples in the workshop, but it doesn’t have to be someone world-renowned. It could be a family member, the war veteran down the hall or Piglet the pink dog.

Then of course, there’s the old adage that the best treatment is prevention. Yes, you should aim to be strong enough to overcome adversity, but if you can avoid it in the first place, why not?

“Be careful as you go through life what you let in.”

Good stress and bad stress

Not all stress is the same. As such, methods that treat stress are not effective for everyone in the same way. Some of the most common types of stress are:

  • Time stress – deadlines
  • Anticipatory stress – anxiety
  • Situational stress – arguments, crowds
  • Encounter stress – interacting with high emotions

When we are stressed, it’s not just in our heads. The body goes into overdrive, sending us into a ‘fight or flight’ response. This explains confusion, increased heart rate, nervous poops, the lot.

In the video below, Caroline gives us a pretty fun demonstration of what happens to the stomach with the General Adaptation Syndrome (The aptly named GAS model) whilst talking about the science behind it. Seeing that sandwich slop into the tray is certainly a wake-up call for stress-eaters!

So, what are some stress triggers that are best to avoid?

Mood hoovers. People who suck all the life out of a room. We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with, so choose your friends wisely.

Then there’s the big one: lack of sleep. We’re supposed to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Running on four hours is nothing to be proud of – a lack of sleep can lead to increased accidents, health risks, lower libido, bad skin, impaired memory, weight gain and an early death. You know, just to name a few reasons to hit the sheets.

Some stress is actually good for us. If you look at the Inverted U Diagram above, then you’ll notice the optimal performance involves a mild-moderate amount of stress. A bit of stress can lead to increased attention, creativity and energy, but too little stress can make us bored and lethargic. Keeping the balance is the tricky bit.

What are the Blue Zones?

Did you know that there are 5 places in the world where people just ‘forget’ to die? That might be a bit flippant, but the oldest people in the world come from the same communities. Research has been conducted into what these areas have in common, despite being spread across the globe.

As shown in the circles on the picture above, these ‘Blue Zones’ have the following in common:

  • A sense of purpose
  • Daily relaxation
  • Eating until you’re 80% full
  • Faith-based community
  • Drinking wine at 5pm (little and often, with good conversation)
  • Moving naturally (walking, swimming, gardening)
  • Finding the right ‘tribe’ – a sense of belonging
  • Semi vegetarian diets
  • Family first mentality

How many of these nine things do you see in your daily life? Small changes can cultivate the change you need for a longer, healthier, happier life.

So, how resilient are you?

Self-awareness is the first step in finding out your strengths and weaknesses.

The Resilience Questionnaire™ looks at 8 components of resilience and scores them out of ten. The example document on PsiOnline can be a little intense, but there are simple versions available online such as the NHS resilience questionnaire.

In short, you might be resilient in some ways, but not others. In order to strengthen the whole, it is often best to look at the different elements that make up resilience:

  • Self-Belief
  • Optimism
  • Purposeful Direction
  • Adaptability
  • Ingenuity
  • Challenge Orientation
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Support Seeking

What can you work on?

For a generally stress-free and happy life, the first thing that’s got to go is negative self-talk. That voice in your head which tells you you’re not good enough, or that it’s typical that the train’s late when you’ve got a meeting… anything that brings you down, essentially. Caroline says that for every bad thought, we need to think three good ones to keep our balance. When was the last time that you met that ratio? Try to consciously maintain that status over the next few days and see if it makes a change.


Circles of control

We tend to spend more time than we should worry about things that we cannot influence – whether that’s the weather, the past or even Brexit (all audience examples). In order to be happier and more resilient, we need to focus on what we can control. When the world seems to be going to pot, there are little things that you can do.

For Caroline, that meant challenging herself. For five-hundred days, she chose to do something new. Although it was hard to come up with ideas at first – and then motivating herself to follow through – after a few months she found she was doing more and more each day. Her mood increased dramatically, she made new social connections and she even started her own business!

Another story showed how we can build momentum in other ways. Caroline also told the story of a friend who saved £1 every day after her husband left. She scraped that money together and once her kids were grown, she bought a round-the-world ticket. Whilst living through less than ideal situations, it might seem impossible to ‘escape’, but breaking it down into smaller tasks can make the impossible possible.

What small but consistent changes can you make? Here’s one: if you read 10 pages of a book each day, that’s around 22 books a year.

The Wheel of Life

If you need to focus on developing purposeful direction, the circle of life can be a useful tool. It splits up the different aspects of your life into sections which you then score out of 10. Look at the pattern your scores make: is there one area less developed than the others? That can always be a good place to start.

See how far you can go. Don’t ask yourself what could go wrong – ask what could go right.

Caroline referenced several resources throughout the workshop, only some of which are included above. If you’re interested in finding out more, there are free lists and resources on the Caroline Dakin Associates website.