Last week I ran a workshop for a group of folks – the topic was Resilience and we wrote and reflected on our stories to name our strengths and build tools for the future.
What the heck does that really mean?
What is resilience anyway? How do stories help? What if I’m not a writer?
I’ve heard people say “she’s not resilient” or “Jane is resilient”. But resilience is not a trait, you don’t just have it or not have it – it’s something you develop. Resilience is not one thing. It’s a collection of resources we grow in ourselves through practice, skills like grit, gratitude, compassion, mindfulness, courage, connection, creativity and more.
Developing these pieces of resilience are like developing any other skill. We need to learn and practice them. Doing so helps us get better at handling those inevitable bumps in the road when they happen. Life might present opportunities to use these skills, but I believe we can practice and develop them in advance. Coaching my clients and workshop participants on doing that through writing and reflecting on their stories is a big part of what I love to do.
I bet you’d like to be able to move forward positively, even thrive, in the face of difficult events. I know I would.
But let’s get back to the story part and what we actually did in the workshop (because you can do this on your own!).
First we each wrote a list of times that we have struggled or were triggered in the past. Then we wrote about which tools helped us get through those bumps or times we were triggered. Was it courage or creativity, asking for help or being mindful? Or something else? I gave everyone a list of ideas, but they were also free to name their own.
We thought about what helped in the moment, what helped after? We answered questions like “What could I have done to avoid the bump?”, “What did I do right?” “What helped?”, and “What could I do better next time?”
Ready for Take-off
When pilots get into trouble, they don’t start to wonder “what do I do now?” They have lists of steps to take for each possible hiccup – landing gear won’t come down, the right engine just went out … Surgeons follow similar protocols. They know what to do in advance, and they practice.
Writing down times you struggled, getting curious about how you got through – what you did right – and even how you would have handled it if you had been calm and mindful, is like creating that pilot checklist. Knowing, in advance, tools you can use when you are triggered into anger or feel fear or sadness, helps you get through a bump in the road with more grace and a feeling of agency.
And, the process of writing helps you sort through the details and make sense of what you did right or what you can change next time for a better result. And in writing down and reflecting on what you did that worked and how you could improve what didn’t, you start practicing for the next time you hit a similar obstacle. Or maybe you even figure out how to avoid the problem before it occurs.
But sometimes despite all the practice or awareness, we really do struggle or screw up. That’s why we ended the workshop writing a letter of compassion to ourselves about a time when we struggled. In the letter we gave kind and loving support to ourselves, as we would to a friend. You can read how I did that here and how I came to see that struggle as a gift.
But reflecting on your stories isn’t just for finding strengths and building resilience. Noticing and writing about the times you felt totally alive, energized, happy, engaged, in awe is also an amazing avenue for self-knowledge. By getting curious and reflecting on patterns, you recognize what you need more of and what you should include in your finest life. And then wouldn’t adding a little bit of those activities into each and every day be amazing? You can start by reading this post and doing the exercise.
Interested in learning more about the power of your stories to create a life of resilience, connection, and meaning? Check out my Write Into Joy workshops to learn how to build resilience and joy through journaling & reflecting. Click here to see a list of upcoming workshops.