How to Overcome Adversity and Become Resilient - Christine Kane

I was sitting in a plush leather chair getting hit with rapid-fire questions. The asker was my doctor – a functional practitioner. As I answered, he filled in blanks on his computer.

His questions were designed to reveal my attitude toward adversity, my ability to come back after a set back, and my willingness to take creative risks in life.

In other words, he was assessing my resilience levels.

Two Mindset Types – Which are You?

It made me think of Carol Dweck’s popular book Mindset.  In the book, Dweck identifies two kinds of mindsets.

The first is what she calls the “fixed” mindset, who believes that talent and intelligence are innate and therefore not learnable. This person is devastated by adversity. “See? You’ll never be great at this, so give up now.”

The other is the “growth” mindset – the person who knows if they work hard enough, anything is possible.  The growth mindset believes problems are just important feedback in the learning process.

And you guessed it.  Those who have a growth mindset are more likely to get through adversity and create higher levels of happiness in life.

Turns out, my doc’s also a fan of that book.

So, I told him my secret:

Unlearning the Fixed Mindset

On the outside (e.g. in my answers to his questions) I look to all the world like I have a growth mindset. I teach growth mindset. I live growth mindset.

But there’s another side to it.  I told him that I am not naturally wired this way. I had spent the first half of my life surrounded by fixed mindsets.

Just to give you one example, when I started taking voice lessons in college, my dad told me that those people (meaning, anyone on stage) were born with that ability.  In other words, I wasn’t. Lessons weren’t going to help.  (Seven CD’s and a DVD later – I’m glad I took those voice lessons.)

This is only one instance. I’ve had a lifetime of training the fixed mindset.  I’m not blaming anyone here. Merely stating that this has meant that over the years (as I’ve taken more and more “voice lessons”) I’ve had to unlearn the patterns of the fixed mindset.

I’ve had to train myself to be resilient.

Like many people, I don’t do well when things go wrong, when I screw up, when I am not perfect. And yet, I still move forward. I have still created success.

Resilience is Trainable

This is great news.  Being resilient is not – as so many success gurus preach – about some inalterable state that you happily and mightily wake up feeling each morning.   Many of us didn’t grow up in an environment where a growth mindset was meticulously cultivated.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be strengthened.

I’ve learned from in-the-trenches experience and by teaching my clients quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily rituals  – that being resilient means you work with the hand you are dealt (your past, your brain, your over-sensitivity, your high-anxiety, whatever) and you create practices that build a deep well of inner resilience.  You then take intentional action from that place.

So how do you create resilience? Here are my three simple practices…

1 – Create proactive habits that protect and strengthen your energy.

In order to create business resilience, you have to learn how to honor your own energy.

That means knowing what (and who) drains your energy and eliminating those things from your schedule, or even your life.

It also means creating rituals that build your foundation. A strong foundation prevents the everyday challenges from taking you down as quickly or as long.

So, let’s take the technological glitch that interrupted your webinar.

Say that it happened at 4:00 in the afternoon – after you skipped breakfast, had a depleting phone call with your sister on the way to the office, and canceled your noon workout because you “didn’t have time”…

And then your webinar imploded. How would that affect you when you are already depleted?

Now imagine the opposite: that you began your day with your morning workout and breakfast, let your sister go to voicemail and spent some time writing in your journal. When the webinar crapped out – you’d be much more likely to see it as a momentary fluke, rather than a life-ending disaster, and recover quickly.

Your energy impacts all of your responses. Protect it, cultivate it, and nurture it.

2 – Go fetal

When something happens, or hurts, or sucks or doesn’t work the way it should’ve… don’t force yourself to be resilient if you aren’t feeling it. Instead, give yourself and your heart the space to hurt. I call it “going fetal.” You can call it what you want.

(And yes, I literally used to let myself crawl into bed, deep under the covers. I would set a timer and give myself until XXX time to be sad, mad, upset or whatever.)  This may not be your thing. But if you have emotions, then allow the space for your emotions. Stuffing them only causes you to binge eat or worse.

NOTE: Be sure not to conflate allowing emotions with dealing with the issue at hand. Allowing the space for emotions – whether by feeling them or expressing them to a friend – does not equate to finding a solution. It is merely creating a space for expression.

3 – Find the expansion

When you peel back the layer of business strategy and look to the soul lesson underneath your choices, you discover the core truth. Every challenge is an opportunity for you to expand. This is the message of resilience.

So, after you have given yourself the space for the reactive emotion, take time to explore the answers to the core question:

How is this experience calling me to expand?

As the Zen expression goes:  The obstacle in the path becomes the path.

So let’s say an employee quits suddenly. After you give yourself time to worry and complain, you spend a week rethinking your hiring and training methods. Ultimately you create a better system and hire someone even better.  The obstacle became your expansion.

I’ve started two businesses from scratch and coached hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs, and I believe that every obstacle holds your soul’s growth in it.  In fact, I believe that’s why we even have businesses at all – to grow our hearts and souls. It’s also why we have challenges at all.  When you take this perspective, everything changes.

This is why resilience is such a key quality, not just in business, but in all of life. And it’s why – even if it doesn’t always feel great inside – you’ll begin to welcome obstacles as harbingers of your next level of expansion.

  • Kimberly

    Christine, this is such a wonderful inspiration, and very helpful to me. What stood out for me most was your practice of learning resilience, and that we can all do it! It’s so easy to get down on oneself in the face of a big failure (perceived or otherwise), and this is really timely to me this week because a pivotal part of my business strategy has gone completely awry – making me have to look at my business differently and examine where I’ve been getting in the way of myself (interesting, since this too is what I teach my students!). Lovin the beautiful Zen quote “The obstacle in the path becomes the path.”

    Thanks so much for your courage in sharing this with us all.

    xo Kimberly

  • Crystal

    I have just experienced this! 4 mths ago I grabbed my kids & left an unhealthy relationship and went to a family members home to stay. That didn’t work out which was a shock and I had to leave again. This was terrifying as I had nowhere to go. I headed toward out happy place, the ocean. A couple stops along the way generated a couple of leads. This obstacle had turned into the path to finding long term affordable housing in our favorite town & most soul healing spot! I’m so excited to see if this journey starts me back on the road to entrepreneurship.

  • Giovanna

    This is exactly what I needed to read/hear today. Things have been rocky for a while and morale is on a roller coaster ride… Thanks!

  • Rashidat

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this. This piece was so timely.