Resilience: a word, an idea, a habit or a choice?

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

In recent times, instances of furloughs, business losses, personal losses, income losses, health and family losses are becoming increasingly common. It is not an easy space to inhabit. Yet we are also seeing some amazing stories of hope, creativity and adaptability. What makes people respond to crises in different ways? What makes some people come out stronger? What makes some people more resilient?

Stay with me as I unpack this concept with an insightful experience.

I invite you to travel back in time with me to Mumbai, India - it was 2014 and I had moved from the UK for a two year assignment. I was back in my home country after almost a decade of being in London so I was excited and I chose a lovely home in a very nice neighbourhood called Bandra - if you ever visited or lived in Mumbai you might know it as a popular neighbourhood for Bollywood stars homes interspersed with lower income housing who worked for the upper and middle class homes. One of the other things you might be aware of if you lived or visited Mumbai is the traffic - a nightmare. So like many others I had a driver for my personal car which is not uncommon for middle class income earners in India. His name is Dhiren.

One day Dhiren helped me carry my shopping to my second floor apartment and my amazing cook (again not uncommon in India to have one) made him some tea. As I chatted with Dhiren I asked about his family and where he lived - curious as I was to get to know more of this locality. He explained the location and then said something that struck home. He said, “you see the size of your kitchen…” which was around 90 sq feet …”that is the size of the room I live with my wife and two children. It is our living room, bed room and kitchen all encompassed in that one room.”

I kind of gawked in horror as my mind tried to visualise. 90 sq feet is not very big, especially given it was a small fraction of my whole house. I continued to gawk, this time with amazement as he went on to explain how they resourcefully use the space as a living room, bed room and kitchen. Additionally there was a creative spin to the daily routine they had set up, to use it as a work space (his wife does home sewing projects to add income to the family plus does the cooking and housework), kids play time, family tv time and sleep time.

The icing on this delicious cake of resilience that was being baked in front me was when he went on to say they were “real lucky and happy” to have this space as it was in a reasonably safe location and he could work long hours or go off for weekend work trips (when he was not working as my driver as weekend were holidays) and leave his family at home knowing they were safe. He showed me pictures of the family with smiling faces posing in a small and cosy home.

A crash course in resilience? Yes indeed. Such cases and stories are not uncommon when you look at developing economies like India. When I see, hear and truly listen to the stories of resilience that play out in the daily lives of the lower income earners I am amazed. An environment where hardships are an opportunity to find reason to smile and carry on. Where challenges are an opportunity to be creative and find answers to insurmountable problems. Where living, no matter what the circumstance is a choice between thriving and surviving.

Four Principles

Let me draw out 4 game changing principles from my IPEC coaching handbook aligned to challenges and situations we face today. It helps illustrate how a person can engage their intellect, emotions (heart and mind) to strengthen their resilience quotient. Perhaps you could consider them when you are next in an environment which offers you a chance to practice being more resilient. All you need to do is answer a few simple questions which are appended with each principle.

How do I, despite pandemic-like difficulties and an uncertain future, come out as a winner?

The universe makes sense - what does this mean to you? For many a belief like this helps them navigate difficult times. To draw power from such a belief is to be able to ask yourself the question - if this was my current belief can I experience this disruption with a sense of curiosity? Can I explore the various interpretations I would give to what I am experiencing right now?

How do I reframe a furlough as a gift to reinvent myself and create a new career choice?

A purpose can be found in everything that happens - If this is true then, what new choices could I make right now with the freedom I did not have in my old job? A lot of people are going through furloughs, some of whom are seeing this as an opportunity to start in a different direction, make bold career moves, maybe start their own business or perhaps take time off to relax and regroup. Whatever decision you take - make it your choice, a bold choice. One that is borne of a belief that makes you recognise that whilst difficult as it may sound, furlough or redundancy (or any tough time you face) could be a ‘life gift’.

What do I say to a friend, neighbour or team member who is feeling low and slightly down and out, with something they have just experienced or are experiencing?

All experiences are opportunities for growth - No matter how difficult or challenging life’s experiences and circumstances are, what if they were meant to come into our life, to teach us something….the, what are we learning from it - about ourselves, our feelings, our emotions? How does this knowledge help us accept who we are without judgement and grow as individuals?

How should I view my life which is peppered with challenges and hardships?

Life is a perfect adventure; a game that cannot be won or lost, only played - need I say more? This belief is perhaps one of my all time favourites, as it hooks onto a bigger belief I picked up at IPEC - Winning or losing are illusions. They are concepts created by humans to make sense of the world we live in. They create attachments of what we want and what is right. If we, for a moment think of life as a game, where the rules are higher principles like the ones listed here, then you/ we can live life like an adventure where you are the creator, participant and observer.


Let me end by sharing the science behind this exercise.

Research from neuroscience and emotional intelligence shows that, when you invite your intellect to reinterpret your challenges through these 4 ‘lens’, you engage your PFC which allows you to see more positive perspectives. And this is a very different experience from the fearful, frustrated or anxious thoughts and feelings which our amygdala interprets as stress triggering our primal fight-flight- freeze reactions.

Using these new principles or beliefs to engage your PFC with curiosity, gratitude and non judgment means we open new doors and new choices - that is the ability of being adaptable, of responding flexibly to situations, of being resilient. With practice you train your brain to be more and more resilient and you move from the realm of ‘doing’ resilience to ‘being’ resilient.

So, let’s go back to the question on the title: what is Resilience - a word, an idea, a habit or a choice? Is it a word that has been bandied around for a decade and with the pandemic once again it is doing its round? Or, an idea that can take hold of a person who believes in it and overcomes their lives in magnificent ways? Or, is it a habit that you can practice and master? Or, is it a choice that some people choose to take or not on an ongoing basis?

What’s your answer? Choose wisely.

By Reena Dayal, author of The Brilliance Quotient, Leadership coach and mentor at, and acting Chair of The Institute of Directors CLB.

Amplenary is a unique, 6-week online programme for ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs. Blending together areas of neuroscience, executive coaching, and personal branding for the very first time, this is a turbo-charged self-development programme unlike any other. Good news we are launching our Virtual Academy this Autumn. Sign up for our free webinars to see if this might be for you!

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