Would you agree that for most people, life and work have become a lot more demanding and uncertain in recent years? And is that trend likely to grow in future? If so, what’s the positive response to the challenge? This is what I’m calling super-resilience.
Currently, I see many individuals, communities and work teams struggling to cope at their current skill level. If we want to enjoy the 2020’s, as well as survive them, we’ll need more skills, expanded resilience. So let’s review nine dimensions of super-resilience, and how I’m exploring them through the Seeding our Future project.
Super-Resilience for who?
My exploration of this topic is through the Seeding our Future project which I am funding and leading. Our aim is to understand the likely pressures and upsides of the years ahead, gather or create best practice in super-resilience, identify where innovation is needed, and find ways to share all this with our target client groups: individuals, communities, and front-line work teams, such as health, voluntary sector, and other public services.
Super-Resilience to what?
This is a key question. The UK Government has done a lot of work on resilience, but defined narrowly as responding to sudden emergencies: natural disasters, terrorist attacks and so on. These are significant stresses, and sadly they’re growing, but there are many others, and new ones ahead in the future. Here’s a short list:
A 10-20 year outlook
Think of significant increased pressures in the past 5-10 years, and imagine them increasing a lot further:
- More frequent and extreme weather events.
- Pandemic and similar health crises.
- Rises in food prices, and supply shortages.
- Political and economic disruption through cyber-attacks.
- Substantial growth in refugee and migrant movements.
- Major and minor terrorist attacks in developed countries.
- Further rise in income disparities and the wealth of the uber rich.
- Ongoing cuts in public services, leading to significant problems
Now add some new pressures
- Frequent cyber-disruption of daily activities (banking, social media, mobile phone use).
- The ‘culture of cuts’ leads to a significant rise in disruption from strikes, walkouts, and protest actions, by both workers and service users (e.g. NHS patients, commuters).
- Growth in extremism, erosion of social norms and stability.
- The NHS have to make major policy decisions on priorities, e.g. cease life-extending treatments for anyone over 80.
- Technological innovations become more radical, and seem to have a life of their own (driverless cars, genetic modifications), driven by business profit goals.
- More to come…
Nine Dimensions of super-resilience
In Seeding our Future, we are exploring nine dimensions, each described in more detail in the following sections.
- Deep Adaptation: facing the shock: the foundational step of feeling and learning to live with difficult feelings like shock, fear, grief.
- Emotional resilience: raising ability to find joy and build on positives; processing stress and negative feelings; handling conflict; deepening emotional support.
- Inspirational resilience: finding clarity and direction in challenges; growing through any sense of helplessness and despair, seeing a bigger perspective.
- Physical health: includinghelp from diet, exercise, complementary medicine, etc.
- Practical resilience for individuals: including home, phone, transport, food and utility supplies.
- Practical resilience for front-line service teams: avoiding burnout, dealing with funding cuts, and handling rising client demands and service failures.
- Practical resilience for local communities: shared resources and services, mutual support, handling emergencies.
- Harnessing technology: tailoring it to real human needs, and handling its pressures.
- Nourishing imagination and creativity: as individuals and groups, raise our scope to envision and create positive change.
1. Deep Adaptation – facing the shock
The DA approach, initiated by Jem Bendell, has many elements, and I don’t agree with all of them. But I fully share Jem’s view that the foundational step in meeting the crises of our times is to face, feel, and work through the painful emotions they arouse: such as fear, grief, anger, guilt, overwhelm. It’s easy to get into apathy, denial, or blaming, but they won’t move us forward constructively.
I also share Jem’s view that the best way to process these painful feelings is to voice them and feel witnessed in a supportive group. Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects is a great way to do this, and I’ve seen its benefit many times: for an overview, see my blog. As she says, the aim is not to discard such emotions, but to learn to live and act with them.
The Deep Adaptation network offers many ways to help you explore how to adapt to the impacts of worsening climate change, including specialist Forum groups, emotional support, and useful information. For my overview blog on DA, click here.
2. Emotional resilience
It’s clear that the stresses and complexities of modern life, including its technologies, put more emotional strain on us. The book Your Brain on Nature cites medical research showing how hours with smartphones and computers keep us in a continual state of anxiety and make it hard to relax: see my blog on the book here.
There are many methods already available to develop emotional super-resilience: the obstacles are people’s willingness to use them, and a need to offer them in more accessible forms. Here are some examples:
- Mindfulness, NLP and other ways to process negative emotions.
- Assertiveness, Non-Violent Communication, and other approaches to handle difficult feelings and conflicts between people.
- Time in nature as a key antidote to the stresses of ‘screen world.’ Some GP’s now write ‘green prescriptions.’
- Ways to grow through intense feelings such as grief, fear, e.g. the Work that Reconnects.
- Methods to clear the trauma many people now feel, such as Transformational Resilience: see blog here.
There’s also great scope for innovation, such as:
- Use of smart, micro, personalised technology, like a stress monitor that intervenes with help when you’re upset.
- Widespread use of sound, smell, images, etc., as quick ways to calm individuals and groups.
- Deeper integration of physical remedies (diet, herbs, exercise, etc) with emotional support.
I now have several years’ experience of working with colleagues to lead resilience programmes, especially for individuals and front-line services. A key element of these has been learning in a natural environment, and using Nature as a role model of resilience: most of these programmes have been held at Hazel Hill Wood, the 70-acre woodland centre I have set up near Salisbury. See more here.
3. Inspirational resilience
As life gets more challenging physically and emotionally, inspiration can help us keep a sense of purpose, meaning, connection to the bigger picture. This is getting more crucial because of growing trends which can leave us feeling alone and overwhelmed in an apparently nasty, pointless world: the deluge of bad news, the shift from personal contacts to hours alone with a screen, and media telling us we’re alone and vulnerable, unless we buy more stuff.
I’m using inspirational here as equivalent to spiritual: in essence, belief in some power or perspective beyond the individual. The term spiritual does not mean religious. You may have a spiritual path without any beliefs in God or connection to established religions. It’s worth saying that many research studies show that having spiritual values and practices of some kind does increase resilience generally, and physical health and recovery in particular.
All the worries of recent years, from global to personal, push me into despair most weeks. One way I recover is to seek the big picture: why am I in this crisis, how can I learn, grow, be of service in it? And the same questions for my work projects, local community and so on. To do this, I find that prayer helps: calling on some higher wisdom, such as a spiritual teacher like Jesus, Kwan Yin, Buddha.
Here are some specific approaches which I use, which you could check out:
- The writings of American eco-philosopher Thomas Berry, who highlights the importance of dreams (visions of hope), and of changing our myths or prevailing beliefs. He highlights the amazing creative wisdom of Gaia, Planet Earth, in evolving through repeated crises, and the need for humans to align and connect with this. See my overview blog here.
- Sufi teachings which see divinity in all life, not in an individual God figure, and focus on love, joy and open-heartedness. See more here.
- Spiritual ecology involves using deeper ways to learn from Nature, and in Nature. Processes connecting us with the wildness and wisdom of Nature can be a powerful source of insights and healing. See more at www.workingwithoneness.org.
4. Physical health
It’s clear that our bodies were not designed for the lifestyle most of us lead, and the rise in stress-related illness is alarming. According to HSE (Health & Safety Executive), in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases. It’s also very clear that emotional concerns are causing physical health problems and raising resilience on all dimensions can help hugely with our physical wellbeing.
The know-how available to help us create physical super-resilience is huge, and it’s now quite easy to tailor this to any individual’s condition and needs. Diet and exercise are the obvious starting points, but sustaining super-resilience is likely to require sophisticated help from complementary therapies, for example:
- Herbal remedies and supplements.
- Shiatsu, Pilates, kundalini yoga, and other ways to help the body process ongoing stress and sustain high energy levels.
- Sound healing, aromatherapy, and methods to achieve deep relaxation despite high stress.
- Greater understanding and better antidotes to physical stressors such as air or water pollution, electromagnetic radiation and others.
5. Practical resilience for individuals
Over the next decade, more interruptions to basic services like mobile phones, electric power, internet, are very likely. Why? Causes could include severe weather, cyber-hacking, disruption to satellite systems, and more. Food shortages and major food price inflation, service cuts, economic downturn are a few of the potential issues.
The sensible steps could include: a stock of basic food, a backup power-system and getting to know your neighbours. Super-resilience could include all this and more, for example new, robust technologies for the home, local food processing technology, etc.
6. Practical resilience for front-line service teams
I’ve been leading resilience training with people from a wide range of front-line public services: most of them feel close to burnout, and demoralised by the future outlook. This comment is typical: from a team manager in an NHS hospital, “we’ve had years of rising demands and shrinking resources. It’s reached a stage where the quality and resilience is being ground out of my team. There’s a high risk of staff burnout and service failures, and the future outlook is literally unthinkable.”
One of SOF’s current priorities is to work with these services to explore what’s ‘beyond the beyond.’ Here are some guesses at what super-resilience may mean here:
- Mutual support: the best front-line teams I’ve seen have an outstanding quality of mutual care. There are ways that this could be deepened even more: for example through emotional intelligence and inspirational resilience.
- Pass-back to clients: one of the big stressors on front-line services is the rising number, severity and complexity of client needs they are trying to serve. I believe that ‘pass-back’ will become crucial in future: spelling out to clients the limits of the service they can expect, and providing them with information and support to do more for themselves. This is already happening in the NHS, for example.
- Handling service failures: these are likely to get more frequent and severe in future, and part of super-resilience will be the ability of service teams to live with such failures, and even grow through them.
- Vision and direction: a team who are inspired can work wonders. Super-resilience will benefit if teams are empowered with a greater say in the vision and direction of their work.
7. Practical resilience for local communities
Think about the pressures which local communities have had to face over the past ten years: public service cuts, floods, riots, and more. My guesses about super-resilience for future challenges include:
- Methods to maintain communication locally if phones stop working. Maybe a new technology, or old: remember walkie-talkies and notice boards?
- A deeper level of coordination to identify resources and the people who would need most help in an emergency.
- Further growth in local communities providing services and shared facilities for themselves as local authorities and others cut back, and professional skills, funding sources, etc. to enable this.
- Emergence of ways for communities to nourish their members on the emotional and spiritual levels, to deepen general resilience.
- Raising the skill levels of community leaders and members in handling conflict, crisis, and uncertainty.
- Figuring out how to involve more members of communities: often it’s a minority of usual suspects.
Seeding our Future offer a range of programmes and resources to help local communities: see more at www.seedingourfuture.org.uk.
8. Harnessing technology
When do you date the start of technology? Whether you choose the spinning jenny, the motor car, the computer, it’s always been a curse and a boon. Often it raises the speed and complexity of life, and hence our stress levels. There are dramatic changes coming our way soon: for example, pervasive micro-intelligence; robotics; biotechnology; and more. Within the next ten years, technologies will become a lot more indispensable, and even more able to manipulate/shape human feelings and behaviour (e.g. social media is an early example of this trend).
The risk is clearly that most of this technology will be used to boost corporate profits, whatever it may claim, and may deplete our resilience more than helping. The scope to harness technology as an aid to super-resilience is vast, but it may require alternative thinking and small social enterprises to achieve this. SOF has already commissioned some research into the future upsides and downsides of technology.
9. Nourishing imagination and creativity
This might sound merely a nice idea, but it’s a lot more fundamental. We’re in an era where our ability to think outside the box, to conceive of positive futures, is being squeezed out. Rob Hopkins, founder of Transition Network, describes this problem and the reasons for it eloquently in his recent book, From What Is To What If. Creative capacity is being eroded in our personal skill sets, and by lack of support for it in work organisations, education and more.
This is another situation where we need to choose our reality, exercise these talents, and encourage them in communities and groups. Both the climate crisis and covid increase the risk of us seeing only limitations and worries ahead. Positive change has to be conceived, envisioned, before it can start to happen!
Next steps towards super-resilience
Seeding our Future has commissioned research or run pilot programmes on aspects of all nine dimensions described. We don’t have the resources to roll out what we’ve learned, and we welcome approaches from anyone who’d like to use our expertise: it’s available free of charge.
We also welcome contact from individuals and organisations who would like to set up pilot projects or deeper exploration of these issues: SoF is happy to consider partnership initiatives. You can contact Alan via his websites.
Want to know more:
www.seedingourfuture.org.uk: this website gives details of pilot projects completed and underway, including programmes available for client bookings.
www.naturalhappiness.net: for details of Alan’s model of wellbeing and resilience based on natural systems, and signup for Alan’s monthly e-newsletter.
The future is already here, if you know where to look for it.