Powering Through: Building Resilience (And The Importance Of Self-Compassion)

There has been a lot said about the importance of safeguarding our mental health, and nothing takes centerstage in these conversations more than that the need to build a resilient mind, attitude, and outlook.

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There has been a lot said about the importance of safeguarding our mental health, and nothing takes centerstage in these conversations more than that the need to build a resilient mind, attitude, and outlook. As someone who has always enjoyed looking at the root meaning of words, I recently discovered that the word “resilient” comes from the Latin verb, resilire, which means to rebound or recoil. In Greek, it translates to the word eslastikos, meaning elasticity, an indication of how one needs to shape, model, and change the form of one’s mind depending on the situation.

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I often find that when we look at the root meaning of words, it helps identify the trueness and depth of the knowledge and liberation that is found in the word itself. For instance, we are very familiar with the word “resilient,” but when we start to associate that with our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or to have an ability to spring back into shape, it adds a new dimension to what we need our minds and outlook to evolve into so as to keep moving forward, and not be bullied by challenges, setbacks, and difficulties in life, regardless of whether they are presented to us in human form or in circumstances. We all suffer in one way or another- as humans, we come under every form of attack, challenge, and setback, and our ability to bounce back and rebound is key to the echo we’re going to have in our own life and the lives of those around us.

Now, the word “rebound” means to recover in value, amount, or strength after a decrease or decline. Life can sometimes hits us full on in the chops- sometimes, we are the pigeon, and some times, we are the statue. What is inevitable is life pushing us in the face in many different ways, and our ability to rebound, to be resilient, keep moving forward, and keep getting back up is essential, if we are going to end this race well, i.e. if we are going to bow out of our life on earth in a sense of pride that we’ve become men and women of substance. We have to adapt well to our surroundings, and despite what faces us on our own individual paths, we have to make sure to keep going in the face of adversity.

So, how do we develop resilience? Here’s my five-point checklist:

1. Build connections It's so important that we have the right people around us. When we find ourselves in a fight, we need people to jump in the trenches with us and help us bounce back. Business Networking International founder Ivan Misner has said we all need a mix of anchors and engines in our life- this includes people that keep us grounded, as well as others that fire us up. I would like to add to that, whether someone is an anchor or an engine, they need to stand by you, whatever the situation.

2. Make time for personal reflection We have to take the time each day to really discover who we are. We need to know our truth; we really need to know who we are, and who we are not. So, regardless of what judgement we face from others in whatever capacity, we can hold it against our own strong conviction of who we really are, in order to move forward despite criticism.

3. Build a mission statement What helps me keep moving forward and bouncing back from difficulty is me reminding myself of what my personal mission is in life. I have my mission statement framed in my bedroom as a reminder of why I wake up each morning, and how I must keep showing up because other people rely on me.

4. Measure action, and not results I find that when you’re in a metaphorical fist fight, you have to keep measuring your actions, and not become too despondent with the results. The only way to get a positive result is to keep showing up, keep moving forward, stay consistent, especially in the face of isolation, doubt, fear, and being written off.

5. Fix your narrative/personal framing We each tell ourselves multiple stories every day about a situation we are in, or an opinion we have about ourselves. In order for us to be resilient, we need to make sure the mental frame we hold for ourselves and situations we find ourselves in are rooted in stability and kindness, in order for us to find healthy perspective, and find a way through a challenge or difficulty we are facing.

Related: Building Resilience: The Right Way To Overcoming Adversity

Dr. Nilesh Satguru. 

In order to gain a better understanding of resilience, I talked with Dr. Nilesh Satguru, who helps entrepreneurs create time to become compassionate high performers. Besides his coaching business being honoured for its success at the CREA Global Awards, his work has also been featured in publications like Influencer, Disrupt, and Brainz. Excerpts from my chat with him:

Nilesh, what is resilience to you, and can you give me a personal example of when resilience played out in your life?

In May 2018, I’ll never forget a painful patient complaint that shifted my beliefs forever. I was a medical partner in a stretched primary care practice. There were 2,400 patients on my list. It was a privilege, but it was starting to take its toll on me. I was in the spring of my life; a new job, a new house, a new baby, and desperately trying to inspire change in our appointment system. Patients were waiting 33 days for a routine appointment.

One late afternoon, I was running 20 minutes behind; I felt stressed, burnt out, and overwhelmed. I saw an entrepreneur who was struggling with chronic headaches. I saw something that needed urgent attention, so I referred them, but the truth is I did not compassionately deal with the human behind the symptoms. As a result, they wrote a complaint that questioned my character. I didn’t speak for weeks, and I sunk into a period of deep reflection. I was blaming myself, resisting the negative emotions, and feeling disconnected.

This experience taught me the life-changing power of compassion. Compassion for others and compassion for ourselves. Through the practice of compassion, I learned to show awareness of suffering, make sense of it and take action to relieve that suffering. Thanks to compassion, I was able to turn this career-defining moment into a springboard for our business, where we help entrepreneurs become compassionate high-performers. Compassion is the ultimate skill for entrepreneurs. It helps prevent burnout, improve employee engagement and even increase profits, as demonstrated by Stanford Researcher Monica Worline.

You started as a doctor, and now help entrepreneurs create time to become compassionate high-performers. Have you seen the mind actually cause physical health problems?

Up to 90% of primary care consultations are stress-related. The mind and body are not separate; they are one. Under pressure, your body drips neuro-chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline into your system. These chemicals are energy-intensive. Your immune system also requires significant levels of energy. Therefore, when you are in a stress state, you are not healing. Never forget: “Your body is a healing machine.” It’s been healing since the day you were born.

One of the root causes of illness is a dysfunctional immune system. This is why all the clients we work with learn how to perceive stress differently, and train their minds to respond flexibly to stress. When one successful female clothing entrepreneur came for coaching, they were on chronic pain medications, smoking, and suffering from migraines. By training their mind, openly connecting, and taking courageous daily action, they came off all medications, and quit smoking within a few months.

Although it is not the intention of high-performance coaching, many clients come off medications because they change their relationship with their minds. In 500 person-hours of coaching, I have witnessed entrepreneurs come off medications for attention deficit disorder, insomnia, chronic pain, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression. Why? Because of the healing power of a purposeful deep conversation combined with compassionate action, it’s a life-changing combination.

You use self-compassion and science to shift beliefs and habits. How does your work help build resilience?

Your beliefs are the lenses through which you see the world. Your habits are actions that show the world who you are.

Burnout can make us feel detached, demotivated, and disconnected. Self-compassion addresses these challenges by changing how you relate to yourself and your reality. It helps you accept your struggles, not detach from them, and understand that you are not alone in your suffering. Everyone suffers; even great spiritual leaders once suffered. It is not the suffering that’s the problem; it’s the fact we believe no one is suffering like us and that it is wrong to suffer.

Self-compassion consistently motivates you in the long term as proved by Olivia Longe’s research. Each deposit of self-compassion compounds exponentially in your bank of motivation. Instead of you attaching your value to your performance, you can understand it’s possible to improve without beating yourself up. However, self-criticism is like caffeine; it gives you a burst of energy, but it drains you and makes you dependent on it.

Recently, I worked with an entrepreneur who was on the verge of burnout. They felt unappreciated and disconnected from their loved ones and business. By learning compassionate high-performance, they experienced their most productive year, increasing business revenue by GBP700,000, thanks to the compassionate culture they created with their 60+ staff. Through their struggles with motivation, they helped improve the teams' motivation.

Lastly, self-compassion helps you connect with others by inspiring you to give more. One of our long term clients, a seven-figure serial entrepreneur, went from feeling unfulfilled to experiencing enduring happiness by giving to meaningful causes. Their business has now donated GBP30,000, and they are setting up a foundation to support local charities with grants. A remarkable ripple effect is possible when we choose compassion and focus on connection. Professor Richie Davidson from the Centre for Healthy Minds, University of Wiscon, shows us how training in compassion can inspire us to give more.

After witnessing your father's illness and with him now passing, how much has resilience played out in you pulling through these difficult times?

One month ago, on a Sunday evening, I received an urgent message from my mother. She was in Sri Lanka with my father on holiday. He thoroughly enjoyed a lovely break in his home country, visiting old friends, and reminiscing. I had spoke to him the day before, and it was the happiest I had heard him in a long time. However, when I video called mum, he was unresponsive. I asked her to open his eyes, and I could see no signs of life.

Dad was chronically unwell with heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and dementia. He was a huge inspiration behind my journey into lifestyle medicine because of his resilience despite his illness. I miss him dearly; I cry during my meditation practice, when I listen to a song he liked or when I read a passage that moves me. But then I remind myself that he is at peace now- he is no longer suffering.

Emotions pass by like a gust of wind. Self-compassion helps you sail across the seas to your port in a sturdy cruise liner instead of a rickety boat. Although I feel sadness, soon, I will feel joy, because of compassion. When you understand your suffering and do not resist it, something magical happens. As I learned from my interview with Professor Kristen Neff, compassion is linked with the tend and befriend system in our brain. This system is not associated with suffering, but instead with reward, care, and love.

Because of compassion, I have been able to share my suffering without fear of judgement and grieve without resistance. Compassion taught me there is no joy without sorrow and no sorrow without joy. Our emotions are not something to be feared but revered as they provide the breadcrumbs to deepen our self-awareness. As the poet Khalil Gibran beautifully writes: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

Related: The Resilience Roadmap: Aligning Purpose With Actions