Magazine excerpt: Embracing the knockbacks

A counterintuitive approach to being truly resilient is offered by Laura Bouttell.

To achieve our goals we have to be resilient. We know life will throw adversity at us and the only way to overcome adversity is through resilience. The only other option is to curl up and surrender.

It’s hard. Which is why resilience is such an important topic. The problem is the way most people think about resilience is totally wrong.

To many people, being resilient is about never being knocked down. If you were asked to picture a resilient person you would likely think of an image of a strong person with great posture. Someone who looks like they will deflect whatever life throws at them. Someone for whom adversity flows around them like water off a duck’s back. This is totally wrong.

Not only can that person never exist (it’s impossible) having this image in our minds makes us even more vulnerable because when we inevitably compare ourselves to this ‘super person’ we reach the only reasonable conclusion: we are failures. 

You get knocked down, but you get up again

Being resilient is not about never falling down. It’s about standing back up when we do get knocked down. And you will get knocked down, that’s guaranteed.

During the final of the 10,000 metres at the 2016 Olympics, Mo Farah was knocked over halfway through the race by a competitor. Did he lay there feeling sorry for himself? No, he got up and won the gold medal anyway. That’s true resilience.

Mike Tyson said it best: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Being resilient is not about never falling down. It’s about standing back up when we do get knocked down. And you will get knocked down, that’s guaranteed.

When you get (metaphorically) punched in the mouth, you need to learn how to stand up and carry on. You need to learn to be flexible and roll with the punches.

What most people do in reality is beat themselves up (emotionally) with negative self-talk:

  • I’m bad at this.
  • I never should have tried.
  • I don’t like the way this feels.
  • This is hard, I want to give up.

This is the opposite of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and getting on with it. This is just kicking yourself when you’re down.

The first key, then, is to accept that you’re going to get punched in the mouth. Know this before embarking. Then when the unexpected does happen, remind yourself and remember in the moment, this feels horrible, that’s just how it is. Now let’s work on a solution.

What did Mike Tyson do when he got punched in the mouth? Did he run home? No one gets to be world champion with that attitude.

No matter how much you plan or how prepared you are, things will come up that you’re not prepared to deal with. Life is random and can be cruel.

So, while planning and preparedness are utterly necessary, they are rarely sufficient. Helmuth von Moltkethe Elder, chief of staff of the Prussian army in the 19th century, said: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” 


To read the full, eye-opening article on resilience, subscribe to TJ magazine here

Yet what do businesses do when things go wrong? Have endless meetings. We think meetings are the saviour for every problem, that planning is a panacea for everything that could go wrong. 

It’s OK to be offended

How often do we hear: ‘It’s political correctness gone mad!’ Some people claim we’re living in an overly politically correct society. They argue that we’re not allowed to say even the slightest thing that may offend anyone else. Maybe they’re right, but I don’t think so; maybe it’s been this way for a thousand years.

The one thing we’ve learned in our work is that human beings haven’t really changed that much in the last 100, 1,000, or 10,000 years (or probably longer). I would be willing to bet a large amount of money that the amount of offence being caused in the world is largely the same as it has been for most of human civilisation, adjusted for population growth of course! 

But what if I told you that you should be offended? Being offended is incredibly important to being more resilient. 

What is offence really? Is offence caused by other people, or by ourselves in our own minds? I’m on the side of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If someone tells me the Earth is flat, does that offend me? No, because my belief in a round Earth is unshakeable.

But if someone tells me something that cuts a little bit close to home, something I know to be true but which I don’t like, then that could easily cause me offence.

Again, like falling down, this is not something to be avoided. It is something to be encouraged. That way we’ll become immune to it.

The more often we listen to harsh feedback, the less emotional we get about it. And, although we don’t like to admit it, avoiding negative emotions is the main reason we avoid making the tough decisions, taking the tough actions and doing the other hard things we need to do to achieve our own, our team’s or our organisation’s goals.


About the author

Laura Bouttell is the managing director of Quarterdeck.


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