Q&A with Linda Ferguson, Ph.D., author of Resilience: Grow Stronger in a Time of Crisis

1. What is your book about and why did you write it?

My book is about developing the mindset to meet a challenge and grow stronger so that you can feel optimistic even when the situation doesn’t support optimism. I wrote it because I believe that it’s important to transform good ideas about how people work into practices people can use to live better.

2. How would you define resilience? Many psychologists define resilience as an absence of depression or absence of struggle during difficult circumstances, do you agree or disagree? Why?

I disagree. I think resilience is making the choice, over and over, to learn and keep going. It’s a lot like grit: and it is also an act of self-possession. It’s a refusal to have one’s identity or experience determined by circumstances outside one’s control. It’s not an absence: it’s a creation of oneself that reaches beyond the current moment and toward a better moment.

3. How can people become more resilient, especially right now given everything people are going through?

Essentially, I think there are three ways people can support their natural resilience. The first is to use their memories to remind them that while this is the first pandemic they have experienced, it’s not the first time they have experienced uncertainty or loss or loneliness. Becoming really curious about what pulled them through in the past will give them good ideas about what is possible today.

The second is to recognize that other people are hugely important to human beings. The pain that is caused by social isolation is as real as physical pain and sometimes you have to be gentle with that. You also have to keep reaching for connection even when it is not perfect or not easy.

The final thing that people can do every day is to connect to whatever sense of purpose or direction requires them to keep acting in support of something outside themselves. Whether that something is faith or family or a long-term goal, they need a point on the horizon that helps them keep their bearings as they move through this time.

4. What advice would you have for people who do not feel resilient or just are not resilient. For example, they may get fired from a job and go into a state of deep depression or feel so overwhelmed with everything that is going on in their life that they can not function?

There are lots of resilient people who don’t feel resilient. The heart of resilience is the relationship between our conscious minds and the full strengths and resources contained in our bigger selves. Those bigger selves include our brains (which are super-processors), our bodies, and the network of social connections we have internalized. Some people would include a spiritual dimension to this. In any case, the whole self is much bigger than the voice in your head that is telling you that you are in pain and that there is no hope.

Hope is not something you discover outside; it’s something you glimpse when you realize that there are strengths and values and possibilities in you that you are not yet using. And it grows in tiny steps at the edges of awareness. If you are connecting to memories to find evidence that you will survive, and you are connecting to other people, and you have a sense of purpose or direction, then you will find your resilience one choice at a time.

But resilience does not feel good. It feels like getting hit by a bus and then getting back on your feet. Feeling terrible does not mean you are not resilient: it means you have been hit hard and you might need to give yourself some time and connect to some support to get back on your feet.

5. Why do you think some people are resilient during adversity and other people are not. What do you think distinguishes the two groups?

It takes a lot of willpower to keep making good choices in bad situations. Willpower is a function of different circumstances. Are you lucky enough to eat well and exercise and look after your physical energy? Do you have a history of surviving and succeeding to give you good models for getting through? Do you have people who are kind and challenging and believe you can be better tomorrow than you are today? We too often think of willpower as a virtue: it’s better to think of it as a fuel. If you have it, you are both making good choices and you are lucky. If you don’t have it, you will need to be kind to yourself and to find enough support and enough space to build it a little at a time.

6. What is one experience you have gone through in life where you felt like you were not resilient and what is one experience in life where you felt like you were resilient. What were some differences in those two experiences and what did you learn from them.

I don’t think that I accept the terms of this question. There are no times I have not been resilient but there have been some losses that slowed me down longer than others. My Ph.D. exam was a bit of a nightmare. My examiners passed my thesis, but hated what I had to say. In the context of academics at the time, that meant that finishing my doctorate was also the end of my academic career. Two things helped me keep moving: one was that I had babies at home and realized that meant I had the gift I wanted most. The other was that I didn’t like the values my examiners had shown and so I was not sorry to leave their politics behind me.

Fast forward ten years, and I was still looking for a new path forward.. I’d had four consecutive miscarriages before I went back to school to become a minister. That was not a good time. I was hitting walls everywhere: no babies, no funding for a very expensive degree, and no support from my church. I was desperately busy without moving forward. And that was when I went to an NLP course and decided to take a huge risk. I decided to become part of a flaky, unprofitable self-development business against the best advice of pretty much everyone. And it was the choice that gave me traction and self-knowledge and resilience. I’ve spent the past 17 years building an amazing learning community and teaching things I always believed were unteachable.

So in many ways, my worst moments led to my best moments. It makes it very hard for me ever to be sure that things are not going to turn around. I learned that uncertainty can be a necessary precursor to resilience.

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For more information about Linda Ferguson and Resilience: Grow Stronger in a Time of Crisis please click here.  Her book is currently part of a Resilience Book Series. For more information about the Resilience Book Series please visit https://www.resilience-books.com.

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