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The Role of a Coach in Developing Resilience

Updated: May 3

Decades ago, when I had made quite a mess of my own business, my coach asked if I was open to resilience training. I was unfamiliar with the concept and initially thought it was something to prevent you from getting sick. However, as he explained, resilience is not just about preventing illness, but especially about how you deal with setbacks.

Slightly irritated, as less resilient people often can be, I wondered why he recommended this course for me. After all, I had already survived numerous setbacks, both personally and professionally! Fortunately, I was persuaded and since then I have learned that resilience is not so much about whether you survive setbacks, but how you deal with them.

What are the setbacks we all almost certainly face?

Setbacks are inevitable in life and come in all shapes and sizes. The famous writer Mark Twain once remarked, "I have experienced so many setbacks in my life, and some were even real." He meant that some setbacks are imagined or feel terrible in the moment, but turn out to be a blessing in retrospect.

Consider, for example, that ex from whom you had so much heartache, but who in hindsight really wasn't worth it, especially now that you are so happy with your new partner and you have experienced what a truly good relationship can be. Or think about that unexpected layoff that initially panicked you because you didn't know if you would find a new job quickly. Now that you work elsewhere, not only is the work more enjoyable, you even earn more!

Setbacks that are part of life

Setbacks are inherent to life. Think of events such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, job loss, an accident that may cause permanent injury, a serious illness, but also burglary, theft, the loss of something valuable, or financial problems. These are all setbacks that can affect us sooner or later, and we must learn to cope with them.

Most of us learn from an early age - even without resilience training - how to deal with setbacks, but it turns out that some people handle them more effectively than others. Why this difference in approach exists, I will explain later in this article. Take, for example, my stepson: at the age of six, he could fall off his bike without making a sound, while his friend, if he fell, would lie on the ground screaming for ten minutes until someone came to comfort him.

Unusual setbacks

Less common, but very significant setbacks are events that can cause severe trauma. Think of an earthquake or fire that costs someone their home, or extremely violent situations such as rape, kidnapping, hostage-taking, or an armed robbery in a store.

Fortunately, most people will never encounter such extreme situations. Being resilient is often not enough to overcome these setbacks. After such traumatic events, resilience coaching is usually not sufficient, and special care is needed to process the trauma.

Setbacks that need not be setbacks

The most important category for which people can use resilience training involves situations that don't actually need to be setbacks. These include everyday matters that can arise in both personal and professional settings.

Privately, think of situations such as having a flat tire when you need to be somewhere on time, a friend who doesn't show up even though you had agreed to meet, a stranger who suddenly gets angry with you, or a contractor who does not keep his promises.

In business, think of a missed deadline, a client who cancels their contract, a colleague who sent a too-low quote, or a warning from your direct supervisor about your work performance.

These are all situations that we can experience as setbacks, but which we do not necessarily have to see as such. Resilience training helps us to view these situations from a different perspective and deal with them more effectively.

What is resilience and what does it mean to be resilient?

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from a setback. It is natural to feel emotions such as anger, frustration, or sadness after a setback, but the intensity of these emotions and how long you carry them depends on your resilience.

If you are less resilient - and in that case, a resilience coach can be very helpful - then you feel the emotion very intensely, and it can also last a very long time, sometimes even years!

As you read earlier, there are large and impactful setbacks and smaller setbacks that actually do not need to have an impact on your emotional state.

I was recently sitting next to a woman at a cafe drinking a cup of coffee, and she wanted one too, were it not that she accidentally knocked her cup over. Cursing and raging, she took a cloth from her bag to wipe the few spilled drops from her skirt and for the full 30 minutes I was there, not a smile could be seen on her face. Imagine being grumpy for 30 minutes because you knocked over a cup of coffee!? :)

On the other hand, the death of a loved one is naturally a terrible experience that can make you very sad, and that feeling can also last a long time. How long you want to be intensely sad about it is entirely up to you, but the question here is often whether the emotion has you, or whether you have the emotion. If the emotion has you, and lasts a long time, it might be time to seek help from an experienced coach, as we will have to learn to live with the loss.

Emotions must be proportional to the event

Resilience ensures that your emotions and the duration you experience them are in proportion to the event. Less resilient people, for example, might react very angrily to feedback or someone who accidentally bumps their cart in the supermarket. As if the world is ending!

They are unable to regulate their emotions, which can lead to unpleasant escalations. When my coach asked me if I wanted to take a resilience course, this was exactly the reason. I could handle big setbacks, but it was the little things that could make me very angry or agitated, both privately and professionally. All it took was potentially jeopardizing a deadline, and that person would still remember a month later that it was not supposed to happen!

What are the consequences of being less resilient?

My coach joked that resilience prevents you from getting sick, but there is a kernel of truth in that. Continuously getting angry and frustrated can eventually lead to physical complaints, but then you really have to go overboard.

Reduced resilience can lead to the following problems:

  • Strained relationships and friendships

  • Difficult collaborations with colleagues

  • A lot of stress and frustration

  • Increased risk of burnout

  • Physical complaints such as headaches or stomach problems

  • Sleep problems or fatigue

  • Reduced self-confidence and self-image

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Increased sensitivity to anxiety and depression

What can you do to become more resilient?

We all know that if we are hungry or have not slept enough, we can become a bit more irritable. Healthy food, sufficient sleep, and moderate alcohol consumption are therefore foundations to not undermine your resilience. But resilience is also a mental process.

Resilience coaching is a way to learn all about this, but I will start with the theory behind resilience.

Giving meaning

We humans need to give meaning to something. It sometimes seems as if everything has a meaning, but think about the following. Imagine a cup.

I bet you have a different cup in your mind than I do as I write this.

Then that might be a cup for you to drink from, but for me to put my freshly picked flowers in, making it a vase. The meaning of an object or event is therefore never fixed and is determined by us.

Imagine you see a mother slapping her child on the buttocks with her flat hand further down the street. What does that mean to you?

You might say it's child abuse, or you might call it a reprimand.

I call it a mother who luckily managed to kill a large wasp just in time before it crawled into her child's blouse.

In other words, we don't know until we ask.

Making things bigger or smaller

In addition to giving meaning, we make an event or object bigger or smaller and even more or less important.

We can describe the mother who slapped her child on the buttocks as follows:

  • A terrible person who harshly punishes her child.

  • A mother who hits her child very hard on the buttocks.

  • A mother who gives her child a corrective slap.

  • A concerned mother who gives her child a small correction.

We can also add a layer to these meanings that relates to how important we find something. For example:

  • I think it's terrible that a mother hits her child!

  • It's important that her mother corrects her child because otherwise, they might go astray later.

  • How other mothers raise their children is not my problem.

We have the choice to make something big or small with words and more or less important by choosing to do so. That just requires a pause between the moment something happens and the moment you give it meaning, and that often requires practice.

We are used to giving meaning immediately, and it sometimes takes effort to delay that meaning.

Finally, I will give you an example of what I used to think about a colleague who potentially jeopardized a deadline and why it was just as well that I took that resilience course:

"What an incredibly irresponsible idiot who endangers my entire business and thereby my livelihood by so incredibly foolishly jeopardizing the deadline and thereby putting the client in a lot of trouble, embarrassingly putting me in a difficult position, and maybe even endangering the entire reputation of our fantastic advertising agency."

Pretty impressive that I could make a deadline - which wasn't even really in jeopardy - for a stack of new envelopes worth less than 50 euros so incredibly big. That's exactly what less resilient people do. They make a mountain out of a molehill.

Resilience Coaches and Coaching

With more than 20 years of experience in coaching, I help entrepreneurs and executives in Amsterdam and surrounding areas to increase their resilience. Wassili Zafiris, a senior coach who helped and partly trained me at the time, supports not only entrepreneurs and executives but also consumers. Another expert in the field of resilience is Aranka van der Pol from JungleBirds, who can also provide excellent support.


Frequently Asked Questions about Resilience and Coaching

What is resilience exactly?

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks. This means being able to respond adequately to both small and large challenges in life without being unbalanced for a long time.

Why is a resilience coach important?

A resilience coach helps individuals strengthen their emotional and mental resilience. This means help in developing skills to better cope with stress, setbacks, and challenges, both in private and professional situations.

How can resilience coaching help me in everyday life?

Resilience coaching offers techniques and insights to deal more effectively with daily stressors such as conflicts, deadlines, and personal relationships. It also helps you respond better to unexpected events and changes.

Can everyone benefit from resilience coaching?

Yes, everyone can benefit from resilience coaching. Whether you are struggling with major life events or want to better handle everyday frustrations, coaching can help you increase your adaptability and resilience.

What are some specific techniques used in resilience coaching?

Techniques can range from mindfulness and meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy and emotional intelligence training. The specific techniques depend on the individual's needs and the coach's style.

How long does an average coaching trajectory for resilience last?

The duration of a coaching trajectory can vary depending on personal goals and the complexity of the issues an individual is dealing with. This can range from a few sessions to an extended trajectory of several months.

Are there scientific proofs supporting the effectiveness of resilience coaching?

Yes, there is increasing scientific evidence that shows that techniques used in resilience coaching, such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, are effective in reducing stress and improving emotional and mental health.

What are the most common misconceptions about resilience?

A common misconception is that resilience means not feeling or showing emotions. In reality, resilience is about effectively managing and expressing emotions in a healthy way.

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