Building Resilience: Remaining Positive in the Face of Adversity

Considering the messages we are faced with on a daily basis from the media about the shape of the world, it’s not surprising that many people are finding it hard to maintain a positive attitude looking forward. Every day new issues are emerging on the horizon of our social, economic, environmental and political landscapes, which can prove overwhelming for individuals or organisations trying to figure out where to focus their efforts. In the case of sustainability or social impact professionals, tackling these issues is all part of a typical day’s work. So, how do you build emotional resilience when you’re constantly faced with adversity?

Optimism is what helps us get out of bed in the morning. I’m sure a large majority of people have heard the cliché “change your thoughts to change your world,” at some point in time – but the value of this statement shouldn’t be dismissed. In fact, changing your internal dialogue not only has the potential to affect your inner reality, but build the foundations for creating positive impact externally.

Hugh van Cuylenburg, founder of The Resilience Project, spent several months volunteering in India’s far north; an experience which would lead him to make a fascinating discovery. Despite the fact that the people in the community had no running water, no beds, no electricity and nothing but a hut to sleep in, they were all incredibly happy.

Streets of Agra, photo by Unsplash

Paradoxically life in Western society, one with immediate access to almost everything at our fingertips, is increasingly proven to foster loneliness and depression; Hugh citing that 1 in 4 adolescents experience mental health issues.

So, why exactly is there such a stark contrast in wellbeing between these two communities? Postgraduate studies led Hugh to the conclusion that there is a crucial element missing from our modern societies – resilience; the building blocks of which consist of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.

When it comes to leadership, resilience is a key quality for success, particularly in the sustainability sector. The best leaders know that you cannot change the unchangeable, and that their energy is best directed looking forward in order to improve a current situation, whatever it may be. Shifting away from a negative mindset, even in our personal lives, helps to add value as we begin to look at every instance with the potential for personal growth. A key element to building this resilience is strong internal motivators. When these motivators centre around positive social, environmental or economic outcomes, it becomes possible to start building a better world for ourselves and our children.

While the challenges that we face as a society can bring unmeasurable consequences, the efforts of humanity so far shouldn’t go unnoticed. As Andres Edwards in Thriving Beyond Sustainability notes “the greening of college campuses, the explosion of farmers’ markets and organic foods, the innovative green building standards, the push for renewable energy sources and the new green-collar jobs all point to a new economy.” The collective efforts of those pushing for systemic change is creating a ripple effect, a perfect example of this being the B Corporation Certification Movement –  a non-profit organisation seeking to leverage a business’ positive impact alongside profit.

Ultimately, by taking any anxieties we hold over an uncertain future and shifting them towards a positive and hopeful mindset, humanity can capture the potential to create something better for ourselves. By building resilience, we not only foster the ability to keep moving forward regardless of the challenges, but we can change our own internal realities to lead happier and more motivated lives.