Growth through Adversity

"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time. "

Malcolm X

Do you know someone who keeps on keeping on, no matter what life throws at them?

Nietzsche’s claim that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” has great intuitive appeal, and some believe experiencing hardship can leave us in a better place.

This notion has been referred to by many different names, but the construct is most commonly referred to as adversarial growth, post traumatic growth, stress-related growth, and benefit finding.

How does one continue to thrive, flourish, and grow even stronger while overcome the obstacles?

Resilience – which the American Psychological Association define as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”

“Bouncing back” is what we do when we face disappointment, defeat, and failure, but instead of wallowing or letting things keep us down, we get back up and continue on with our lives.

You might say someone bounces back when they experience a traumatic car accident and sustain serious injuries, but stay positive and optimistic through a long physical therapy journey.

We see men and women bounce back after returning from incarceration, trauma, and homelessness.

At first glance, resilience can seem a lot like learning to ‘grin and bear it’.

It’s not.

Nor is it avoiding trauma or resisting change.

In fact, flexibility is a huge part of resilience. Resilience is very much a learned pattern of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It can be taught, modeled and reinforced. This is a large part of our teaching and coaching strategy at CMC Workforce.

A quick side note; a commonly used synonym for resilience is grit.

According to Professor Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power organization, grit is not just a synonym for resilience: “Grit is a more recent import, much researched by Angela Duckworth, and is defined as the tendency to sustain interest and effort towards long term goals. It is associated with self-control and deferring short term gratification."

Resilience is more narrowly defined, although it is related to the same experiences, skills, and competencies.

One simple way to think about the differences between resilience and grit is that resilience more often refers to the ability to bounce back from short-term struggles, while grit is the tendency to stick with something long-term, no matter how difficult it is or how many roadblocks you face.

It’s great to have both resilience and grit, but it’s clear that they refer to two different traits.

How do you teach someone to be resilient? Resilience training is defined as “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar & Assoc., 2000), empirical research shows that resilience can be shaped by how we interpret the adversities we face (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).

Put yet another way—yes, we can learn and teach resilience. And resilience training is one way to achieve this.

Aims of Resilience Training within CMC Workforce

The Mayo Clinic advocates developing our thought processes to be more positive. Specifically, by changing the way our brain interprets events and situations and enhancing our focus on the better parts of our lives.

The Mayo Clinic isn’t the only one. We started looking into the US Army’s Master Resilience Training (MRT) program after we read an article by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology and developer of the Penn Resiliency Program, in Harvard Business Review.

This brought us to organizational literature, where we also found support for the idea of training and controlling attention alongside drawing on existing strengths when trying to develop resilience.

Cal Crow is the Center for Learning Connections’ Program Director and co-founder, and in an interview with MindTools, he cites basic aspects to focus on during resilience training:

  • Developing an optimistic outlook for the future

  • Developing solid goals, as well as the desire to accomplish them

  • Develop compassion and empathy

  • Developing focus on what we can control, rather than on what we can’t (the past or other people).

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development The UK-based (CIPD) has also published literature on how practitioners, individuals, and organizations alike can develop resilience – it covers a huge range of different approaches, some of which we include in our Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship training modules. Among them, resilience training involves:

  • Understanding and working on our internal locus of control;

  • Developing our emotional regulation and awareness;

  • Developing our self-efficacy;

  • Learning to tolerate ambiguity;

  • Developing realistic optimism;

The resource sheet can be found in its full form from the CIPD website.

Thrive Programme consultant and experienced coach James Woodworth agrees with this assessment and adds that there are many other worthwhile areas to focus on. To make an impact on resilience, there are several things any effective resilience training encourages:

  • Developing an internal locus of control: believing that you are in control of your life

  • Developing a good sense of self-esteem: believing that you have value and are worthy

  • Developing a good sense of self-efficacy: believing that you can do what you set your mind to

  • Developing self-awareness and emotion regulation/management: understanding and managing your own emotions

  • Developing optimism and hope: engaging in life and looking forward to the challenges it brings

  • Developing positivity and positive emotions: cultivating a sense of positivity, well-being, and meaning in life

  • Developing gratitude and appreciation: being appreciative of what you have and practicing gratitude on a regular basis

  • Developing SMART goals: setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound

  • Developing a flexible and adaptable attitude: keeping your thinking from becoming rigid or inflexible

  • Developing a positive, optimistic explanatory style: choosing to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty (Woodworth, 2016)

Enhancing any of these characteristics is a great way to improve resilience, focusing on them all is sure to bring about a boost in resilience.

The Penn Resiliency Program, founded by Martin Seligman (mentioned above) has been administered to people and organizations all around the world as well as thousands in the United States Army and Pennsylvania State Police, focuses on improving 18 skills in six competency areas:

  1. Self-Awareness – the ability to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and psychological reactions.

  2. Self-Regulation – the ability to change one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physiology in the service of the desired outcome.

  3. Mental Agility – the ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to think creatively and flexibly.

  4. Strengths of Character – the ability to use one’s top strengths to engage authentically, overcome challenges, and create a life aligned with one’s values.

  5. Connection – the ability to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships.

  6. Optimism – the ability to notice and expect the positive, to focus on what you can control, and to take purposeful action (Positive Psychology Center, n.d.).

As weeks move to months, months to years, we will see an unfolding of the impact of our training. Not only of the Construction Hard Skills Training (from Labor to Trades to Leadership) but also the harder to define skills, like resiliency, perseverance, self-efficiency, self-control, delayed gratification, self-actualization, and self-determination.

Our trainees, like Mike Carney, who we wrote about last week, are not a-typical in his desire to move ahead with his life.

As he learns more about Construction, he’ll learn more about himself, how he manages stress, challenges, and setbacks while he carves out his own dreams and goals.

On the job site and in daily life, these lessons are reinforced. Old drama, past grievances and self-doubt will pop up, challenging this new thinking.

In class, with trainers and with his peers in our Program, he’ll learn to process these ideas, thoughts, and ideas; giving them labels, which makes them easier to manage. While this is happening, he’ll learn to cope, redefine his understanding of who he is and what he’s capable of.

Old goals, which seemed out of reach, will be met or modified to support the new version of himself that emerges. Many of our men and women become leaders, striving to set an example for those that are following.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be deep-diving into the areas of our program that are harder to define, but we feel, what sets us apart. In addition, we will be interviewing our trainees who we believe exemplifies the concept we are presenting.

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