Psychological growth is more about evolution than revolution. Lessons on retrofitting resilience.
Updated: Jul 25
Clients will often say to me "I just want to be different"...almost hoping that I will be able to wave a wand and take away all the "bits" they don't like. There are two things I then need to clarify:
I can only provide tools not solutions (we've all heard the one about how many psychologists it takes to change a lightbulb...one but the lightbulb has to want to change...that's spot on you know!) - YOU have to do the work.
I don't want to take away any "bits"...those "bits" are often your survival mechanisms that have got you out of adversity to where you are now. While perhaps we can ease any negative emotional impact, and find some different behavioural choices which may serve you better in your current situation, adversity often sets down the foundations to thrive better than a smooth path to success...you HAVE to adapt when it's tough...and you did.
In helping you work flexibly within where you are now, I draw greatly from resilient cities and master planning.
One of my best friends is an architect - a very good one - and he's worked on some of the world's most iconic projects. His motto is to "build a world where everyone can thrive" and his resilient cities seek to be:
- Courageous communities
- Flexible, Adaptable and Responsive to Change
- Creative and Innovative
- Sustainable in their flourishing
But, he doesn't start from a tabula rasa - he has to work within the parameters of the landscape already there. He has to retrofit it.
This is the same for me. You come with:
- lived experience (including, sadly, traumas)
- emotional baggage
- strategies that have served you well that you don't want to lose
- not necessarily having learned any resilience building in the past (how often do we tell a child - or ourselves - "concentrate", without really knowing how to do it; how often to we dismiss feelings with "calm down" rather than embracing the information they can pass)...there is no emotional or mental strength handbook...we have to retrofit it too!
Barriers - and priorities - mean promoting flexibility over change
What we need to be aware of is that, in the same way as when the architect breaks ground some structures will be uncovered that we cannot and may not want to destroy...we must instead broaden our approach rather than change it outright. As such - anyone "seeking change" will do well to remember to:
- Respect the foundations Who you are got you to where you are - some of it is hugely valuable, we just need to reduce the impact of the elements that no longer serve.
- "Save the facade"/save face? In the same way as a Conservation Area will ask the builder to protect the facade of the building, we too may choose that we want protect what people see. Again, another reason why change is incremental...and psychologists must be sensitive to this need.
- Use adequate scaffolding In the same way as what architects use for support must be fit for purpose - so too must our support network be. Sometimes friends and family - although not maliciously - may have their own agendas and as such are unable to fully understand or help our choice of direction. Find a "mastermind alliance" (Napoleon Hill) who will understand the parts friends and family can't, alongside. As a personal example, many of my friends do not understand the nature of my work and especially not doing it freelance, so I'm grateful to have a little tribe of professionals as a bonus to my network.
- Changes do not happen in isolation Related to the point above, when you evolve not everyone will do so with you, and sometimes people may try to halt you (rather than work on themselves), or people may simply not get it, and tell you so. Have the courage of your conviction and draw from your mastermind alliance - or coaches, mentors and other inspirations (yes, books, films, songs can play a part here) as well!
Recognising these potential barriers will help you navigate around them.
Remember - flexibility and evolution over extreme change and revolution.
Three tools to help plant the seeds of change:
1.The personal "master plan"
No architect works without a plan, or else, how can they know which direction to direct their funds and energy into? It is the same with us:
a) Write down your ideal goal
b) Outline the elements that make up the goal
c) Indicate on a scale of 1-10 how much time and energy you are devoting to each
d) Start bringing each element into balance!
2.The personal SWOT analysis
Used commonly in business, this tool needs little explanation, except in the realm of Opportunities and Threats (Strengths and Weaknesses are easily identified).
When it comes to "opportunities" - make sure the take into account your strengths and weaknesses, and the best way is to think flexibly. Rather than ask "what job do I want to do?" Ask yourself "what problems do I want to solve" - and be aware of what you are prepared (strengths) and not prepared (weaknesses) to do in order to achieve it. Then you'll be able to identify realistic career options.
With regards to "threats" (sometimes known as "challenges" because the word "threat" sounds oppressive) - many coaches might ask you to think about "what's the worst that could happen if you go for it?"...I believe a very real threat is "What's the worst that could happen if you don't"...and in that case, you might stagnate - and if others move forwards, soon you are going backwards! That often gets me out of procrastinating (one of the biggest threats to growth around!)
3. Your Mastermind Alliance
Ask yourself which friendships:
- Are reciprocal?
- Bring me joy?
- Can I be authentic in?
- Drive and motivate me?
- Energize me
- Support me
- Share my sense of humour
...and make sure you are seeking support from the "right" person for the right thing...the person with whom you can share a joke may not be the one who supports you...and that's ok, as long as you are asking the most appropriate thing.
All three of those tools can be used right now - you can at least identify your plan, and it's not about moving one element from 2 to 10, but making a little change to move it from a 2 to a 3. The SWOT analysis may motivate and encourage you, and simply seek to spend more time with the friendships that bring great rewards...making sure you behave in ways that offer the same in return.
Will I see the benefits of the seeds?
Planting a tree now means in 10 years it will grow 25 feet, but do you want to wait 10 years for results?
Well, if all architects thought that way, we won't have some of the incredible buildings we enjoy right now!
So, within those 10 years a planted seed will:
- Be a reminder of your steps to lay down a positive legacy
- Be a symbol of growth
- Improve the soil
- Provide sustenance for wildlife
...and in the same way that sowing the seeds of personal growth can do the same (with the final point being that a healthy us, will be a healthy provider and role model for others).
While the best time to plant that tree - or start investing in our emotional and mental growth - may have been 10 years ago, the second best time is now.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt