Resilience: Lessons from the Bamboo

Did you know that the bamboo is not a tree but a grass? It does not have a sturdy trunk but a hollow, slender stem that readily sways with a gentle breeze. With its humble stance, the bamboo is often mistaken as a fragile species. But according to a Japanese proverb: “In time, even the strongest wind tires itself out, but the bamboo remains standing tall and still.” 

Indeed, its outward traits belie its inner strength: A bamboo can withstand twice as much force bearing down on it as wood, brick or concrete can. Compared with steel, it can withstand more stress while being stretched, pulled or bent before breaking. Engineers call this capacity as the tensile strength. The field of psychology has its counterpart and its called resilience.

In Japan where they grow in abundance, bamboos are symbols of luck. But more than that they symbolise the resilience of the Japanese people who are no strangers to catastrophic events. They were able to rise strong and mighty from the ashes of atomic bombing. They sprang back after gigantic tsunami waves swallowed their coastal areas. They had challenges along the road to their recovery but they remained undaunted and pressed on.

Resilience is one of the competencies of emotional intelligence. It gives people the capacity to bounce back from adverse physical conditions (calamities, tragic events, health issues, social turmoil, relational or financial problems, among others) and to make the necessary adjustments to adapt to the the difficult changes they have to make with their lives.

Now, those are gigantic challenges that beset a small nation. Let’s scale down to you. Are you currently facing problems you consider too big or too many for you to handle? If you are about to give up now, you are most probably lacking in this competency. Check out the following if they aptly describe how you are at the moment:

  • You make failures as permanent fixtures in your life.
  • You easily snap when things don’t go your way because you are inflexible in your thinking.
  • You can’t move forward because you dwell in the past. You tend to always refer to what had been and could have been.
  • You are a pessimist as reflected in the way you do a great deal of negative “self-talk” (“You’ll never come back from this one.”).

A 1989 study among children with schizophrenic mothers came up with a data indicating that not all of them demonstrated a life expected of someone lacking in love and care. Some in fact did well in life. How do people with resiliency adapt to challenges in life?  Psychologists have noted the following as the common traits among those who have this competency:

  • The ability to bounce back from adversity and disappointments.
  • The capacity to cope in spite of setbacks, barriers or limited resources.
  • The willingness and ability to overcome obstacles.
  • The flexibility and adaptability in the event of major changes.
  • The faculty to see setbacks as temporary and failures as isolated and short term.

A series of researches among people who have this competency led psychologists to believe that people are not born with it — that is, it is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Surprisingly,  studies also revealed that it is not extraordinary. It is a trait that can be learned and developed in anyone. Here are some practical steps to get you started:

  • Start by being conscious of your health. Physically, you have to be up to the challenge. Eat healthy and practice periods of rest and renewal so you can face life’s inevitable tough times with strength.
  • Take an in-depth assessment of your negative “self-talk.” Ask yourself: “What’s real in what I believe here?” and “Is there any evidence behind this self-doubt?”
  • Be optimistic. Consider your setbacks as temporary. Treat your disappointments as short term and contain them to the specific circumstance. Do not allow them to contaminate the other areas of your life.
  • Encircle yourself  with family and friends who can give you support. The load is heavier when you go through it alone.
  • Inspire yourself with the stories of resilient people and learn from their experience.

Being resilient doesn’t free a person from trials, pains and emotional challenges.

Life will never run out of circumstances that will challenge your emotional and physical strength. you don’t have the full control of when and in what manner they will come. Like the bamboo who builds it root under the ground for five years before its first shoot breaks the ground, your inner man should be prepared for events that could possibly break you and make you give up on life. One of the most worthwhile things you can do for your life is to learn and develop resiliency.

Need guidance and support in this area? Contact us today.