Look at a young child trying to walk or desperately seeking the right word to convey their thoughts. Imagine all the great inventors of the world and all the stories about how they tried and failed hundreds of times but did not give up. Picture the athlete who manages finally to trim a few seconds off a personal best time by persisting with their technique. All of these people are demonstrating resilience. As Guy Claxton puts it: "Without the ability to take good decisions about what, when, where and why to learn, and to tolerate the emotional concomitants of learning, especially when it gets difficult, learning power has no foundation on which to build."

Hilary Cropper, chief executive of the FI Group, is adamant about the business value of this attribute: "Resilience is essential. But you need to create an environment in which individuals are not under too much stress. People can live with ambiguity if they have a base from which they can expand."

Resilience is a key element of individual and species evolution. If you are resilient, you are more likely to survive and thrive. For many people, home, school, college, and workplace have done them no favors with respect to this attribute.

First, there is an emotional barrier in most people to being open when things get tough, so we don't show the sweat on our brow or the pain in our heart because it looks like an admission of failure, or because we have been humiliated if we did this in the past.

Secondly, the culture of too many learning environments— both informal, like the family, and formal, such as school—is to give up when the going gets tough. So, if a child has a tantrum, instead of helping them to work through it, parents allow it to continue

unchecked. You can see this behavior happening all the time with children in the supermarket. Any adult who has tried to get fit in a gym or learn a musical instrument they have never played before knows that if you gave up after the first bead of perspiration appeared on your brow, you would never get anywhere. Or, it may be that you, your child, or, indeed, your boss, has developed skillful techniques for evading the discomfort associated with learning, from tantrums to sulking. These are displacement activities that allow you to pretend that something else is more important than being resilient.

Thirdly, we don't teach resilience in schools or, for that matter, at work, because we put too much emphasis on knowledge, not enough on certain skills, and almost nothing on key attitudes such as resilience. We fail to learn how to be resilient. When children learn to walk, they tend to progress naturally from crawling to walking by holding on to items of furniture and then reaching for parental hands. In so doing, they learn a certain amount of resilience. But if you give a child a "baby walker," they can easily become overdependent on it, only walking in a limited sense of the word. It is similar for learning.

The reward systems of many organizations do not value resilience. Consequently, they engender a culture of short-term thinking and discourage employees from seeing things through.

The kinds of techniques required to be resilient include:

♦ Persisting with new learning methods until they become easier.

♦ Pondering the different feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, triggered by different learning experiences.

♦ Deliberately choosing challenging learning options.

♦ Experimenting on a trial-and-error basis with different ways of learning.

♦ Pondering your original motives for learning and the ones that keep you going.

♦ Getting in touch with the feelings and emotions that suffuse learning.

♦ Answering the question: "How can I improve the way I learn?"

♦ Accepting accidental, unplanned experiences and working out how they contribute to your learning.

♦ Undertaking activities to strengthen learning skills and/or overcome weaknesses.

i How resilient are you? Use the chart below to help you review your own skills, based on the list above.

Resilience activity

How good are you?



Choosing challenging learning options


Staying motivated

Being in touch with feelings

Knowing how you can improve

Accepting unplanned experiences

Overcoming weaknesses

There are four main areas of resilience to work on: how you persist, being an adventurer, dealing with difficulties, and dealing with confusion.


To make any progress with anything, learning to learn included, you need to persist with new learning methods until they become easier. You have to keep going when other conflicting pressures crowd in on you. At the simplest of levels, you need to learn how to concentrate. You have already seen how the brain likes to have regular short breaks. And later in this section you can discover what is happening when you are in a state of flow and time has almost lost any meaning for you. The truth is that we all have different concentration spans.

At a practical level, there are simple things you can do to improve your persistence. The list below gives you some ideas.

1 Set a clear objective for the session and try not to stop until you have achieved it. But, be prepared to stop if you discover something you had not anticipated and rethink your objective.

2 Make sure that you leave a message on your mobile phone and email that lets people know that you will not be replying to them for the duration of your learning. Turn off all telephones.

3 Make sure that there are no distracting noises around you.

4 If you start to daydream, get up and walk around.

5 If you are hungry, have a sensible snack and drink some water.

6 Have a list of all your normal displacement activities—making a cup of coffee, turning on a TV or radio, doing things that are easy, irrelevant, and not urgent—and ration yourself very carefully over the way you indulge in them!

7 Tell your colleagues, friends, and family that if you try to get them to divert you from your chosen learning activity, they are to tell you to "get on with it" and to go back to concentrating on the task in hand.

Focusing on developing your preferred learning style is one way of playing to your strengths and may make it easier for you to persist. In Chapter 3 you also looked at rewards and how these can be used to help you keep going, and in Chapter 1 you saw the effect of food and drink on your ability to concentrate.

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment