Humans Don’t Bounce!

Humans Don’t Bounce!

imageWe can’t measure resilience and neither should we! It’s absurd to think that we can somehow quantify a persons struggle or crisis and condense it down to a ‘helpful’ number.

Yet this is what I find all the time with my research in resilience. ‘How to Guides’ on building, getting or striving for resilience. Such things as; 10 Things to Master and Become Resilient – What the Super Survivors Can Teach us About Resilience (Through Darkness into Daylight, or 7 Secrets of Resilience (Educational Leadership; and 18 Things Mentally Strong People Do (Genius Quotes)!

Last time I spoke to somebody, who was in a crisis, they would not have benefited from an easy, 7 or 10 step strategy to get them going again.

Resilience isn’t some 7 step strategy while we are in the throngs of a gripping anxiety attack. It isn’t some 10 factor guide while we are in the dark depths of depression and not even helpful when we are crying buckets of tears over a gravesite because we’ve lost our teenage son to suicide!

All of these simple ‘strategies’ have one thing in common. The underlying message is ‘bounce back’! That resilience can be measured or quantified because it’s easy and there are quick fixes to just getting back to where you were before your crisis or struggle.

I get sick to death of this type of simplistic thinking because it’s not helpful it’s harmful!

Greitens (2015) highlights this in his book on resilience. How can one ‘bounce back’ to what they were when a life event actually changes us? How can we be the person we were before the struggles, the hardships, the pain, the suffering? We can’t and we wont. Those struggles and crisis will become part of who we are. We emerge into a new ‘me’.

The best thing anyone said to me when I was counselling them through a significant crisis was; “I’m struggling to find what the new normal is now”. I thought this eloquently highlighted the challenges. Resilience isn’t going back to what we once were. It is dealing with and understanding that we are influenced by what has happened. We are still who we are but we now have emerged into something different. Rather than using the metaphor of a bouncing ball we need to think of ourselves as merging into something new as depicted in the image below.

Image 1: The emergence of a newly defined you


We don’t bounce back we merge into a new narrative. That is part of the struggle. How do I now understand and tackle how this has changed me? The resilience comes with the struggles, the learnings, the challenges, the new narratives. Not striving to get back to the old one.

Resilience is something that we ‘do’ and ‘be’ rather than focussing on something that we strive to become – an outcome. When we are living in the struggle we are ‘resiliencing’. It starts with our language and understanding of what it is.


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Gabrielle Carlton

Gabrielle Carlton

Director & Principal Consultant at Resylience
Gabrielle Carlton

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Gabrielle Carlton
Gabrielle Carlton is a specialist in human factors in risk and safety. Gabrielle provides training, advice, coaching and mentoring for leaders and managers. Gabrielle has well over 10 years experience as an advisor and consultant to industry as well as a strong personal background across a range of industries including: electrical generation & distribution, aged and disability in large residential facilities, construction, property management, rail, manufacturing, government bodies and corporations. Gabrielle is able to use her expertise in analysis, training, organisation psychology, research, systems auditing and human behaviour to serve a wide range of needs. She has conducted a Probability Risk Analysis (PRA) using Resylience's methodology Culture and Organisation Modelling in Risk (COMIR). This work was conducted with National power generation companies. Gabrielle has developed and delivered a range of risk and safety leadership consultancies to Tier 1 organisations in Australia.

17 Replies to “Humans Don’t Bounce!”

  1. Excellent article. I get sick to death of this individualist stuff pushed by safety that in the end projects blame on the individual eg. ‘safety is a choice you make’. If my new narrative is tied to a social context then resilience can never be something that just happens in my head or something that is determined by will power’. All this talk of will power simply helps people ignore their part in social context. That is why bullying is at epidemic proportions, unless we view resilience socially it will always be my problem that I haven’t ‘bounced back’.

  2. Having been actively trained in fire fighting and gone through practical development whereby fires were set and we acted as a team to put them out I know that once that is achieved you are only as well-off as you were before the fire started and may be worse but at least the immediate threat of things deteriorating further is dealt with or extinguished. The use of resilience as a applied to humans needs some clarification because the term can be considered to imply an ability to endure the situation that is causing harm but that in itself is only a defense it is not a solution. Overtime the very thing that appears to be sustaining you, your ability to cope, could actually be the thing that leads to a final failure as eventually you are overwhelmed. On the individualistic stuff referred to by Rob that resonates with something I heard Peter Senge describe which is that the drumbeat of Western Industrial Age culture has been the vicious reinforcement of a message critical to the economic success of corporations and business and that is that “You do not have enough” as he said this has 2 parts the generation of dis-satisfaction that can only be resolved by getting more, generally things and the isolation of that “you” into an individual, isolated consumer. The very system of management that underpins all institutions developed to promote the Industrial Age isolates us as individuals so no wonder we are destroyed as humans.

    1. Great point Charles a lot of ‘training’ invokes that kind of thinking. ‘Feel the struggle but keep pushing through, that’s where the learning is’! But what if the struggle is actually detrimental to my physical and mental health? This kind of simplistic thinking is not about resilience.

  3. In the context of systems thinking, the common fallacy is that of having a “resilient” system. The reality is that resilience is a property of how a system responds to the circumstance. What you observe is the system behaviour in that circumstance, and you might describe its performance as resilient if it returns to an acceptable or normative state within a time constraint. There are four properties of resilience considered in the context of systems; the ability to respond; the inclination to monitor; the willingness to learn; and the capacity to anticipate. I wonder if this can be applied in any sense to the focus of this article?

    1. An interesting comment David given that I was talking about humans and not systems. I do understand what you raise here but I believe that systems aren’t resilient and that the people overseeing the systems are or can be. A system in itself is static if we break it down. However, the people that work within it, along side it and manipulate it are the critical factor. Definitely a discussion to be had thanks David.

    1. Bernard, the seeking of closure of course is also the quest for certainty and the intolerance of uncertainty, such an view diminishes the development of risk intelligence and hence resilience.

  4. David, i much prefer the language of ecology than system when it comes to human resilience. The language of ‘system’ implies a mechanistic focus and a degree of order. Human ecology is much more ‘messy’ and ‘wicked’ like a rhizome. Safety often uses the word ‘system’ to imply a controlled system or closed system and there is only fragility in such language and discourse. If we seek to understand resilience ecologically we need to better understand antifragility more associated with risk, unpredictability and uncertainty.

  5. Yes Rob we sometimes forget that the very act of ‘telling’ someone to be resilient can in fact affect a persons ability to be resilient. The very nature of only focussing on the individual as it is their problem creates an even bigger social problem.

  6. Thanks Gab, this rings very true to me, and is perfectly aligned with my past experiences. It was good to have this articulated this clearly again, and to remind me what is more important in terms of dealing with change.

  7. Great article Gab. The isolation of the individual in general and especially in the “cause” of safety,
    is bullying of the worst kind.

  8. “I’m struggling to find what the new normal is now” what a fantastic and simple description. I’m now working at the Royal Society for the Blind and it captures the essence of what is reality for a lot of our clients, often their new normal is dramatically different to their old normal, They will never return to the old normal but they can build resilience to be able to discover their new normal. I’m currently revising the bullying policy and trying to turn it into a more useful tool and it is difficult to find examples that are not focused on dealing with bullying and how there is so little available that talks about resilience and what that really means. This article has come at a good time and will probably mean that this task may take longer than I thought. It needs more thinking time.

  9. Hi Peter I am so glad this article resonated with you, that is my hope. I found that moment with that person quite profound too. And this is where the ‘gold’ is when we engage, talk and listen we all learn and grow. It is very important for people to understand that struggling to get back to the ‘old’ normal can in fact be part of the problem. Learning to grow into the ‘new’ normal is where the resilience is. Great you’re thinking it through, more workplaces need that.

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