Developing Resilience in Uncertain Times

Dear Creative Artists,

How are you feeling today? How are you adapting to your new reality? If you’re like me, you may have felt really knocked off balance by recent events.

As creative artists, we already have to deal frequently with uncertainty, criticism and rejection from peers, teachers and employers. Dealing with not passing exams or failing at auditions, or even just a tough lesson with a demanding teacher- all of these can be demoralising to a sensitive population. As one client said, “They want and expect you to be so open and vulnerable as a performer, but then the feedback can be so harsh, it makes you want to become very self-protective.”

There’s a particular need for resilience just now, especially amongst those of you whose livelihoods and ways of life are impacted. Rather than tiptoeing around hoping that everything goes well and fearing that it won’t, we can learn to handle getting knocked back effectively and to recover quickly. But how do we start to develop this quality? If you’re feeling low, anxious or discouraged it can be hard to know where to begin.

I’ve developed a process that can help you to take the first steps:

Resilience Process

Take a piece of A4 (or 8 ½” x 11”) paper and draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. Then at the top of the left-hand column write the title “What undermines my resilience?” and on the right-hand side “What builds my resilience?”

Then just start brainstorming.

For example, if you feel better for going out in the fresh air, that would go on the right-hand side. If you feel worse after reading too many articles on the impact of COVID-19, that would go on the left.

If you’re stuck for what to write, think about the different areas of your life such as family, friends, work, health, creative expression, fitness, fun and recreation, spirituality, money, primary relationship, and so on, and that will help generate items for your lists.

Frequent items for my clients on the left-hand side include going to bed too late, dwelling on past negative experiences, skipping instrumental practice, imagining the worst possible future outcomes, drinking a bit too much, being unwilling to adapt to current circumstances, being self-critical, judging your partner, eating junk food, spending too much money, being a couch potato… you get the idea.

On the right-hand side, clients report such items as keeping their commitments to themselves and others, making creative expression a priority, being kind to themselves and others, treating life as a series of experiments, getting good rest and exercise, focusing on helping others, staying present, finding healthy outlets for feelings, meditating, looking for the funny side, and so on.

You may find that there may be direct correlations between the two lists, for example, going to bed too late on one side, and getting plenty of rest on the other, and that finding those correlations is helpful. Or there may not be a direct opposite, and that’s fine too. Trust your instincts. You can add things you already do and things you’d like to put into action in the future.

Your list will be very individual. For example, binge-watching box sets might be really helpful for one person and really detrimental for another, depending on their needs and circumstances, their state of mind and the effect the activity has on them. So notice how you feel afterwards and adjust accordingly.

In my experience, what clients find valuable about this process is becoming aware that they already know what works and what doesn’t, at least to a certain extent. And having a process to turn to in challenging times is really grounding. Taking action, even on a microscopic level, doing small experiments and thus becoming aware more and more of the results of our actions is an empowering and enlivening process that is ultimately transformative. And being kind to yourself when you don’t feel like taking action is vital too.

Bon courage-