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B–O–U–N–C–E! Develop, maintain resilience to achieve success

  • Published
  • By Col. Shawn Campbell
  • 375th Mission Support Group commander

We hear about this constantly, often as achieved through balancing the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness; that is, the pillars of Mental Fitness, Physical Fitness, Spiritual Fitness and Social Fitness.

But what is resilience really? Is it something innate, something learned; something only applicable in times of stress?

There are as many definitions about what resilience is as there are views of how to achieve, maintain and apply it in one's life. I've read scores of news articles and research documents about resilience and conclude simply this: resilience is a set of life skills every single one of us can, and should, develop.

During an interview for Time magazine last June, Steven Southwick, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, stipulated that, "much of the new (medical) research suggests that with a little practice, anyone can develop resilience."

Therefore resilience is not a characteristic that only a few especially strong people possess, rather something available to everyone.

That fact should help demystify this buzzword of resilience as something for us all.
Before we can focus on how to refine resilience skills we may already possess and mature those skills while adding new ones, it is instructive to review the genesis of this topic that has become such a commonplace discussion.

Resilience as we now think of it had not been well studied, let alone, understood until following World War II. Maurice Vanderpol, a former president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute was, perhaps, one of the early resilience research pioneers. He focused on Holocaust survivors, finding they had developed what he coined a "plastic shield," or a set of skills honed to cope with their horrific experiences in concentration camps.

Today's research continues to find much foundation in understanding how people deal with trauma, whether brought about by war, natural disasters or tragic circumstances, like vehicle accidents, with which we are all faced at various points in life. Diane Coutu, writing about resilience for Harvard Business Review in 2002, also discovered that resilience isn't only applicable to people; it can also be found in organizations.

Now that we've established resilience is attainable by all people, and also within organizations, we can look at ways to own those skills.

We often describe resilience as bouncing back, like rubber does when squeezed or as a ball rebounds when dribbled.

The basic idea is that when things occur in life, we are able to absorb the occurrence or circumstance and return to our normal healthy selves in response.

Life stress is certainly not unique to our profession, but our service includes experiences very few ever endure.

The need for all "big A" Airmen to develop and maintain resiliency skills are paramount to our ability to continue meeting our Nation's service call and supporting the world's greatest Air Force.

Just as the great Greek philosopher Aristotle said, "You will never do anything in this world without courage," we must therefore understand there is no one size fits all prescription leading to developing resilience; it starts with having the courage to pursue it.

Borrowing the word bounce as a framework, that is B-O-U-N-C-E, I offer a couple thoughts.

· B--BUILD a network of supportive family and friends.

· O--ORIENT yourself to understanding what causes stress in your life.

· U--UNLOAD your burdens; don't keep them to yourself.

· N--NOURISH your mind, body, spirit and relationships.

· C--CREATE outlets and activities to relieve and remove stress.

· E--EXERCISE; there is great benefit that comes from this simple activity.

Team, think about, and pursue, developing resilience in your life, in your team. People are the backbone of our Air Force; we are counting on you to meet the mission.

But more importantly, we count on each other to meet the mission, so developing and maintaining resilience is absolutely essential to our ability to achieve collective success.