Resilience Keynote Speaker
This is a series where I explore what a HR leader should be looking for when they seek to bring an external resilience keynote speaker or training partner to address resilience. It seeks to define what resilience is (as opposed to burnout, mental health, and well-being) and what excellence looks like in this space.
Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to change, recover from set backs, and keep going in the face of adversity.
It’s a buzzword in the corporate world due to the disruption of Covid (a major change, set back, and ongoing adversity), which has stretched the majority of people beyond their coping capacity to date.
In many respects, Resilience is just a sexier word for capacity building. At Tough Cookie, where I work as a resilience specialist, we acknowledge openly to clients that we frame what is essentially a mental health training as resilience because it triggers less allergies in people. In fact, we call it Mixed Mental Arts in order to evoke all the subconscious positive associations we have with Mixed Martial Arts. Participants feel they are learning a series of ninja moves that can get them out of trouble.
Mental Health training is a central component to resilience. Much of our work is to give people the user manual they were never given on how their mind-body connection works. They learn about the autonomic nervous system and how it has evolved for acute danger, not the ambient stress of a volatile world. We need to understand that our fight, flight, freeze response is a reflexive phenomenon that doesn’t respond to reason, especially when we tell ourselves and others to calm down!
Much of the mental health training isn’t about the content at all, but about creating safe containers for people to open up together. We have all inherited a legacy story of professionalism that says: ‘you must keep a stiff upper lip, always appear to be in control, know exactly what you’re doing at all times and leave your private life at home.’ As a resilience keynote speaker, I tell audiences that one of the gifts of the pandemic is that our private worlds have rushed in via our screens in all its messy technicolour. Dying parents, home schooled children, loneliness - the theater of the human condition has been on display. It’s much more difficult to hide the embarrassing reality that all of us - despite our best efforts - are at least sometimes, insecure, confused humans who are largely making it up as we go along.
Resilience goes deeper than simply managing the mind and the body under stress. As a resilience keynote speaker, I remind people that it’s also about the difficult-to-pin-down concept of character: how we show up in times of difficulty. Having gone from leading the Political Strategy for Extinction Rebellion, to been diagnosed with a debilitating life time chronic illness, I’ve had to learn the hard way how to be resilient. At it’s best, it’s been an initiation into a more mature and robust version of myself. At the beginning of my journey, I would so easily go into catastrophising, victim hood and cynicism. These are all natural responses to life disasters. However, over time, these learnt behaviours exhausted themselves. There’s only so many times you can intentionally drive yourself into a cul-de-sac. At that edge of despair, we can discover a far side. We come to realise that much of our suffering is a projection of a present situation into an unknowable future. The pain we experience serves as an invitation back to what’s arising right now, which opens up a more experimental and problem solving mindset - one where most situations, however dire, can at least be improved.
We can also come to see this terrible life situation as a unique gift. Victor Frankel, author of the spiritual classic ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, found in the depth of his struggles in the Nazi Concentration Camps, that even when everything is taken away from us, we have the agency to choose the meaning we make of a situation. By constructing the meaning of a particular event, we can find our own empowerment. Personally I’m drawn to the idea that in Latin American indigenous culture the Shamans (medicine men and women) are known to be the ones that have experienced the deepest suffering. They have experienced the prolonged dark night of the soul and are therefore much more capable of supporting others when darkness shows up in their lives. This is now my mission.
Therefore, If you are bringing in a resilience keynote speaker or external training provider to teach people resilience, it is crucial that they are speaking from direct experience. I usually begin by providing academic analysis on how our psychology and cultural conspire to put all of us on a burnout trajectory, but then I quickly show them how that plays out in practice by sharing my own story. Losing a brother in a car accident at the age of four, coping with the grief of my family environment by becoming a success, my drives leading me to senior leadership positions but also to continually going beyond my boundaries and limits. I stand in front of audiences as someone that has to live the rest of their lives with a chronic pain condition, delivering a cautionary tale. It’s through the stories of others that we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, and find the confidence to open up. At Tough Cookie, we say we don’t just deliver this resilience training from our head, but from our hearts. The one thing our 35 trainers have in common is that we’ve all faced up to and overcome a mental or physical health challenge.
It’s crucial when bringing in a resilience keynote speaker, that the sessions are as practical and applied as possible. After telling my story, I share the best science based tools, which allow anyone to thrive, despite their burdens. This is an eight step process that helps people reclaim their boundaries, resist distraction, soothe their stress, manage their thoughts and emotions, recover their energy and develop a rock solid mindset.
Resilience as a word in the corporate training sphere has a performance enhancing feel, but real resilience is about confronting the adversity in our lives, and befriending the parts of us that are shaky on our feet. This is the foundation of true strength, that when tested, can withstand the pressure.
To discuss me delivering a 60 min lunchtime talk on resilience to your organisation - book a 30 min call here: https://calendly.com/ronanh/30min