According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, one in five of our state's high school students have seriously contemplated suicide. I feel that is a deeply concerning and compelling call to action.
I can relate with people who may be facing these challenges – I come from the school of hard knocks. Fortunately, in my life story I have been touched by people and experiences, at the perfect places and times, to play life changing roles in my story. Ironically, I have been given a life beyond my wildest dreams and feel tremendous gratitude for the challenges and setbacks I have faced. What is it about these types of life challenges that actually helped me come out on the other end of them even stronger? I believe the answer lies in a human condition known as resilience. The definition I like the most is: Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.
Resilience is a popular topic right now, but when I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the early research in this field was just coming together and there was no discussion like this. In my equine assisted coaching practice, resilience is one of the pillars of the work I do to help young people. Fortunately, resilience is being discussed openly in society and we know it is one way to leverage a young person’s strengths to help them overcome the challenges he or she faces (young people face tons of challenges these days!). My hope for you today is that you may develop more awareness about the power of resilience and seek to take full advantage of its potential. Harvard researchers share about the harmful effects of stress on youth (and adults) and ways to reverse these effects in this video. One way to reduce these effects is by developing increased resilience.
Research finds that perception is a core component of resilience. I find it interesting that that the way one interprets an event as traumatic vs. opportunistic can result in the difference between being harmed or being given the opportunity to increase resilience. I feel optimistic to know that the kind of opportunistic thinking that leads to building resilience can be taught. Especially considering that this kind of training has lasting effects.
According to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, evidence shows that there are eight environmental characteristics that provide children the opportunity to build resilience. They are:
Physical and psychosocial safety
Clear and consistent structure and appropriate adult supervision
Opportunities to belong
Positive social norms
Support for efficacy and mattering
Opportunities for skill building
Integration of family, school and community efforts
This boils down to providing children with caring
relationships, high expectations and challenging opportunities in supportive environments.
With all of this in mind, I have found that equine assisted coaching is an effective option for building resilience in adolescents. Horses are prey animals in nature. As a result, horses are sensitive, mindful and, even in domestication, maintain a highly developed ability to respond to their environment. Changes that we humans would not even notice are enough to result in the horse taking action to find more desirable resources, conditions or position. The horses represent the uncertainty of life that we desire to befriend, but also fear and respect. As the coach, with the horse, I work together to stay fully present to the horse and honor what it has to show us about action, forming relationships, and accepting sometimes unpredictable outcomes. The guided, equine encounters help each youth develop confidence, take action, accept outcomes and to act responsibly. One of the resulting outcomes of this work is increased resilience. I look forward to the continuing integration of my learning on resilience into the life skills coaching program I offer.
Resilience is shown to be teachable over time or it can be lost over time – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can see parallels with resilience gained from life’s challenges and the experience of having a rite of passage that I discussed in this blog post. How can you picture the two working together opportunistically? What do you think can be done to help young people develop more resilience? What are your thoughts on resilience and its role in your life? Feel free to schedule a time to connect live to discuss this topic or how I can be of service. Thank you and I look forward to reading your comments.
Rite of passage TEDx
Science of resilience