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Has mollycoddling created a generation lacking in resilience?

Why some people crumble at what others see as a minor challenge

Tori McKillenWhen I think of resilience I can’t help but recall significant devastating events and individuals’ incredible capacity to recover from them. From earthquakes to tsunamis, famine to terrorism, from global disasters to private family tragedies - I’m sure we can all recall significant events in our lifetime that will have required extreme resilience for those affected. And that’s not even to mention Brexit and the current challenges in the NHS!

I particularly recall the personal tragedy of Victoria Milligan who lost her daughter, partner and her leg in a horrific speedboat accident. As observers, it’s hard to imagine recovering from such an event, but to read Victoria’s own account of her response is to read a story of incredible resilience that would humble anyone who complains of a hard day at the office.

But what makes one person more resilient than another?

I am pretty resilient. I am flexible and adaptable. I travel comfortably, hotel living doesn’t faze me and I tolerate the constant state of disarray that comes with every new building project. Do these things say something about my resilience - is this all to do with flexibility, ease of adapting and tolerance to change?

I think about my Indian side of the family and reflect on how comfortable children are to be passed around the family; they sleep calmly wherever they are laid and adapt easily to their changing environments. Routine isn’t instilled and they have grown up to be adaptable and resilient.

When I reflect on my work environment and previous jobs I’ve had, I wonder, what is it that gets some people through while the stress levels of others are subjectively lower? I see people who come through the most intolerable misfortune smiling and I wonder how they do it? I look at misfortune around the world, the strength of character displayed in world crises and in contrast how some people crumble at what others see as a minor challenge. Is it something we’re born with, or is it instilled in us?

It makes me question whether the mollycoddling culture of recent years has created a generation that lacks the resilience of its predecessors. Children need to encounter difficulties in order to develop and to learn how to overcome them in the future.

Peter Gray, PhD, research professor at Boston College, described how students were increasingly having emotional crises over problems of everyday life. In Psychology Today he wrote, ‘We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realise they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: young people, 18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.’

So, can we learn resilience?

I personally believe that some people are inherently more resilient than others, which resonates with early genetic theories of resilience. However, I also believe that we can adopt certain attitudes and behaviours to increase our resilience. Psychologists have observed that some people become more resilient over their lifetimes while, surprisingly, less resilient people develop resiliency skills more easily than those with an inherent affinity. It does reinforce the need to try and to not give up - to apply resilience when addressing resilience!

  • Some commonly cited practices to improve resilience include:
  • Be optimistic and nurture self-belief
  • Remain grounded in reality
  • Exercise mindfulness
  • Take breaks, both of mind and body
  • Maintain strong values
  • See challenges, not crises
  • Compartmentalise; manage time and workloads effectively
  • Improvise; be inventive and make the most of what you have
  • Utilise support networks
  • Cultivate compassion

These practices can be adopted by anyone and should be encouraged in the modern workplace. The benefits of engendering a resilient workplace include lower healthcare costs, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased staff turnover.

I will conclude with some guidance from Victoria Milligan, “From my experience I believe that there are strategies, actions and thoughts that we can learn to build our resilience. Resilience is something we all need to learn in this increasingly uncertain world; the sooner we are able to get up again and dust ourselves off when something goes wrong, the better able we are to adapt to any new situation.”

Brace, and move forward…

Tori McKillen is a partner at Acteon

in association with


10th August 2017

From: Marketing



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