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How to “Keep Calm and Carry On”

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

There was a time recently where everywhere you looked you would see a t-shirt or mug saying, “Keep calm and carry on”. This slogan was first seen on a propaganda poster in 1935 in Britain, an attempt to boost morale before the Blitz. It was rediscovered in the 2000’s and was then adopted as a nod to resilience, shared relentlessly, sometimes humorously, during difficult events.




This slogan’s use has largely become ironic, and I wonder if that is because it’s not unlike, “try harder”, or “do better”. None of those statements are actually very helpful. When I consider resilience, I’m always thinking about how to be resilient, and how can we all learn to behave more resiliently? And what even is resilience?


Resilience is influenced by many aspects of people’s life experiences and personal circumstances. Often there is not an easy fix and it’s important to bear in mind that when people have not been able to develop resilience in their lives, or when disastrous events occur, the pressing need is more often for practical assistance or emotional support, not cloaked advice on how to ‘try harder’.


Resilience is the ability to keep going, to overcome obstacles creatively, to learn from mistakes, to continue to believe in yourself and where you are going, and when your plans are thwarted, to be able to create new ones.


We all do resilience to some extent in our lives. I remember a colleague, someone who experienced more than their fair share of personal tragedies, saying to me once, “When something happens, I collapse on the bed and cry my eyes out, then I think, no-one else is going to sort this, so I get up and work out what I need to do.” I always thought this was a pretty good example of resilience.


That’s the what, so what is the how? Well, I’m glad you asked.


When I think of resilience in coaching, there are eight key areas I am checking out:


Purpose – Why is the client trying to achieve this goal? Do they really care about it? You would be amazed how many people have been trying to do something for years because their parents or a teacher thought it was a good idea and they have never questioned whether this is something they want for themselves. To be resilient you need to be connected to your purpose. You have to want it. If you can take or leave it, my focus will be on finding what you do care about.


Focus – Specifically the focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. When you want to learn a new skill, if you only focus on what you can’t do, you are likely to get disheartened and give up. If you focus on what you can do, and celebrate each time you can do a bit more, you are more likely to stay motivated.


Taking responsibility – If you think someone else is going to sort this for you, or you are convinced it’s not your fault, then persevering with a difficult task will be very tough because you won’t really see it as ‘your job’. If, however, you can let go of how you got there, and assume that no one is going to rescue you, then you can take responsibility for what happens next, which lets you take action.


Taking action – Do something. Often people get stuck trying to think of the ‘right’ thing to do and end up doing nothing. Do something and if it doesn’t work, do something else. It’s amazing how just doing things, even if they seem to be completely irrelevant to what you are trying to achieve, sets something else much more relevant into motion. If the outcome is that you never want to do that thing again, that is still a valuable lesson.


Goal size – Setting goals that are too small or too big can hold us back. If you decided to take up climbing and make your first goal the ascent of Mount Everest, it is possible that as you look into it, the task would seem so huge (literally a mountain to climb) that you wouldn’t know where to start. You might then feel so overwhelmed that you settle back down on the couch and think about what else you could try.


At the other end of the scale, you might decide to start easy and set your first goal as something like carrying all your shopping home by hand rather than getting it delivered. This would likely not be enough of a stretch, so you wouldn’t even notice when you stop doing it.


Instead, if you make a plan that works on developing your fitness, maybe joining a climbing club to meet like minded people. Plan some milestones so you can measure your progress. If the goal size is right, you are much more likely to stay resilient and on target. And who knows, you may even make it to Mount Everest.


Flexibility – The best laid plans, and all that. Stuff happens. What we predict might not happen, or something catastrophic might occur instead. If we can’t adapt our plans, then we can get stuck like a rabbit in the headlights. If we can see it more like, OK that path has just been blocked, what direction can I go in now? Other options will open, and we may even learn something useful from the detour.


Learn and adapt – A big part of resilience is being able to learn what works and what doesn’t. Regularly reviewing where you are, how far you have come and what you are going to try next will give you the feedback you need to change what you are doing if it isn’t working. Otherwise, you can get bogged down making yourself very busy but not achieving anything.


Helpful habits – We spend a lot of our day on automatic pilot. How many of us consciously brush our teeth, or really think about how we are making or even drinking a cup of tea. We just do it, literally without thinking. To use this to our advantage, we can identify small steps towards our goal, that we can introduce into our daily routine. Something like 10 minutes of stretches before breakfast, or making phone calls before you do any other work, or switching your phone off for periods of time in the day.


Once these new habits are established and you are doing them regularly, you can build on them by adding something else. Initially it takes effort to create a new habit, then just like brushing your teeth, it doesn’t feel right if you don’t do it.


So, is there is something you are trying to do in your life and it’s not happening, maybe have a think about how the above can help you identify where your blocks are and see if you can identify where you could introduce some changes.


Or in other words, how are you going to keep calm and carry on?




Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/manne1953-233665/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=331916">Manne1953</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=331916">Pixabay</a>

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