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Resilience: what is it and how do you cultivate it?

Slide Bouncebackability. Do you ever think that some people appear to sail through life, seemingly without getting stressed or upset, whilst you get tumbled around by life's struggles, like a wave crashing into shore? Although it can sometimes feel like some people live a charmed life, it's rarely the case that they're immune to loss or suffering, it's much more likely to do with their ability to bounce back after a setback.

We are, of course, talking about resilience. But what exactly is it? At Pencil, we think that its definition by leading neuroscientist, Dr Richard Davidson, hits the nail on the head. He defines resilience as "the rapidity with which you recover from adversity." We believe that people often misunderstand what resilience is, mistakenly thinking that it has something to do with strength or invincibility. Not so, being vulnerable is a vital part of what makes us human, but knowing that we are able to bounce back is crucial in determining our resilience.

If we are to be confident in our ability to recover, then we must first have experience of making mistakes. Which means taking risks and, in the case of developing resilience in our children, allowing them to take them too. What feels like protecting them today, may later result in them feeling anxious about failing. As we make mistakes, we learn that we're able to get out of a jam, which reduces our anxiety about making them and makes us less risk averse.

Dr Richard Davidson is insightful in including the component of speed into his definition of resilience. During the Pencil programme, we teach people how to cultivate resilience and this involves increasing the speed at which you are able to bounce back. So, how do we do it? First, we ask you to consider the role of suffering versus avoidance. How you approach this subject can determine your reaction to adversity throughout your life. If you begin with an understanding of the role of suffering in life, you can transcend it. We show you how.

Next, we help you to cultivate a different relationship with problems and the suffering inherent in them, by teaching you how to separate your emotions from your experience. It is here that we get into some fascinating insights from neuroscience, which help you to understand what your thoughts and feelings really are and how you can better relate to them. At the programme, we'll measure your body's resilience and in the goodybag we give you, we include equipment so that you can continue to monitor it when you get home. You'll learn how your resilience varies over time and with our knowledge and tools, you'll become much more self aware. As a result, you'll know when to push yourself and when to be kind to yourself. You can even teach your family how they can measure their own levels of resilience.

If you're interested in learning more about the Pencil programme, take a look around our website using the menu at the top left hand corner of the page. If you'd like to attend our luxurious retreat, email Matt on

Credit: The video at the top of the page is called 'SloMoBigSur' by Tim Williams @TIMALLDAY.

Slide Pencil Rewrite your story with Pencil. Built upon the three pillars of purpose, wellbeing and community, the Pencil programme is delivered over the course of four days at a luxurious location in the English countryside.

Pencil's unique content was developed over a two year period and lives at the point where mindfulness, neuroscience and psychology collide, to bring life into beautiful, sharp focus. Once you’re there, you'll have a sense of peace and equanimity. We call it a deep lightness.
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