Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Resilience - Stepping up to the Challenge

This is not a Zen Buddhist Story but a Self Coach 2 Success original that I hope will illustrate Resilience in action and inspire others to take steps towards building their own levels of inner strength. 

Hiking/Limping  "The Thorsborne Trail " 

These boots are made for talking; not walking was the song I kept singing to myself when my boots had a “blow out” while hiking the Thorsborne Trail. The Thorsborne Tail is located on Hinchinbrook Island, off Queensland. The trail is only 32 km long but is fairly strenuous. It is not hardened or graded and in some areas is rough and difficult to traverse.  Not for the faint hearted My 20 year old hiking boots had been lost for years in the wilderness of my wardrobe until I pulled them on to test my mettle and endurance on this challenging 4 day/3 night through walk. For the non hikers this means you carry everything with you (tents, sleeping gear, cooking gear, food et).  It was something I had always wanted to do and my family were very supportive.   Hubby and 12 year old daughter were coming too. 

As you know from my past blog posts, this was going to be a real challenge, not only my mental resilience but also my physical fitness.
My  husband, a very experienced hiker, said that out of the three of us, I'd be the most likely person to struggle on this expedition.  Thanks for the confidence Hun.  I suspected at the time he might be right because of my age, am over weight, have feet problems and have been fairly sedentary lately.  Well, there's nothing like proving someone wrong. Right. 

Realistic Planning

To kit out for the trip we went to Anaconda and purchased a large hiking backpack that fitted well and could accommodate 20kg – not that I’d be carrying that amount of stuff – that’s why I’m going with the pack horse husband.  Think Reece Witherspoon in the film Wild and you have the general idea. After getting home with my new pack,  I duly loaded it up with  various items heavy items such  as laundry detergent, sleeping bags, hand weights etc to the weight of 15 kg. The next step in my training program was to walk up and down a steep hill for an hour a day 2- 3 times a week. Just when I stared to think “Yes” I can do this, my pessimistic husband told me that while this was ‘good practise’, the real thing was going to be much more challenging.  He suggested I should practice sleeping on the sleeping mat (a light weight orange mat about 1/2 inch in thickness) as he felt this would really test my commitment.  I declined. Sleeping on a thin mattress could definitely wait until absolutely necessary.

Managing Strong Feelings

Despite extensive planning and groundwork, I was not prepared for the complete failure of my hiking boot only hours after setting out on the trek.  I thought my boots were sound and in good condition for their age, but  as I waded through the first salt water creek (only about 3 km from the drop off point) the sole on the front of my right boot came unstuck.  Husband and daughter wisely kept their mouths shut and only asked what did I intended to do?   I think they both thought I'd chuck a razzy and demand we turn back. I must say though, quitting never entered my mind.  I’m proud of the way I responded.  I immediately when into problem solving mode and thought about how we might still be able to successfully complete the hike.  After some contemplation, I came up with the idea of  putting my sock on the outside of the boot. This would keep the sole from becoming further dislodged and prevent it being a trip hazard. A temporary fix until we reached the camp site. 

Problem Solving

After making camp, I went in search of a tinker or at least someone who might have some bibs and bobs to fix my boot.  The first offering was some wire which I declined for obvious reasons -  ouch. The next offering was some gaffe tape (silver sticky tape - which knowledgeable husband had packed but we lost somewhere on the trail) which I  accepted and wrapped around the toe of the shoe.  Another camper offered me some plastic garden ties which I thought I’d use if the tape was unsuccessful.

The next day I set off with my sore shoe (wrapped in tape with a sock over top) – which looked quite funny.  This days hike was over 10km of very difficult terrain.  My confidence in the success of this ‘quick fix’ did not last long.  The tape could not endure the rigorous movement required to climb  over large boulders, up cliff faces and uneven ground.  In addition, the sole had now completely come apart from the shoe. So I pulled out the plastic garden ties only to find that my daughter had already ripped one (pulled of the plastic zips off the tie) and we had lost the other one out of the pack.  So I hobbled along as best I could – every so often kicking the toe of the boot against a rock to push the sole back into place. 

Supportive Relationships and Asking for Help

When we stopped for lunch another group of hikers caught up with us. A woman generously offered to lend me her  crocs until I got to camp. She had read somewhere that a group of young hikers had competed this whole trail in crocs.  I was not sure of the validity of this statement but gratefully took her up on the offer wearing my boot on one foot and the croc on the other.  It was ironic as well because their were signs everywhere advising us to beware of crocs (crocodiles). HaHaHa.

Communication Skills

On the third day of the hike I set out in my sock /shoe – another long day according to the track notes.  My feet were holding up really well at this point considering I had to shuffle along to keep the sole and boot together inside the sock. About half way through the day we met up with some hikers from the  Narrabri   Bushwalking Club . I told one of their senior members the ‘shoe saga’. He told me a similar  story of woe and made the following recommendation for which I will be forever grateful:

Cut  holes in both sides of the shoe leather near the toe and heel. Then tie a shoe lace through the holes, under the shoe using the tread to hold it in place and then tie off with a knot on the side.

Confident in my Ability to Finish the Hike

That night at camp, my husband performed surgery on the offending shoe following the above instructions. The next day – the last day of the hike – I set off with my newly stitched and bandaged boot (sock on the outside) feeling confident that not only would we successfully complete the hike, but that we would be stronger as a family unit because of the challenges we had faced together.

As I reflect on the challenges I faced, with my family, on this adventure I am reminded that everyone has to face difficult events and challenging experiences. Most of us react with strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. My husband and daughter feared I’d blow a fuse when my shoe blew out. So this raises the question:  What enables some people to adapt well to challenging situations and stressful conditions and not others? The word that comes to my mind is resilience.

Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant stress.  It means being able to bounce back from difficult experiences. 

 Developing Resilience in Yourself and Others

We can all develop the skills to become more resilient, but it has to be a personal journey.  The American Psychological Association  in its brochure “Road to Resilience” provides some suggestions on how to build resilience. They include:
  • Make Connections - Build positive supportive reciprocal relationships and willing to ask for and accept help from them.  Also be willing to assist others in their time of need.
  • Don’t catastrophize – You can’t change that fact that bad things are going to happen.  However you can change how you think and respond to those events. Try to keep things in perspective.
  • Accept your current situation -Focus on what you can change as opposed to what you can’t.
  •  Be goal orientated – take small steps each day to move in the direction of you target.
  • Look for the Learning – If you have faced a challenge or hardship reflect on what you have learned or gained from the experience.
  • Keep a positive mindset - know your strengths and stretches and work with them not against them. Pat yourself on the back for getting thorough a bad patch - be your own cheer squad. I'm certainly congratulating myself on my completion of a physically and mentally challenging hike under difficult circumstances. 
  • Nurture Yourself – Develop confidence in your problem solving ability and take care of yourself both physically and emotionally


 I'd like to give a big SHOUT OUT to my husband and daughter for all their support and help on the hiking trip.  I could not have done it without them.  I also am grateful for all those people I met on the trail who offered support, advice and various bits and pieces to mend a broken shoe. the whole experience has given me confidence in my own ability to meet lfe challenges head on.

Finally I'd like to ask you what challenges or obstacles have you faced recently and how did you respond to them? I'd love to hear your story.

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