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Thriving In Challenging Times: Building Personal Resilience and Creativity

Updated on March 19, 2013

To Thrive In Challenging Times, Build Personal Resilience, and the Capacity to Create What Matters Most

"The best way to predict the future is to create it."Alan Kay

The key to thriving in challenging times is to build personal resilience, and develop your capacity to create what matters—with whatever life gives you to work with!

Why do we need resilience, and the ability to create? Look at the following reasons:

Financial crises. Climate change, and globlal warming. Weird weather. Peak Oil fears. Resource Wars. Mortgage meltdown. Housing markets collapse. Job losses. Bailouts. Insecurity. The list goes on and on.

When people focus on such problems and issues, they worry. They fret. And fretting leads to feeling down, depressed, and dispirited. Worriers lack energy and foresight. If they take action, it's not likelyl to work, and many just quit trying. This leads to a negative spiral down into hopelessness, and eventually, despair. It is a nasty vicious circle.

How, then, are we supposed to thrive in such challenging times?

Thriving In Difficult Times!


Seeing "Problems" As Raw Material for Building Personal Resilience and Creating What Matters

"It's a huge mess," a client recently lamented to me, referring to some of the problems of the world listed above. "How can we get rid of this whole complex, depressing mess?"

"Well," I replied, "maybe getting rid of it is not our only option. Perhaps the only way out is through. And to do so—to thrive in challenging times—we need to build resilience, and develop our capacity to create what matters."

Complexity, I told her, is a critical part of life. It keeps novels interesting, fine wine enjoyable, and living systems resilient and healthy. “Let’s face it,” said Limits to Growth author Donella Meadows, “the universe is messy. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.”

Messiness—complexity—is not a problem—in life, or in you. You don't have to get rid of messiness. You can't "solve" it. And you needn't be depressed by it.

Instead of dwelling on problems, and the impossibility of solving them, I suggest that the best way to thrive in difficult times is to learn to use life's messiness as raw material for increasing resilience, and creating what matters—with whatever life throws at you.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. It's a kind of emotional buoyancy—the ability to bounce back from difficulties.

Creating—focusing on and taking action to bring into being what we truly want in our lives, work, and world—is a far more powerful and effective strategy for generating real and lasting results than solving problems.

Resilience and the capacity to create reinforce each other. Together, they create a postive, upward-spiraling virtuous circle.

Developing the capacity to create what matters—with whatever life gives us—is a huge step in developing the resilience needed to stay up in down times. With a well-developed capacity to create, we are much more likely to weather the current storms, and come out the other side better than we are now.

As Albert Einstein so wisely said: "Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity."

The capacity to create cannot only help us thrive in these challenging times. It can help us flourish. It can help us find and make the best of the opportunity that lies awaiting.

However, before we can focus on creating what matters, we first have to understand why problem solving so often fails to produce real and lasting results.

The Limits of Problem Solving

Most of what we commonly call problem solving focuses on relief, not results.

Typically, "problem solving" focuses on what we don't like, and don't want. But instead of trying to bring about a a real and lasting result, it mostly focuses on getting rid of the intensity associated with our problems. It focuses on and tries to eliminate or relieve the pain, frustration, or conflict we feel when we face what we define as a "problem."

Have a painful headache from sitting at your computer all day? Take painkillers!

But this solution does nothing to change the situation that caused the pain. It doesn't change the eyestrain and muscle tightness that arise from improper ergonomics at your workstation. Instead, by relieving the intensity of the pain, it allows you to continue to do what caused that pain in the first place. Some solution, eh?

Freeways are supposed to "relieve" congestion and speed traffic flow. But a study by the British government found that the opposite occurs. They concluded that the prime cause of congestion in Britain was building new motorways.

Why? New motorways temporarily relieve congestion, and make driving easier and more pleasurable. Thus, more drivers take advantage of them, until, once again, the motorways become congested, linear parking lots, packed with angry, stress-out drivers who can't wait to get home and belt back a couple of double Scotches to "solve" their stress.

The automobile, by the way, was introduced to Victorian Europe as "the solution to pollution" caused by carriage horses.

Right! And how's that working for us?

The Dynamics of Problem Solving

In problem solving, action is not often taken until the pressure for a solution becomes intense. Many of us need to feel pain, anger, fear, or frustration before we can force ourselves to act.

But, if our action works, it reduces the pressure we feel. It relieves the intensity.

Less intensity leads to less action. Our attention shifts to more intense problems, other brushfires to fight. But without continued action, the problem remains, and often comes back.

Sometimes, the form the problem comes back as is worse than the original problem. Today's horseless carriages generate far more damaging pollution than their predecessors did. The cure is often worse than the disease.

And so it is for most of life's small and large challenges. Problem solving sucks up time, energy, and resources, but fails to produce to real and lasting results.

You do not rally people to take advantage of the opportunities in crises by piling negative statistics and tales of woe upon them, night after night, in so-called "news" shows. Doing so can scare them into reaction, or worse, inaction.

You do not rally a population to live in a more environmentally sustainable way by scaring them with global warming horror stories. But you do up the intensity of their fear. Scare us too much, though, and many of us will just throw up our arms in despair.

"What's the point?" we'll ask. "Why do anything?" shrugging, as we duck out for a latte or a beer, or something a little more numbing.

What then can we do? How best do we flourish and thrive—staying positive, being resilient, enthusiastic, and creating what matters—in these challenging times?

Embrace mess; create what matters!
Embrace mess; create what matters!

Embrace Reality As-It-Is; Create What Matters!

To build resilience and thrive in challenging times, it is best to embrace the messiness you encounter in life, work, and the rest of your world. Then rise above it by shifting your focus to creating what matters most.

Doing so will make you more flexible, more resilient, and better able to take advantage of the opportunities in the crises we face.

Don't dwell, for example, on the bad things that might happen as a result of the financial crisis, climate change, and irresponsible local politicians. Don't fight to get rid of, or relief from these things that you don't like and don't want. Instead, focus on what you truly DO want—and then take action to bring it into being.

The other night, for example, I saw a bit on TV about a local brewery that was worried about losing customer share in a shrinking market. Instead of hunkering down, and cutting back, they created a new brand of beer, called "Bailout Bitter". Their sales shot throw the roof!

The skater-inspired shoe company Etnies initiated another crafty action. When they heard that shoe giant Adidas was canceling all their employee Christmas parties, the Etnies folks invited all the Adidas employees to join them for a party in a Portland pub.

Suddenly, Etnies was all over the newspapers, nightly news, and Internet in Canada and the US. They got millions of dollars worth of publicity for about $1000 worth of beer -- if any Adidas staff even showed up. More likely a bunch of Nike's gang crashed the thing, and a bunch of new ideas were created.

Creating focuses on what you care about, on what you love, and most want to see exist—and taking action to bring it into being—in spite of current circumstances, problems, and adversity. So, in tough times, creating is the way to go. It lifts you up. It motivates you. It gives you a sense of confidence that you can make it through tough times.

All the truly successful and lasting results that make up our culture -- art, literature, music, science, business, etc…-- were created, not by problem solvers, but by creators who had a clear vision, were fierce reality, and focused on action, and learning from experience.

So, instead of worrying yourself into depression, and trying to solve "problems", focus instead on creating results such as a flexible career, a home-based business, or a cooperative, neighborhood garden.

These are good times to focus on creating a rich yet simple and sustainable low-footprint lifestyle, or business style. Cut out waste, which is just lost profit. Focus on creating innovative ways to make a sufficient income in difficult times.

Focus on taking whatever life gives you, and using it as the raw material with which to create what truly matters to you.

So, how do you create what matters to you—with whatever you have to work with?

Creating: Driven By Vision, Grounded In Reality, Focused On Action & Results

Creating relies on a skill set and organizing framework that is driven by vision, grounded in reality, and focused on actions that support what matters to you. Because it is an integrated approach, it's best to approach the skills of creating in the following order.

1. Craft A Clear, Compelling Vision Of Your Desired End Results

Creating begins with a clear and compelling VISION of a result that you truly want to create. A vision is a clear mental picture of a completed result--clear enough that you'd recognize the result if you brought it into being.

A vision does not have to be realistic. At this stage of the process, you do best if you separate your vision from what you think is possible or realistic. Get the vision clear, and compelling, and then ground it in reality.

For now, vision just has to be something you care deeply about and want to see exist. Remember: the heart wants what the heart wants. It's best to honour your heart's desires. As I said, you will ground them in reality shortly.

You can have a vision of a new kind of beer. You can have a vision of a healthy, fit body. You can have a vision of a small business that serves both your needs and is environmentally friendly.

This is not whimsy. The future belongs to entrepreneurs who provide goods and service that pack an emotional punch, are practical and functional, and are friendly to the environment.

As well as the health care sector and medical technology, one of the fastest growing opportunity areas is green business and technology. On the west coast of Canada and the US for example, while most of the forestry industry is going into the tank, companies that produce and sell "eco-certified" wood products are doing well. Other companies that used to make pulp for paper are retooling to make enthanol as a substitute for oil-based gasolines. Suddenly, Hummers are out, and Hybrids are in. Get with the program; catch the waves. There are great opportunities to be found and developed in these changes.

As well as self-serving visions, you can have a vision of a just, healthy, and sustainable world. You can have a vision of a just, sustainable, and healthy city--or neighborhood, or business, or family, or a just, sustainable, and healthy life.

You can have a vision of clean, sparkling streams, teeming with salmon, and running through your neighborhood, with kids and grandparents fishing side by side along its banks. You can have a vision of neighborhood gardens, or small farms that feed 100's even 1000's of people.

As I've already said, you can have a vision of an environmentally and socially responsible business in which you do well by doing good. Many experts suggest this area, especially green technology, holds more promise even than the high-tech field did 20 year ago. Now is the time to position yourself to take advantage of this opportunity. You can envision anything that you feel strongly about bringing into being, anything you truly want to create.

Vision does three things:

1) It clarifies and articulates what you care about,

2) It generates the energy of motivation, and

3) It provides a beacon to guide you and your actions in the direction of what matters moth.

A clear, compelling vision of something you care about makes you feel up, excited, energized, and eager to engage life and the world in a creative way.

2. Ground Your Vision In Current Reality

When vision is clear enough that you would recognize it if you created it, then ground it in an accurate, objective, and emotionally neutral assessment of current reality.

As well as knowing what you want, you must also know where you are starting—and what you have, or don't have, to work with. You must clearly see what the current state of your result is, now, and at every stage along the way to its final creation.

An accurate, and objective assessment of the current state of your result provides you a solid platform from which to take action. So, although current reality might seem messy and complex, you want to be very careful that you describe it objectively. Do not judge it subjectively.

Don't say, "My life (or world) is a HUGE mess!" because the next statement is likely to be, "So what's the point of doing anything?"

Judging reality distorts it. It adds unnecessary negative emotion to it, and renders your platform for action less effective. Instead, just describe the situation as accurately and objectively as you can, leaving all of the passion, emotion, and drama for vision.

When assessing reality, stress your strengths, assets, and "already-there-ness." Begin assessing current reality with what you have. List strengths, skills, and resources that are already in place. List assets, contacts, and forces that work on your behalf—not just problems and obstacles. Doing so will jumpstart momentum.

The key is to describe reality; don't judge it.

Say, for example, "We lose bear habitat at "x" hectares a year," not, "Grizzlies are doomed."

Say, "The stock market is down 550 points." Don't say, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"

When facing any difficult steps, don't say, "I can't do that." Say, "I can't do that, YET."

Making current reality emotionally neutral helps you take action when things are difficult. It turns depressing problems into engaging challenges. It can turn despair into hope.

3. Set Up Creative Tension

When you hold vision and reality in your mind together, a "creative tension" forms in the gap between vision and reality. That tension generates energy for action. It integrates rationality and intuition. It also provides a framework for action—a container for creating.

Motivational energy is fickle, and fades as your moods or circumstances shift. The energy of creative tension is solid, and lasting. It is the engine of creating. It does the heavy lifting as you start to create the results you care about.

As well, creative tension sets up an organizing framework, a guiding structure in which you can take action, learn from your results, and teach yourself what you need to know and do to move from where you are to where you want to be.

4. Establish Action Steps

Although driven by vision, in creating, the action you take must honor both your vision and current reality. While focusing on your vision, you choose actions that start where you are, and move in the direction of your envisioned result.

It helps to see action steps as experiments, and to see failure as merely feedback. Work fast. Create lots of prototypes. If you fail fast, you'll learn lots. As Nicoliades said, in The Natural Way to Draw, "The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes, the sooner you'll learn to draw."

Gradually, just like artists teach themselves to draw a scene by repeatedly sketching it, you will teach yourself to bridge the gap between vision and reality.

5. Create And Adjust: Learn From Experience

If creating is anything, it is a learning process. Creators teach themselves how to bridge the gap between their vision and their current reality.

So, a big part of creating is trial and error, or create and adjust. But not just random trial and error. Because your exploring and experimenting is contained by the framework of creative tension, you quickly learn—from both mistakes and successes—how to follow through to your envisioned result.

These five steps—vision, current reality, creative tension, action, and learning from experience—when contained within the energizing framework of creative tension, can enable and empower you to embrace messy complexity. They can help you build resilience, and create the real and lasting success you long for.

Embrace Complexity, Build Resilience, Create What Matters Most

Alan Kay said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." But that's not as easy as it might sound.

To create the future you most want, you first have to shift your focus from problems to creations; from getting rid of what you don't want, to bringininto being what you truly DO want. You need to learn to see reality as it is - raw material for creating what matters. And to describe it, not judge it. Just take things as they come, and ask, "Now what?"

Being able to accept and work with whatever life throws you increases your resilience. It increases your capacity to bounce back quickly when knocked down by adversity. It increase your flexibility in the face of changing circumstances. "You can't change the wind," says an old saying, "But you can adjust your sails." By doing so, you can thrive in challenging times!

As well, you develop the skills and structure for focusing on and bringing into being – creating – what matters most.

You can learn to craft clear compelling visions of the results you desire.

You can learn to ground those results in an accurate, objective and emotionally neutral description of reality (remember: describe it, don't judge it!).

You can learn to hold vision and reality in mind, together, and set up creative tension. Creative tension is the core – the engine – of the creating process. It both generates energy for creating and provides a container for action learning.

Based on a solid platform of current reality, and contained by the structure of creative tension, you can take effective action. Working within the container of creative tension allows you to experiment, explore, try things out, and learn from your experience. It also helps integrate your rational and intuitive powers.

Finally, mastering the skills and structure of creating enables you embrace complexity as part of current reality. It allows you to transcend messy situations and events in favour of the results you most want to create.

"Those who do not create the future they want," said systems expert Draper L. Kaufman, "Must endure the future they get."

Would you rather endure the future you stumble into, or create the future you most want?

A good part of the answer is up to you, especially if you know how to create and have the resilience to go with the flow AND steer in the direction of your dreams.

If you can do all that, you'll flourish in the face of adversity, and increase your chances of thriving in challenging times.


For more of Bruce's writing, please visit his HubPages profile.


Reading for Resilience - And Success!


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    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Gracefulwiter and jeugenejohn - thank you both for your encouraging and supportive comments. Much appreciated!

    • jeugenejohn profile image


      8 years ago from Kerala

      An interesting hub with a strong message.

    • Gracefulwriter profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Virginia

      very well written, informative and true.

    • profile image

      Patricia Morgan 

      10 years ago

      Just found your amazing blog filled with thoughtful, grounded and useful information. Victoria residents are fortunate to have you among them.

      I see you are friends with Hugh Culver, a fellow Canadian Association for Professional Speakers member. Hugh has a fine reputation.

      My interest is also in resiience and I appreciated some of the concepts you highlighted--a focus on "what is" and what and individual wants to put into creative action rather that focusing on problem solving (a status quo).

      Of most interest was the word "complexity." It reminded me of resiliency researcher, Dr. Al Siebert's writing on ambiguity. He concluded that those who have a high tolerance or acceptance for life contradictions have a high resilence. Seibert is the author of The Survivor Personality and The Resiliency Advantage. Regrettably, Seibert, died last summer. Then there is my mentor, Gwendolyn Jansma, who says,"Life is wondrous and messy."

      My point is, you, your thoughts and writing are in good company. With appreciation for your generous sharing.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      10 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hi Hugh, Thanks for the great comment. Much appreciated. I like to stay away from negatives (not) and talk about shifting focus to what matters and what generates positive emotions. Paying attention to the things that make you happy, relaxed, energized. "Selective attention," for sure.

      Be great to hook up for coffee some time, and catch up. All the best!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hey Bruce,

      Thanks for getting my morning started right with this posting.

      I love the whole topic of resiliency and turning lemons into...

      I'm wondering if you ever prescribe what I would call 'selective attention'. In other words, choose to not notice. Here's a simple example. We arrive in Mexico a couple of days ago and, of course, had to negotiate the Cancun airport. Fellow Kelowna travellers get their first taste of Manana speed here. The grumbling starts, the stress levels rise and by the time they get to the taxis and buses they are tied up in knots.

      Instead I just choose to not pay attention. I focus on my beautiful traveling companion (Yep, my wife), the whole notion of escaping my life for a week, etc. It's freeing without the cycle of stress-attention-resolve-remedy-results.

      I do this in my business all the time. BTW emails you don't like are a great chance to practice: just hit delete.

      Love your work man.

      Hugh Culver

      (from Isla Mujares)

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      i found etnies shoes shop

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      11 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks Shalini, for the feedback, and for the reply to Violet. I agree. Maybe we can help that hubber get some exposure. Thanks for your comment!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      11 years ago from India

      As always, a superlative hub Bruce! Thanks for the mention in the Hubber2Hubber interview - I was touched :)

      VioletSun - thanks for the tip - I will go check out QCoach too - I think the problem is, when someone isn't on your fan list, you don't usually know when a hub is posted unless you go check out the 'Latest' in the hub section. That means ploughing through a whole lot of sleazy and promotional hubs to get to the nuggets - so many get ignored and don't get the visibility they deserve!

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      11 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks so much, Violet Sun. I will check out Qcoach's hubs. I think some of us don't get many comments because, speaking for myself, the article is too long, or too complex, or just doesn't engage folks. I'm trying to learn how to write shorter, tighter, more engaging and still valuable hubs. Comments such as yours help a lot. Thanks!

    • VioletSun profile image


      11 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Bruce: The paragraph where you suggest we have a tendency to look for temporary relief for a problem, instead of a solution, is so true. I don't want any issues to get worse, and now I see that putting a temporary relief, is basically procrastination, and not taking 100% responsibility. Correct me if I am wrong. :)

      Read your interview with Rockinjoe, and enjoyed it very much. There is therapist by the name of Qcoach here in hubpages, and he writes so beautifully, sometimes, he makes me catch my breath, I think to myself why does he hardly get comments on his hubs? This is a professional, offering priceless tidbits, which people pay money for in person, and he is not afraid to show his vulnerable side, and my conclusion is that number one, he doesn't respond to comments in his hubs, so folks don't come back, as humans (or most) enjoy a connection. Number two, most folks are not drawn to spiritual or self help articles, unless one is in a site that has the right demographics. The more popular ones are the one's that pushes buttons, such as politics, and rants; it gets a lot of traffic. However, self empowerment writing does attract traffic but takes a little longer, and you write intelligent and very empowering hubs. We need more of this focus in our world. Thank you for not contributing your talents to feeding fear. 

       I will print your article to read again offline...

      Thumbs up! 

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      11 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      What a neat story. I love it. THanks for your comment and your support Christoph. Much appreciated.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      11 years ago from St. Louis

      Bruce. Great hub. People need to realize or remember that their outlook on life and circumstances is up to them. You create the atmosphere around you and you have to breathe it. I think you are doing important, valuable work.

      You reminded me of a story I saw once. We've all heard of Northwest Airlines, but there was a small transport company with the same name and owned the rights to it. Instead of wasting their time fighting in court and creating all this negativity, they rented an arena, invited all their employees, and the head of Northwest got in the boxing ring with the head of the transport company, where they boxed each other with those giant, over-sized gloves. The transport guy won, and he let them keep the name anyway. It was a big party, the employees loved it, and they got millions in free advertising.

      Great hub!

    • profile image

      Bruce Elkin 

      12 years ago

      Thanks, Nancy.

    • nancydodds1 profile image


      12 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Nice hub its giving good information. You can get some interesting information from mortgage calculator go through it.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      12 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks, Minnow. Choice is what makes us human, and free. And being able to make good choices makes us positive, and happy, and successful. Cheers!

    • minnow profile image


      12 years ago from Seattle

      Great hub, Bruce. I like the idea that as an individual, I have a choice about how I approach my day. I'd rather be positive, anyday.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      12 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks, Kirstie. Coming from someone who has read a bunch of my stuff, your comment is very strong. Much appreciated.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      I have read a lot of your work Bruce and I always come back to it - because it makes sense. Love your newsletter too.

    • Bruce Elkin profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Elkin 

      12 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      You're welcome, Bizzy. I appreciate the feedback.

    • BizzyMuse profile image


      12 years ago from Southern California

      Bruce - this is such a well-written hub. Your advice is refreshing and well-needed right now. Thank you for sharing.


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