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By Dr. Clementine Msengi

The first six months of 2020 all too clearly demonstrated that challenges are an inevitable part of life. However, while we can’t always be prepared for adversity, we can build attitudes and skills that help us develop resilience.

W. Ian O’Byrne teaches literacy and technology at the College of Charleston and is a former Research Fellow at the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut. He states that “One way to understand the development of resilience is to visualize a balancing scale or seesaw. Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when health and development tip [the scale] toward positive outcomes. This is true even as stress and other adverse factors stack up on the negative side.”    

Facing difficulties with resiliency and a proven strategy can  often mean the difference between growth and stagnation. As I was fleeing for my life during the Rwandan genocide, I was often forced to make life-and-death decisions quickly. Developing a simple matrix that helped me make decisions was imperative. 

The five steps below can help individuals, groups, and organizations face challenges with confidence and find PEACE in the process.

P: Pause and reflect.

Margaret J. Wheatley, Ed. D., a management consultant who studies organizational behavior, states, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Reflection reveals what we are doing well and where we need to make changes. According to Proactive Behavior: Meaning, Impact, Recommendations, “To be proactive is to change things in an intended direction for the better.” For instance, while I was living in refugee camps, I learned that when I expressed a need to someone in authority, they often tried to help me. Reflecting on this taught me that I was not powerless, and I began to advocate for myself and others. Because I recognized the power of proactivity, I was reunited with two of my sisters.

Reflection gives us the opportunity to evaluates our challenges, their root causes and contributing factors: for instance, poor planning, lack of preparedness, ineffective approaches, lack of experience, limited resources, gaps in knowledge, systemic bias, and other factors. Reflection helps provide tools to diagnoseassess, and address our priorities, processes, and even our values. For instance, what resources are at our disposal? What processes have been most effective in the past? Do we have a clear understanding of the source of the problem and contributing factors?

E: Examine options.

British author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek states the value of examining options this way: “Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see available options.” 

I found this to be true as I fled for my life in Rwanda. I constantly faced what seemed to be impossible chances for survival. Yet, my acceptance of danger made it possible for me to make rational decisions and take courageous steps. I walked undetected through an enemy checkpoint. I laid motionless for days on the rooftop of a building occupied by Hutu militants seeking to kill me. I made these choices after careful deliberation, determining that they were my best hope for survival.

It’s only after we examine our options that we can choose our best course of action. We must evaluate pros and cons based on available data. We must take time to consider multiple solutions.

As we walk through this process, we must embrace change, which is an inevitable part of life. Accepting change alleviates fear, creates anticipation, and allows us to prepare for the future and make contingency plans. 

A: Activate a well thought-out plan.

“For tomorrow belongs to the people who plan for it today.”
–African proverb

Methodically determine a plan of action, based on factors you can evaluate and control. Formulate goals, action steps, and assessment tools. Implement the steps of your plan, and be prepared to adjust as the situation changes and prepare for contingencies

C: Connect with support networks, create new partnerships, and create contacts.

One of the most vital tools we we rely upon when we face conflict is our support network. People and organizations can offer us needed resources, experience, counsel, perspective and insight, and compassion. 

If you have not developed a support network and key partnerships, it’s vital to do so. It’s also important to continually be making new contacts.

Connecting with networks, creating new partnerships, and collaboration help propel us toward the future. No one lives successfully in this world as an island. Connection and collaboration promote creativity and new solutions. Henry Ford said it well: “Coming together is a beginning. staying together is progress, and working together is success.” 

E: Evaluate by monitoring progress. 

Monitoring progress is essential. Benjamin Franklin stated, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Remember, your goal is continual movement toward your vision as you learn how to identify areas of needed improvement, hone your methods of facing challenge and conflict, and continue to target success, which can be a moving goal. 

The way we deal with challenges reflects our personalities, belief systems, priorities, and life purpose. We learn best when take time to evaluate multiple solutions.

 As you walk through this process, embrace change as an expected and necessary part of life. 

For more information on finding inner peace, check my recent blog.

Success and peace,

Dr. Clem