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Adapt, Flex and Be Resilient (S.4, Ep.7)
About This Episode
In this episode (Season 4, Episode 7), co-hosts Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch talk about how to adapt, flex and be resilient – one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in their “Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” project.
“Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” is a collection of resources developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic presented some really difficult challenges, but it also revealed some opportunities for building better systems and communities.
Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.
Bob Bertsch: Hi, and welcome to the Practicing Connection Podcast. Today, we’ll be talking about how to adapt, flex, and be resilient, one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in our connecting communities and asset-based community recovery project.
Jessica Beckendorf: In 2021, we worked with our colleagues, Bridget Scott, and Cheryl Keniesel to host interactive workshops with the purpose of providing a space to share our stories of community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in those workshops included military family service providers, extension educators, community developers, and others.
Using the asset-based community recovery framework developed by Jonathan Massimi and Heather Keam for the Tamarack Institute, we worked together to identify the interdependencies, the capacities, and the assets that had emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic response. The stories that participants shared during the workshops helped point us toward what communities did really well in the recovery and what they could do better.
Bob: As we reflected on the incredible stories that we heard in these workshops, eight themes for building individual and community resilience emerged for us. We’re going to be discussing each of those themes in a podcast episode. So far, we’ve talked about grounding yourself in your strengths and values and also making intentional and deeper connections. In this episode, as I said earlier, we’re going to discuss the theme, adapt, flex, and be resilient. Broadly defined, resilience, I think, can be looked at as the capacity to adapt and maintain balance when faced with significant change or adversity.
Participants in the asset-based community recovery workshops shared a ton of examples of resilience that happened during the pandemic. Stories of resilience displayed by students and teachers in our educational systems were brought up quite a bit. Many young people, as you guys all know, were able to successfully adapt to stressful and chaotic situations when schools were closed and learning moved online. Teachers showed resilience as well, adapting to those new modes of instruction, often while dealing with their own pandemic-related challenges like kids of their own that tried to adapt to online learning and scheduling all of that when they were teaching and the kids were learning.
Jessica: The parents adapted too.
Bob: Yes. Flexibility was really key in those situations, and that’s one way to deal with extremely uncertain and fluid situations like those we confronted in the pandemic. One example, an early childhood educator who participated in the workshops talked about the challenge of serving kids who benefited from sensory play. Educators had to find alternatives to sensory play when sharing toys and other objects was unsafe, and so they responded by devising a process for keeping the toys sanitized between uses. Later in the pandemic, as lots of things changed as we learned more a change in that protocol meant the innovative process that they came up with was no longer considered safe.
At the time the story was shared with us in the workshop, the educators were in the process of adapting yet again so they could continue to provide sensory play to the kids. That’s an example of adapting, being flexible. Those weren’t the only ways that we heard about to exhibit resilience. Sometimes resilience can just be sitting with your own feelings or whatever is happening at the time, and making it to the other side. I remember one workshop participant sharing just the devastating impact that the pandemic had had on their family.
They had lost several extended family members during the pandemic. This participant was having difficulty processing all of that grief, but when a beloved family pet passed away on top of that, the dam broke and they were able to express that extreme sense of loss they’d been holding inside from the other losses they’d suffered. As the participant said, they had to “learn to feel my feelings.” I think that’s part of this too.
As we work toward recovery for ourselves and our community, we’re not just talking about being flexible or adapting, but also sitting with things and dealing with our emotions. All of these definitions like, Jessica, the theme is adapt, flex, and be resilient, but I think the definitions of all three of those things are fluid because they mean something different to each person, and probably each context as well.
Jessica: As you were talking about adaption in particular, I was thinking about what that means for me, and for me, it’s more something that I practice daily, but for others, it’s something that they may have to think a little bit more about and what it means for them to adapt. The reason I say I practice it daily is every single day I’m thinking about the ability of letting my plans go, but I have to say there are some things that I hold tightly to.
There are those little things that I hold tightly to, but in general, I think adaptation is, for me, just to give an example of how I think about it, it’s about allowing myself to be changed by what’s happening around me or by the situation that I’m in, and so being able to step outside of the situation and just look at it for a second, and then think about, I had a plan to do X, but the situation isn’t allowing that, so what do I need to do next? Anyway, that’s just an example of how I think about it. Let’s get into some of the other practices that support adapting, flexing, and resilience.
Because community recovery is complex and requires dynamic responses from dynamic people as conditions change, as that environment around you is changing, working to be more comfortable with uncertainty can help you let solutions emerge from the community. First, you can adopt the mindset that you can learn from every situation and from every person you encounter. A learning mindset can help us be curious, can help us ask questions, and challenge old frameworks, and it can help us be more comfortable with difficult conversations.
Bob: We’ve talked about learning mindset for a long time, and sometimes we use the term from a Carol Dweck growth mindset. There’s a lot to unpack there, but just how you view things matters in terms of adapting, flexing, and being resilient. I think one of the keys to this learning mindset is curiosity. I like to think of myself as having a curious learning mindset because I like to read a lot. I like to learn about new things. Actually, I put trainings and webinars on my schedule, and then I don’t go to them and then I promise myself to watch the recordings.
Jessica: I do the same. [laughs]
Bob: I’m out there trying to consume knowledge all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think that necessarily equates to a truly curious mindset because it’s a little bit closed. I think as I’m focusing on all of those things, I’m focused on achieving a predetermined outcome like tackling a project for work or coming up with an idea for a podcast episode. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. I was thinking of myself as being curious, but I don’t think I was approaching my learning with a true spirit of curiosity. It was like I was mining knowledge that I already knew was there. I think the idea that–
Jessica: It’s the consumerism of knowledge.
Bob: Right. I think when we’re talking about in this context of how it affects resilience, I think the learning mindset we’re talking about is more like being open to knowledge all around you and following the hint of it instead of seeking it out specifically. As I was thinking about this, and as I have been thinking about it, I wrote myself a note to try and approach things with curiosity. The note says, let go of goals and expectations. You’re not reading this so you can write a book, get a job, or produce an output. You’re just on a journey in process.
Jessica: I really love that.
Bob: That’s what I think of in terms of having that really curious spirit, and also how that connects to having that learning mindset where you’re open to any kind of situation that you’re presenting in terms of what can I take away from this? What can I learn from this?
Jessica: Thank you so much for sharing that. I loved it so much that I wrote down “have a curious spirit” on a note next to me. I love it. This is related to curiosity, but in the Courageous Connections Program that I was involved in co-creating, we like to call this mindset co-learning. It’s a mindset that in the case of our program, it’s supposed to shift us from simply knowing that we can learn.
In this case, because that program is all about collaboration, it’s about learning from others. It shifts us from knowing that we can learn from others to knowing that we need to continually learn from others. Some of this learning can occur through consuming content. We believe that some of it does come from consuming content that people were behind creating. We’ll talk about AI in another podcast. [laughs]
Bob: We now have to qualify. The content we’re talking about is people-created content.
Jessica: Exactly. Some of that learning can occur through consuming content that people were behind creating, but we argue in the program that it must also include conversations and getting yourself out there interacting with people. That’s one practice, but another micro practice that we teach about doing after each interaction is, whether that’s an interaction with an individual or a group, is to reflect a little bit by asking yourself things like, what did I learn about myself?
What did I learn about them or about their perspectives? What do I want to learn more about, or what more do I want to learn? We call that phase calibrating. Calibrating and growing. That is having an interaction with someone and having this tiny little calibration moment with yourself, I think, is that moment where you are allowing yourself to explore the curiosity.
Bob: I love that. I think it’s a good practice for recognizing that change is happening to you all the time. I think sometimes we only assess that. For those of you who are longer-term podcast listeners, you might know we do a yearly reflections episode, which is great. It’s a great time to think about what’s happened in the last year but if that’s the only time that we think about how we’ve changed or what we’ve learned, then I think it doesn’t contribute as much to our resilience as if we were noticing these changes incrementally as they happen.
Because what that message is, I think, to me, in my practice, is that stuff’s always changing. You’re always growing, you’re always changing, and so I think that helps us, whatever metaphor you want to use, whether the storms, surf the waves, whatever, of all the change that we see is that I’m changing a little by little all the time and I can be flexible. I can make these little adaptations and grow personally.
Jessica: Speaking of growing and changing, let’s talk about the next part of this, which is focusing on your values rather than your fears and anxieties. Because I think all of these things can change over time, and as we’re curious and as we’re learning more about the people we interact with or learning about the world, our values can change, our fears and anxieties can change. At this point, I think I probably have more anxieties than I ever have. [laughs]
It’s because uncertainty can be really scary, and looking to the things that we hold close to our hearts can help us find ways to keep going. I would like to add to that, not just looking to the things we hold close to our hearts, but constantly reevaluating what do I hold close to my heart. What are my values? What are the things that I fear and the things that I’m anxious about? Because my values have changed over time. There are a few that haven’t, but some of my values have changed over time, and I think that it’s an exercise easily forgotten.
Bob: We talked about this. If you want to go back and check it out, the episode that we did on grounding yourself in your strengths and values. We talked a lot about how to find those, but it’s really important to bring it up in this context because when we’re dealing with change and things are uncertain, we’re going to either lean into those central things, our purpose, our values, our strengths, or lean into our fears and anxieties. I think leaning into our fears makes us stagnant at best because we’re trying to hold on to how things are or how we do things.
At worst, that can be really potentially destructive, and so a lot of the problem-solving stories that we heard in the asset-based community recovery workshops involve people focusing on that core purpose that they were trying to accomplish. Like the person that we mentioned that was working with special needs children, I’m sure that being able to use the sensory tables and objects at the height of the pandemic was just one of the many challenges and changes they were dealing with in that classroom, but having those sensory experiences was a central purpose. It was critical to the kids, so they had to find a way to adapt and provide that experience.
There were probably some other changes that they didn’t try to adapt to because the things that were being effective were just not that important or they are at least less important than those central purposes that they were trying to accomplish. Having an idea of what the most important things are, what we really value helps us put our effort where it will make the most impact during a time of change, and it can help us deal with that change as well. If we’re talking about being flexible, adapting, and being resilient, what’s the motivation for being flexible?
I think sometimes, if we’re focusing on our purpose and our values, then we’ve got all kinds of motivation to figure, how do we accomplish this, we need to accomplish this in this new environment. I think sometimes what happens to me during change is I will focus on everything except the things that are the most important, like this is annoying. Those little things that don’t really matter. All my energy is going to those things that tends to make me tap more into my fears and anxieties because that’s the thing that comes up around those changes, or the aspects of a bigger change that are not affecting what you’re trying to do, the main thing that you value or the main thing that you’re trying to accomplish. I think it’s really helpful to try and focus on that.
Jessica: I agree. One of the things that I think you bring up a really good point with this, having to ask yourself that in the moment like, what is important here? I, over the pandemic, did a version of that on a daily level, and I still do in the moment, but I did it in lots of different ways. Just asking yourself, and this is something that I would ask myself, what do I care about and value today? Or what do I care about and value right now in this moment? It took a lot, I’ll admit. It took a lot for me to even ask myself that because it started out, frankly, in a need for doing some self-care.
Because for me, it was about what do I value right now, or what do I need right now? Because I never really would spend time identifying what it was I needed. From asking myself, “what do I need right now,” That morphed into this, “what do I care about right now, or what do I value right now,” Once I met my needs. The other thing that we also teach in that program I was talking about earlier, and that I practice pretty regularly is asking myself what parts of me are showing up today, sometimes what identities or what parts of my values are at the forefront of my mind.
Because we have a number of values, we have a number of identities, and sometimes there are some that are feeling more prominent for us on a daily basis, or moment by moment depending on we might be triggered in some way, for instance, and that can make an identity or a value show up or feel threatened. That’s one thing that I’ve started to ask several years ago is like, what’s at the forefront of my mind right now? What values, what identities? The newer version or the newer part of this that I’ve started to implement is, how can I exhibit them, or lean into them right now in a way that feels authentic?
I want to just recognize that it sounds like all of this takes lots and lots of time, but this can be mere seconds in your brain. When you have the tools and the questions that you know you can ask yourself, it really can take a very short amount of time. What’s showing at the forefront at the mind, what values and identities, how can I exhibit them or lean into them in a way that feels authentic?
I like to say I’m letting myself shine, like how can I let myself shine right now? A lot of the practices that I engage in that I’ve been talking about, even in this particular episode, all have been centered around reflection, but then also acting on it is just as important. Really leaning into that, how can I exhibit my values or my identities that are showing up right now in a way that feels like me, like I’m letting myself shine.
Bob: I love the question about which of my values are at the forefront of my mind right now. Another reason that might be important is I think that can change the lens of how you’re looking at things, depending on what value is out there right now. I love how you’re using it here and help us ground ourselves in our values as we’re dealing with change, but also, if you notice that, right now, I’ve got this value at front of mind, something that might be helpful is to say how would this problem look if I was centering a different value?
I can’t come up with a very specific example right now, but I’m just thinking of times, since we’re talking about the context of the pandemic, a family, let’s say as a value is front of mind, that might present different ways to adapt than if your work or your social justice, or whatever other value you want to pull out there, that could present other ways.
I’m not saying one is better than the other and you should switch them. Just saying one of the things that we’ll talk about a little bit later that is helpful during change is to be able to look at things from varying perspectives. That’s one way to do that yourself is just switch. How would I approach this differently if I was centering a different one of my values? Thank you for that question.
Jessica: I love that you brought that up because one of the ways that I do that is ask, what roles am I playing today and what roles might I need to be playing? Just to calibrate a little and see if I need to adjust a little. Also leaning into like what’s showing up for you. Finding ways to do that is really important for you to not feel discombobulated. That’s actually how I feel when I’m feeling one way, or I’ve got some identities or some values that are at the forefront for me that day, and I’m not able to do anything with it because I’m working on other things.
Let’s move on to our next bit. I love this one. Encourage others to do the same. We’ve been talking about focusing on values rather than fears and anxieties, and adopting the mindset that you can learn from every situation and every person you encounter. The other part of this is encouraging others to do this work as well. A group of people with positive intent, a learning mindset, and a commitment to shared values can do really incredible things. Build that capacity among the people you work with.
Bob: We’re talking about community recovery and community resilience here, and so it takes community to do that. It also takes other people to make yourself resilient, and individually as well. Doing this together really matters. Thinking about how to bring people together, it’s a tough one for me actually. Convening is not one of my strong suits. I really lean on other people’s expertise on this. One way to start bringing people together to work on community resilience is to start with a powerful question. There’s a book by Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs.
The book is called The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation, and Action. We’ll add a link to that book online in the show notes. The subtitle of that book, catalyzing insight, innovation, and action, that’s great. What more can we do than that in terms of building individual and community resilience? It speaks to how important they think these powerful questions are to collaborations for change. In their definition of a powerful question, they say a powerful question focuses on attention, intention, and energy. I’m going to say that again because I got confused myself there.
Attention, so getting people’s attention. Having an intention, so in getting people pointed in a particular direction. Energy. That’s self-explanatory and having the will behind it. They say a powerful question is simple and clear. It’s thought-provoking, generates energy, provides a focus for investigation, challenges assumptions, opens new possibilities, and evokes more questions. Sounds like a lot to ask, and it does take time. I can’t, I don’t know, maybe other folks can. I can’t just pull powerful questions like, oh, here’s a powerful question, I’ll just jot that down really quickly.
It takes some work to think that through. Including a really compelling question like that in an invitation for people to come together can really attract people to the conversation. It also sets the stage for the conversation, not just the topic, but also how is this conversation going to go? What’s the nature of it? What are the borders of it? It lets people know that you’re not inviting them to a space just so that you can share all the answers that you have.
Like, “I have a great idea for a project. Please come and help me with it.” That’s not the framing. The framing is, let’s get together so that we can think about this powerful question together. That can be a great way to start bringing people together. It occurs to me, Jessica, here you’re going to get sausage making here. Powerful questions would be a great topic for podcast, email, community. We’ll try and get some more information out to our podcast listeners about powerful questions.
Jessica: I love that. It’s funny. You mentioned that it does take some time and that just crafting a powerful question when you haven’t really paid a lot of attention to the material or the thinking behind it is difficult. All of that said, I do have a couple that I found that work that I keep in my back pocket. In fact, in that Courageous Connections Program, and I’m sorry, I’ve been mentioning– by the way, this program is very small. There’s no charge or anything for it, and it’s only done in a very small geographic area. I keep bringing it up, though because today’s topic really very specifically hits on several points.
We do have a powerful questions part of this where we teach people how to come up with some of their own powerful questions so that it feels authentic to you. A practice that we encourage people to engage in and that I engage in myself is to keep a couple of powerful questions in your back pocket that you can use anytime you need to. A couple of questions that work for you that are in your language and that have worked for you in the past. Things like, what do you value most about– fill in the blank. It might be, what do you value most about yourself? Which can feel really, really personal in certain situations, but in others, it might be the perfect question.
Or, what do you value most about the work that you chose to do or the work that you’re currently doing? Things like that are really cool. There’s a couple of categories that I love to try to think about the questions. One of them is, what currently works for you? Keeping what works and then questions that are about the future, about what future would people welcome into their lives, and then questions that are around moving the world forward or moving us forward. I keep a couple in my back pocket. Even though it’s hard, I have a couple of tested ones that are tried and true for me. I just keep them with me and use them from time to time.
Bob: We’ve given you three main things to do in this area to help you adapt, flex, and be resilient. Some of them might seem like a little bit bigger to bite off, like encouraging others to do the same. We have some action steps for you, things that you could start right now to get on this path. One is to choose a daily mindfulness practice, practicing mindfulness.
Which is really just being tapped in and aware of the present moment. That can really help us be more accepting of our feelings. We talked about that a little bit earlier. I think it also, for me, it generates that curiosity learning mindset as well. Activities like meditating, journaling, taking a nature walk, all of those are great practice. Just briefly, personally, meditation is something that has been super helpful to me in this area.
Jessica: Journaling for me.
Bob: There are sources out there, I think, to help you with guided ways. I know that Jessica and I have both had the same journal with prompts in it and journal together. Then there’s an opportunity to talk about that and stuff like it as a point of connection. There’s guided meditation for you out there as well. Nothing else. You might need a guide. Go take a walk and be curious. Practice curiosity and think about learning and all the ways that you can practice that to deal with change.
Jessica: You could also identify some experiences that challenge you, and schedule time to do them. It’s a really great way to face our fears and anxieties. You could start small and build up to some of the things that may be holding you back. One place you could go for some ideas is we have a Why Knowing Yourself Matters part one and two, a couple of episodes of this podcast where we did explore this question in one of those episodes. I can’t remember if it was little bit of both or if it was just one or two. Yes, why knowing yourself matters. Identifying experiences that challenge you and make some time for them. I know it’s hard to do that.
Bob: Just get it on the schedule and do it. Just a quick note about that is, if you’re afraid of heights, don’t start with skydiving or-
Jessica: Bungee jumping.
Bob: -bungee jumping, or something like that. One is to find this stuff that makes you a little bit uncomfortable, put yourself in those situations and build up small steps to success.
Jessica: I have a history of other people thinking that I am disorganized. One of the things I did was I sought, when I was being assigned a mentor, I sought a mentor who was highly organized, which I knew would challenge me and annoy me. They were also more of a rule follower. I did that because I’d be very happy to just follow my natural instinct to break all the rules and/or some of the rules anyway, and be super messy, and not keep good records. I knew that I needed that, and so I sought that out.
Bob: One last thing in terms of things that you could do now is just start regularly asking yourself, what’s another way of thinking about this? We talked a little about shifting, which value is in the forefront as a way of getting another perspective, making a habit of asking yourself this question can help build your capacity for divergent thinking, and that fuels innovation. Innovation is akin to adaptation, flexibility, resilience, coming up with new ways of thinking about things, and new ways of doing things, and really all the stuff we talked about, Jessica, especially having conversations.
That’s another great way to shift your perspective and practice divergent thinking, is figuring out what other folks think about something and what their perspective is. You can learn more about how you can help connect communities to build their resilience from our free booklet, Eight Ways To Cultivate Community In Times of Change, which is full of practical ways you can boost your community building and deepen your relationships. To receive a digital version of the booklet, just sign up for the Practicing Connection Community monthly email at oneop.org/practicingconnection.
If you’re a longtime podcast listener, there’s no more dash in the URL anymore. It’s just a oneop.org/practicingconnection. That’s all we have for you today. Thanks for joining us. You can keep up with Practicing Connection by subscribing to the podcast in your favorite podcast app by signing up to be part of the Practicing Connection community at oneop.org/practicingconnection, and by following us on Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @practicingCXN.
Jessica: Thanks so much for joining us for this conversation. We’d also like to thank our co-producer, Coral Owen, our announcer, Kaylyn Gobel, Hannah Hyde, Maggie Lucas, and Terry Meisenbach for their help with marketing and Nathan Grimm who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. We hope you’ll join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.
Kalin: The Practicing Connection Podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award number 2019-48770-30366.