Here is the full text of resilience expert Dr Lucy Hone’s talk titled “The Three Secrets of Resilient People” at TEDxChristchurch conference.
So I’d like to start, if I may, by asking you some questions.
If you’ve ever lost someone you truly loved, ever had your heart broken, ever struggled through an acrimonious divorce, or being the victim of infidelity, please stand up.
If standing up isn’t accessible to you, you can put your hand up. Please stay standing and keep your hand up there.
If you’ve ever lived through a natural disaster, being bullied or made redundant, stand on up. If you’ve ever had a miscarriage, if you’ve ever had an abortion or struggled through infertility, please stand up.
Look around you. Adversity doesn’t discriminate. If you are alive, you are going to have to, or you’ve already had to, deal with some tough times.
Thank you everyone. Take a seat.
I started studying resilience research a decade ago at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It was an amazing time to be there because the professors who trained me had just picked up the contract to train all 1.1 million American soldiers to be as mentally fit as they always have been physically fit.
As you can imagine, you don’t get a much more skeptical, discerning audience than the American drill sergeants returning from Afghanistan.
So for someone like me whose main quest in life is trying to work out how we take the best of scientific findings out of academia and bring them to people in their everyday lives, it was a pretty inspiring place to be.
I finished my studies in America and I returned home here to Christchurch to start my doctoral research. I’d just begun that study when the Christchurch earthquakes hit.
So I put my research on hold and I started working with my home community to help them through that terrible post-quake period. I worked with all sorts of organizations, from government departments to building companies and all sorts of community groups, teaching them the ways of thinking and acting that we know boost resilience.
I thought that was my calling, my moment to put all of that research to good use.
But sadly, I was wrong. For my own true test came in 2014 on Queen’s Birthday weekend. We and two other families had decided to go down to Lake Ohau and bike the outs to ocean. At the last minute, my beautiful twelve-year-old daughter Abi decided to hop in the car with her best friend Ella, also 12, and Ella’s mom Sally, a dear dear friend of mine.
On the way down, as they traveled through [requia] on Thompson’s Track, a car sped through a stop sign, crashing into them and killing all three of them instantly.
In the blink of an eye, I find myself flung to the other side of the equation, waking up with a whole new identity. Instead of being the resilience expert, suddenly I’m the grieving mother. Waking up not knowing who I am, trying to wrap my head around unsinkable news, my world smashed to smithereens.
Suddenly I’m the one on the end of all this expert advice and I can tell you I didn’t like what I heard one little bit.
In the days after Abi died, we were told we were now prime candidates for family estrangement, that we were likely to get divorced and we were at high risk of mental illness. Wow! I remember thinking thanks for that, I thought my life was already pretty shit.
Leaflets described the five stages of grief: anger, bargaining, denial, depression, acceptance. Victim support arrived at our door and told us that we could expect to write off the next five years to grief. I know the leaflets and the resources meant well. But in all of that advice, they left us feeling like victims, totally overwhelmed by the journey ahead and powerless to exert any influence over our grieving whatsoever.
I didn’t need to be told how bad things were. Believe me I already knew things were truly terrible. What I needed most was hope. I needed a journey through all that anguish, pain and longing. Most of all, I wanted to be an active participant in my grief process.
So I decided to turn my back on their advice and decided instead to conduct something of a self-experiment. I’d done the research. I had the tools. I wanted to know how useful they were beating me now in the face of such an enormous mountain to climb.
Now I have to confess at this point: I didn’t really know that any of this was going to work. Parental bereavement is widely acknowledged as the hardest of losses to bear.
But I can tell you now five years on what I already knew from the research that you can rise up from adversity, that there are strategies that work, that it is utterly possible to make yourself think and act in certain ways that help you navigate tough times.
There is a monumental body of research on how to do this stuff. Today I’m just going to share with you three strategies. These are my go-to strategies that I relied upon and saved me in my darkest days.
There are three strategies that underpin all of my work and they’re pretty readily available to us all. Anyone can learn them. You can learn them right here today.