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2020: Building Resilience in a Decade of Uncertainty

26th February, 2020

Rowan Gray



It’s the start of a new year. And a new decade.

If there’s one thing striking me more than anything as we enter the 2020s, it’s the state of our planet.

We finished the last decade with multiple warnings from the scientific community that climate change is happening quicker than anyone anticipated. And then, as if someone wanted to make the point crystal clear, we entered the year with record high temperatures and outof-control bushfires in Australia.

In response to these events I have seen many people in the media (most recently Greta Thunberg speaking at Davos) say we have eight to ten years to take decisive action to improve our probability of averting our climate emergency.

I can’t predict the next ten years any more than the next person but it seems obvious to say that we’ll need to make some bold moves in response. This applies to our government, our businesses, our leaders and many other key stakeholders. But I think it applies to us as individuals as well.

It scares me to write this - and I know it’s not a popular thing to say - but it’s very likely we will all need to adapt and change at a personal level, in a significant way, to shift to a low carbon economy.

Building resilience in a decade of uncertainty

In this context, our resilience (both as individuals and organisations) is only going to become more important because building resilience increases our capacity for change.

Based on my experience of working with clients, some people will thrive in response to all of this. It will be an opportunity to align their actions with their values and fight for something that gives them meaning and purpose. I think it will be the making of them.

Anecdotal evidence from my use of heartbeat analytics tells me that doing something meaningful is a source of recovery (e.g. the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to increased levels), even if what they’re doing feels like hard work.

However, for some people, our changing climate is going to be a source of anxiety, depression, anger, loss and burn out. The anticipation alone is already impacting on people’s mental health. Eco-anxiety is a known phenomenon that is affecting an increasing number of people, according to the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

For these people, the ability to look after yourself, know how to bounce back and the ability to use difficulty as a source of learning and growth is going to be particularly crucial.

Five pillars of resilience

So how do we build personal resilience to support us during these uncertain times?

In my experience, the answer is unique to each of us. We have to find what works for our specific needs and circumstances. This is because one person’s stress is another person’s recovery.

However, if you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend beginning with these five themes:

1. Sleep: take your sleep seriously by preparing for a good night’s sleep. I am yet to meet anyone who doesn’t feel better after 8 hours of high-quality sleep.

2. Food: eating the food that makes you feel at your best. This includes eating seasonal and locally sourced food as much as possible.

3. Exercise: because being fit improves our mental health, helps us to minimise stress and enhances recovery.

4. Doing what you love: as mentioned further above, doing what you love is source of recovery.

5. Successful rest: knowing how to recover in your evenings, weekends and holidays. See a blog I wrote on this topic few years ago.

These themes can significantly improve our resilience. And yet, they may also be insufficient in response to our climate emergency. This is a topic I will write about in more detail in the months ahead.

Health precedes activism

Finally, building resilience isn’t just about preparing for some apocalyptic future! It seems almost too obvious to say this, but it benefits us in many other ways. If anything we just feel better.

And I believe that prioritising our health supports us to improve the world around too, as Khurshed Dehnugara and Claire Breeze so eloquently describe in 100 Mindsets of Challenger Leaders:

“Health calls you to activism. Once you have attended to yourself then you can’t but turn to the environment you are operating in. It pushes you to wake up to the whole system you are living in and how it can improve”.


Rowan Gray

Rowan Gray is the founder of Made to Move. He works with senior leaders, teams and organisations to build resilience using a combination of coaching techniques and heartbeat analytics. His work is focused on supporting people’s capacity to thrive during challenging times by bouncing back and using their difficulties as a source of learning. Rowan is an executive coach and training as a psychotherapist. He's also an endurance athlete, fascinated in exploring his ability to perform optimally during long distance running and cycling events. He used to work at Deloitte as a sustainability consultant where he supported leaders to develop better ways of doing business.

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