Resilience Building: One Song at a Time

We throw the term "resilience" around a lot these days. Whether that's a symptom of the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and the subsequent challenges that have faced the entire globe, or a result of the 2020 election and the sudden and abrupt light that has made racism and bigotry more glaringly obvious than ever... we ask ourselves if we truly do have the ability to adapt, recover, pivot or simply survive.

Can resilience be learned?

Is it possible to bounce back from trauma?

What even is this elusive term of "resilience"?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, resilience is "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness", and - according to psychology, "resilience can be learned. It involves developing thoughts, behaviors, and actions that allow you to recover from traumatic or stressful events in life".

But in order for us to learn or develop resilience, we need to first be exposed to adversity. Just like working out at the gym - if resilience was a muscle - we would need to put that muscle under stress in order to help it to grow and develop. The difference here being, however: resilience can't be seen - it's something we have to develop internally. It's an emotional response: often tied to our feelings of self worth, our abilities to develop and maintain strong relationships [with others, and with self], and whatever coping strategies we tend to gravitate toward.

Today, I want to discuss one of the key tools that I have personally used over the years to both develop, build and maintain my own resilience, and that is - of course - the act of writing music.

First: let me give you the backstory.

My childhood wasn't normal. I was born with a relatively rare neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which means that I had my first brain surgery at the age of four months [you can learn more about that by clicking here to watch my recent TEDx Talk]

As such, when I was a child, I had to not only build my own sense of purpose and resilience, as a result of the social isolation and bullying, but I also had to contend with challenges such as:

  • the trauma of brain damage

  • setbacks such as falling behind in school

  • mental health complications [hello, depression]

  • and - of course - the "normal" challenges of simply being a young woman in the 21st century.

I would joke that adversity was almost my middle name.

But if resilience is the ability to adapt, and resilience is something that can be learned, then I guess both Eckhart Tolle and Ralph Waldo Emerson were right: "Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness", and "We acquire the strength we have overcome".

But - again - just like any muscle: sure, we can build and develop muscle, but in order to maintain that evolution and strength, we need to keep exercising that resilience and sense of self worth. How? I did it through the art of writing music.

Music and Building Resilience

  • According to Cornell University, there are four broad steps one must take in order to build resilience:
  • Social engagement - specifically "Cultivating social connections – and avoiding social isolation"
  • Self awareness and self care - referring to "behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that support your emotional well-being and physical health"
  • Attention and focus - "focusing your energy on the information that is important"
  • Finding meaning - "the act of making sense of – and exploring the significance of – an experience or situation"

Well, as I alluded to before: I've been using the power of music and songwriting to help me manifest and build resilience since I was a child - age four, to be exact. And - just like every good workout routine - each song not only served me in the moment, but has continued to do so over the years.

Let me break it down:

Song One: SOON

I was never really the "cool kid" in school. Not only was I the weirdo who some people referred to as "Frankenstein", but I was also often the ugly duckling in my social circles... and even more often, I was the "token brown kid".

I wasn't until I came 9th in the inaugural Play it Strange Secondary Schools Songwriting Competition in New Zealand that I really started to find and make space for myself. Suddenly, I was on TV, and in newspapers, and my peers went from referring to me as a "freak" to suddenly being "popular". In other words: my sense of social engagement was beginning to come into alignment.

Further, because "Soon" was a song I'd written about my own thoughts and feelings, focusing on a positive response to a seemingly negative situation: I was starting to focus on both my self awareness and self care.

The mere act of writing a song will always encompass the ability to focus and pay attention [a methodology I refer to as the KISS method - Keep It Simple, Superstar - when I'm coaching teenagers].

And, of course, Soon was filled with meaning for me. When I wrote the song, I was contending with feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and forbidden love [I did mention that I was 14, right?].

Now - even as a 30-something year old adult, every time I hear or sing the song "Soon", I'm reminded of my ability to channel struggle into song.

But that was when I was 14... what about my 20s?

Introducing Song Two: Addicted to a Dream

Coping With and Bouncing Back from Toxic Relationships

Every adult's development and mental health resources stem from what we experienced and learned as children. Whether that's watching our own parents, or the effects that their own unhealed trauma had on them, or whether that's what we learn from watching television or engaging in other media - and social media - platforms. It might even stem from our own unhealed trauma as a result of physical or sexual abuse.

For me, it was [predominantly] the latter, and - as such - I found myself in a rather drawn out toxic relationship at the age of 23. Funnily enough, it was after reading the autobiographies from Nikki Sixx and Slash that I realized this relationship was only unhealthy, but it was almost like an addiction. Addiction to drama, addiction to the emotional rollercoaster, addiction to making up after the fights, the negative stress and every other traumatic event that came as a result of this one relationship.

Again: I turned to songwriting as a way to not just take the time to analyze my situation [aka self awareness], and focus on ways to deal with the adversity [aka attention and focus on how to cope with the matter at hand, whilst also rebuilding my sense of purpose and self worth], and also focusing on the "growth mindset" [where to from here? Waking up from the nightmare, perhaps?].

As a result of writing Addicted to a Dream, not only was I able to develop the mental and emotional resources to break free from the toxicity, but each and every time I listened to the song moving forward: I was able to find the sense of purpose and resilience to - again - recognize my self worth. Step into my sense of power. Avoid the toxicity.

Addicted to a Dream became my anthemic reminder of how powerful I am, and how important it is for me to remember that - whilst I may have experienced copious amounts of trauma as a child - that's not a state I need to continue to live in.

I can change area codes. Rewrite the reality.

What's even better? To add in that "social engagement" aspect of building resilience: every other young woman or man that has also experienced traumatic relationships who hears this song is often also filled with a sense of purpose and strength to leave their negative circumstance.

We don't need to stay in the muck - we can rewrite the song.

Song Three: Be Brave

Now, I've written over five hundred songs over my lifetime - each one: another step in the ladder towards self discovery, building resilience, developing strong relationships.

It was through writing Be Brave, however, that really helped me to start believing that for myself, and has been key to developing my own sense of purpose, state of positive mental health, and resilience.

Not only because the process of writing Be Brave really forced me to focus and pay attention to my soul health [as well as my mental health], but the mere act of writing Be Brave meant that I had to really foster the act of self care [in fact, if we look at meditation as a key part of self care, there's no other way to describe how I wrote Be Brave. That song literally poured out of me in an emotional purge of alignment]. Be Brave also allowed me the opportunity to really dig deep when it came to finding and focusing on the message behind the perceived mess that I was feeling.

I wrote Be Brave in 2015: but to this day, whenever I hear or sing the song, I'm automatically reminded of my strength, bravery, resilience, and ability to not just adapt, but move in a positive direction with every adaptation.

Be Brave became the anthem for my healing, my growth and my sense of purpose.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to developing and building resilience, but I will say this: every monumental moment that happens in film comes with a theme song, right? It's similar with how we choose to show up and live our lives - every decision we make, lesson we learn and opportunity we have for growth is often associated with creative expression or one of our senses being activated.

Songwriting and music not only activates our sense of sound, but also our ability to feel - really feel - our feelings: to move, and dance, and sing. Songwriting also appeals to our need for control when it comes to literally rewriting the narrative of our lives.

That's why I'm constantly talking about not letting the world write our song for us. Because you truly do have the pen. You truly do have the ability to rewrite each song and each chapter of your life in a way that helps you to building resilience, step into that sense of self worth, and develop effective coping strategies that your current and future self will undoubtedly thank you for.

And I'd love to help. Whether that's working with you one on one, facilitating a group workshop [hello, team building and even further social engagement], working with your teenager to help them rewrite their mental health narrative, or simply reminding you and your organization of your collective power and ability to overcome challenges and adversity together... there are so many positive aspects to the art of songwriting, music and self development.

Click here to get on a call with me to learn about how your newfound or rediscovered resilience is just one song away.

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