I love to bike in the rain.

That may sound like an odd thing to say – and its definitely something my family are less keen on. I always find it oddly satisfying – but recently, in particular, I had the best ride in ages – in the pouring, torrential rain!

So why was it so good? The truth is I was excited about getting to ride through the storm because I had some new, very flashy (and waterproof!) cycling trousers which I wanted to properly try out.

You see, that old Norwegian saying really is true – ‘there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes’. And whilst life may not be totally like that (there definitely can be bad times in life – truly difficult and testing things that no one should have to go through), there’s an important thing to be pondered here about how we manage life’s stormy seasons.

It’s all about resilience – a word definitely at risk of being overused at the moment but well worth talking about. Resilience is about how we manage when the storms of life are battering us – what we do to get through rough weather? It is NOT about somehow being smart enough or lucky enough to never hit storms – it is about how you bounce back from them. It is not about never falling down, it is about how you get back up. 

It is easy to think about resilience as being something that you learn about when right in the middle of a storm – but the truth is that resilience is a lot more about preparation than we think – and that preparation may well take place in calm spells – a bit like buying waterproof trousers way before you are likely to need them.

It is what you do in life’s good seasons that often determines how well you cope when the clouds roll in.

Here are 5 things to think about in quieter times that might help you withstand your next storm:

1. Good foundations

If there’s one thing the parable of the man who builds his house on the sand – and the one who builds on the rock – tells us it is that foundations matter. What you build on matters. It doesn’t matter how impressive your house is – if you build it on something flimsy and vulnerable and it collapses, that house will come crashing down. Our culture encourages us to build our identity and self-esteem on so many things that are so risky. Perfection, image, popularity, jobs or success – all these things can come and go through no fault of our own. Be intentional about what is significant to you and think about what it means to prioritise the things that really matter – because it isn’t always the things that shout the loudest.

Think about the foundations of why you are valuable, why you are loved and why you mare significant – and remember it isn’t just negative things that are risky to build your life on. So, if you are the sort of person lucky enough to enjoy a lot of success, enjoy it and be proud of it – but be aware of the risk that you start to think that is why you are valuable or worth something. 

Remember too that it is when we are under pressure that we can start to rely on things which feel secure but are not. Perfectionism, for example, may feel comforting in times of stress, but the more you aim at perfection in order to try to control anxiety (feeling that things must be ok if they are perfect) the more that anxiety will grow (because in fact very few things reliably meet or sustain true perfection).

2. Network

A fairly recent discovery in neuroscience surrounds the role of what are called ‘mirror neurons’ – cells in your brain which fire when you watch someone else do or experience something with almost the same pattern as if you were experiencing it yourself. They operate when we watch something – a tennis match for example – but also when we see people experiencing strong emotions.

Of the many things that fascinate me about mirror neurons, therefore, the most exciting is the way that built into our DNA and design at the most basic level is the way humans were designed to exist and live with other humans – in community. Even your brain is set up so that it responds to the experiences of others almost as though you were having them yourself. In fact, in Genesis the first time God says something is ‘not good’ (after saying so many things are good) it is when he says it is not good for the human to be alone. Literally this means it is not good for us to be disconnected from other people – we are designed to have healthy networks. And indeed we are only just starting to understand how desperately damaging isolation and loneliness are for us, not just emotionally but to our whole wellbeing and health.

And yet, what suffers in the retrace of life? So often it is our friendships, our relationships which get squeezed out – particularly in mid-life when we can find ourselves pressed to the limit under so many responsibilities of work and home life. Do not neglect your network. Prioritise it. Identify friendships and relationships that matter and agree regular catch up times with them that actually work within the other demands of your schedule. Particularly if you are someone who might be more prone to isolating and find connecting with people harder in tough time – set up some intentional, regular connect points in your good seasons that will sustain you and force you out in tough times. 

3. Rhythms of rest

Yeah, I know – you’re far too busy to waste time doing nothing. So don’t waste time! Do rest really well! Another basic thing we see built into humans from the moment of creation is their need for rhythms of work and rest. And yet in our 24/7 culture, we are so prone to forget the latter. How do you rest? How do you do it well? Do you have clear points in your week that are entirely about rest and relaxation? Do you protect them from interruption, or risk polluting them by (for example) reading work emails out of hours, or taking calls or texts that could really wait until the next day?

Remember rest is about two things: resting your BRAIN and resting your BODY. So different activities may achieve different things. A long run may be great rest for your mind if you can zone out with some good tracks – but it can be physically tiring. Or stretching out with a great book might be physically relaxing – but if the book is all about your work then it probably doesn’t rest your brain so well.

Watch out too for things which feel like they are all about rest – but are actually about distraction. WE love to forget our worries and stresses – but often those distractions actually sap our energy even more – emotionally or physically. So killing zombies on your PlayStation may feel great after a frustrating day – but it isn’t relaxing for your nervous system!!

Once again the key with rest is to get into good patterns and practices in good times which will hold in the rough ones. Because you might not feel so like getting up and going for a good walk when you are feeling low – but if it is your practice you are much more likely to do it.

4. Know your enemy

In this case, and perhaps slightly controversially, I mean… you! Or specifically, what, for you, is likely to be your weak point or the part of yourself that is most likely to cause you problems when you’re under pressure?

One of the many things I love about the enneagram model of personality (amongst so many other models you could choose from!) is that it expresses each in terms of two things: what you are likely to bring as your best self, but also how you tend to react when under pressure. Because every personality factor has its dark side: the aspects of you which bring out your gifting are also likely to have an achilles heel. So, the extravert is fantastic at building many connections and contacts – but not so good at building depth into them – meaning they may be at risk of not having any close enough friends they can reach out to when in need, or who know them well enough to call them out when they need a push. The introvert meanwhile forms few, but precious friendships – building into them and sharing things at a much deeper level – but may devalue or even discard what could be valuable friendships on the basis that they do not have that depth. And of course, when under pressure whilst the extravert may instinctively connect with others the introvert is more likely to isolate and withdraw.

How well do you know yourself? Do you know your weak points? What about the early warning signs that all is not well or that you need a break or a rest? Building self-awareness is about more than just releasing potential – it is about being in a good position to care for yourself well when you most need it.

5. Listen

Did you know you have an inner dialogue? A bit like a radio playing in your mind, your brain talks to you, as it processes, ponders and analyses what is going on around you. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, there are systems of goals, needs and values which influence the reactions you make and the actions you take.

Do you know what your mind is saying to you? How aware of you why you react the way you do – particularly in moments when that reaction may be more powerful, extreme or even negative? Sometimes our reactions to things in the present moment are about echo emotions: emotions relating to something from the past that the present reminds us of, or they are shadows of something else – so anxiety and fear come out as anger and frustration or frustration that is not able to be expressed triggers despair and sadness.

Have you learned to listen to your own mind? Hearing our internal dialogue better offers us the option of changing it – like retuning a radio we can be transformed by – as Romans 12:2 puts it, the renewing of our mind. IN fact, the Greek word used in this passage literally refers to the capacity our mind has to reflect on things that have happened.

One of the many benefits of mindfulness is how it teaches us to pause, and learn to listen to our own thoughts. Why not put some time into learning a practice like this that can improve your awareness of your own headspace?

Preparation is everything – or so they say. So often when times are good we forget to think about the storms. What could you do today to prepare for challenges that might be in your future?