Financial worries, more projects, remote working, health concerns, travel restrictions, information overload, longer working hours.
The global pandemic has exacerbated familiar stressors, whilst also reducing our coping strategies like meeting up with friends or working out.
As we become more stressed, our health, personal relationships, and work suffer, creating further stress.
Resilience is a way to offset this strong emotion. Resilience is a learned skill, which helps us to manage uncertainty and challenges.
In this article, you’ll learn more about resilience and how to strengthen this emotional muscle.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is defined as “the psychological capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances and to bounce back from adverse events’’.
We all experience some adversity and setbacks in our personal and professional lives; how we respond to such events can inhibit our growth or propel us forward.
Resilient individuals demonstrate the ability to recover and learn from challenging situations and changing circumstances.
Resilience is associated with optimism, managing strong emotions, responding to opportunities, and forward-thinking.
Learning from our experiences is crucial to resilience.
Needless to say, resilience is increasingly important to individuals and organizations as we deal with increased stress and uncertainty.
There are three types of stress:
- Good stress, for example, feeling nervous before an interview. This stress can lead to personal growth.
- Tolerable stress, such as an illness. With the right supports, this stress is manageable.
- Toxic stress or overload is often caused by unpredictable or uncontrollable events. This type of stress is overwhelming.
Some stress is helpful as it nudges us to perform at our peak.
However, we often forget to turn off the ‘stress tap’, for example, especially during periods of heightened uncertainty, and become distressed.
Now that you’ve read about the traits and benefits of resilience, let’s look at the characteristics in a little more detail.
3 Characteristics of Resilience
There are three main qualities of resilience.
Resilient individuals view adversity as a challenge and opportunity to learn, not a permanent situation or reflection of their self-worth.
Those of a resilient mindset have personal and professional goals and stick with them. They maintain contact with people and participate in events during difficult times.
3. Personal Control
People who are resilient focus on events and situations they can control. They feel empowered and confident and take action accordingly.
Resilience is also linked to how we explain setbacks to ourselves.
A resilient person typically views a setback as:
- Temporary (permanence)
- Related to one particular area of their lives (pervasiveness)
- Linked to external events (personalization).
Here is a breakdown of how this looks:
- Permanence: I didn’t do well on this task.
- Pervasiveness: I’m not good at this particular task.
- Personalization: I didn’t know about a change to a process so I couldn’t finish a task.
- Permanence: I’m not very good at my job.
- Pervasiveness: I’m not good at anything I do.
- Personalization: I couldn’t finish the task because I can’t do my job.
As you can see, having a resilient mindset creates a different perspective on our daily reactions and thoughts.
It is also worth considering some negative consequences of resilience.
Like any strength, if resilience is overused, it can become a weakness.
Overly resilient individuals are more likely to:
- Pursue unattainable goals.
- Accept difficult situations, especially in the workplace, for too long.
- Develop aggressive coping mechanisms.
- Become socially distant in times of pressure.
- Possess less self-awareness as they tend to push through all challenges instead of recognizing their limitations.
5 Ways to Develop Your Resilience
“[Resilience] isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.” – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B
Once thought to be something people were just born with, we now know that resilience can be nurtured.
After all, we each possess the same stress-response system.
Resilience is a dynamic trait and changes over time as we experience life.
Instead of waiting for an obstacle or unexpected challenge to gauge your resilience, here are some practical steps to develop this quality.
1. Develop a Growth Mindset
In Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook, author and BrightWork CEO, Éamonn McGuinness introduces the concept of ‘falling upwards’, using our failures as an opportunity to grow.
This mindset – a growth mindset – is the essence of resilience. Treat every problem as a learning tool and grow.
The alternative? Focus on every problem as a permanent threat and develop a fixed, inflexible mindset that leads to more stress.
Falling upwards has a second benefit – increased compassion for the failures and struggles of others.
Compassion for ourselves and those around us can boost our happiness, improve collaboration, and decrease stress.
2. Challenge Your Self-Talk
I recently read you talk to yourself more than anyone else. Going a step further, our actions are linked to our thoughts so if we constantly tell ourselves negative stories, then our actions and interactions with others are likely to be affected.
Use a journal to track your thoughts and reactions for a few days to identify any patterns. Do you frequently think ‘I can’t or ‘it’s too difficult?’ If so, how does this determine your reactions? Is there evidence to support or contradict your thought? How do your thoughts impact your energy and interactions with others?
It’s also worth looking at your wider network of family, friends, and colleagues; do they use positive or negative language when discussing a situation? It’s easy to adopt the thoughts of our peers.
By recognizing these patterns, you can now pivot to positive language and reactions. The next time you think ‘I can’t, ask yourself ‘Why can’t I?’
Phrases such as ‘always’ or ‘never’ may indicate you tend to think in permanent terms; replace these with ‘sometimes’ or ‘lately’.
3. Find Time to Recharge
Recovery from work and daily stressors is critical to resilience. Recovery is not the same as rest; we may take a ‘rest’ or break from emails for a few hours but this is not enough time to recover and recharge completely.
As noted above, work is a huge source of stress for many individuals, which can affect other areas of our lives, including health.
Often, exhausted employees try to compensate for reduced productivity by working even longer, which leads to more exhaustion and a reduced ability to deal with challenges.
The trick is to work hard, stop, recover, and try again.
Recovery can take many forms such as investing in your physical and emotional energy and building internal and external recovery points into your working life.
Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook outlines numerous ways to manage your physical and emotional energy, which improves time management!
- Starting your day with an activity that boosts your mood like exercise or meditation.
- Getting enough sleep and exercise.
- Spending time with supportive people.
- Taking breaks every 90 minutes or so during the working day.
- Focus on what you can control.
- Stay positive. When an issue crops up, pause, and focus on the problem itself rather than reacting emotionally
You’ll also need to stop multitasking to manage your ‘cognitive load’. This refers to how much information we can process during the day.
We can’t stop information flowing into our inboxes or instant messages, but we can choose when to respond to that information.
By doing so, we can increase productivity and make better decisions. Set aside time each day for important tasks like answering emails.
This includes taking annual leave, developing non-work-related hobbies, and disconnecting from work at the weekends – so stop checking your emails!
Research shows that ”practically all of people’s free time goes toward screens of some sort.”
Checking the news or social media for the latest pandemic update has become a bad habit for many people – myself included.
If possible, put away all devices or reduce your time on social media.
I try to keep a book to hand and use the ‘Bedtime’ function on my phone to remind me to put my phone down in the evening.
There are numerous apps to restrict access to apps and websites for mobile devices and desktop.
4. Work on a Positive Attitude
Returning to Collaborative Project Management, developing a positive attitude is key to navigating life’s challenges. A simple way to start is to practice gratitude and reflection every day.
Several studies have demonstrated gratitude practices improve physical and mental health and our relationships.
During a crisis, we can be consumed by negative thinking, becoming fixated on negative events and emotions.
This pattern eclipses everything that is going well (however small) and makes it harder to find ways to cope.
Gratitude helps us to focus on the present moment and increases our sense of self-worth, which improves our ability to resist stress and negativity.
In your journal, jot down three things you are grateful for today – this could be music, a work colleague helping you out, a great cup of coffee. Big or small; it doesn’t matter.
Over time, this daily practice will shift your thinking towards positivity and also acts as a handy reference tool if you feel overwhelmed by an unexpected challenge.
5. Cultivate Organizational Resilience
Left unchecked, stress reduces individual productivity, increases turnover, and impacts on company finances.
Organizations, like individuals, can develop collective resilience, which leads to faster recovery after a crisis.
Building organizational resilience starts before a crisis and continues after the crisis is over.
According to Deloitte, there are three phases to work through.
Organizations can prepare for uncertainty and crisis in numerous ways, including:
- Creating a positive workplace experience.
- Implement well-being programs.
- Help people to understand the importance of their work.
- Give people autonomy and flexibility to manage their work.
- Focus on regular, transparent communication.
These activities encourage individuals to become resilient, motivated, and persistent when dealing with change.
In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg discusses organizational resilience, highlighting the importance of acknowledging failure, and providing honest feedback at all levels.
Using post-mortems or debriefs at regular intervals can lead to fewer mistakes and increased innovation as teams feel more comfortable when trying something new.
She also suggests managers and team members not only seek feedback from their peers but reflect on how they reacted to this feedback.
During a crisis, leaders need to balance emotion with realistic decisions.
Communicate regularly to reduce assumptions and misinformation. Use video where possible to retain face-to-face connections.
Action and responses should be tailored to the situation, for example, ensuring remote workers have the right equipment or increasing on-site safety procedures.
Organizations can expand well-being programs with online resources whilst managers can use meetings to check-in with their teams.
Whenever possible, share the purpose of your organization, along with business continuity plans, and let people know how their efforts are contributing to the future of the company.
In this phase, people have largely adapted to ‘the new normal’. Continue to offer existing supports and resources to employees as they deal with the consequences of stress.
“From this new start line, they can forge ahead with their workforce as a community: resilient, adaptable, and ready to take on the future of work as it awaits on the other side of the bridge across uncertainty.”
Next Steps – REP
Resilience can be nurtured over time. There are lots of tips in this article so I suggest using the REP principle to get started.
REP is a personal change management approach we have developed at BrightWork and stands for Research, Execute, and Post-Mortem.
The idea is to tackle any changes in smaller, manageable chunks with time allocated to reflection and learning.
Let’s take the example of self-talk to start with.
R: Use a journal to track your thoughts and reactions for a few days. You can also carry out some online research into the benefits and practices of positive self-talk.
After a week, review your journal and pick one or two habits you want to change. Perhaps you say ‘ I can’t frequently’ – can you improve this and how?
E: During the execute phase, start implementing your positive self-talk for a week or so. Keep recording your experiences in a journal.
P: After a few days, review your latest journal entries and take note of key learnings and improvements you need to make. You may also like to select another area to work on and start the REP cycle again.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.