13 Skills to Build Resilience
Our threat systems have been activated for such a long time that feelings of tiredness are becoming the norm. These warnings are coming from the pace of change and a place of uncertainty that it’s taking its toll on our physiological, emotional, and physical wellbeing. And it affects our resilience.
At such times we have a choice: we can resign ourselves to the feeling that life is a slog and isn’t fair; that sense of being defeated. Or we face the challenges square on.
My guest on my podcast, Beyond the Water Cooler, is someone who continues to find the energy and optimism not just to survive, but to find the positives so that he is truly thriving. Dave Greenaway is not only self-aware but he has his eyes open to the bigger picture of the challenges that affect vast numbers of people, and that helps him keep a real sense of perspective.
Despite everything, he continues to show compassion and kindness, to both himself and others. That combination is essential for leadership to ensure the ability to keep bouncing, whether that’s back onto the same path, on the same track in a different guise, or in a new direction. And Dave does that feeling stronger each time.
For all the challenges we conquer, we can simply breathe a sigh of relief that we got through. However, those who go from strength to strength consciously explore what it is they did that made a positive difference, and what they did that was unhelpful. Meta-learning keeps us developing and reduces the risk of us repeating behaviours that inhibit our wellness and ability to move forward.
We know about the need for boundaries but the practice of distinguishing between what we are going to engage with and what we need to shut off (even if only for a short period) is essential. When we are required to tune into our own challenges, we may need to shift the focus away from the needs of others, protecting our capacity. Ultimately self-preservation has a positive impact on those around you; you will be able to support others again quicker.
It might sound paradoxical, but when times get tough, we need to find a balance that allows us to face outwards through our social and emotional connections. That helps reduce the volume on our own internal dialogue that can easily spiral out of control without a necessary sense of perspective. And helping others has shown to have a positive impact on our own wellbeing. So find the time to maintain your important relationships.
The key here is self-checking before helping those around you. Communicating your empathy with others is good practice but before stepping in to actively help, check that you have capacity. Signposting to different people or letting them know when you’ll have more capacity is being helpful to both of you. Be assertive.These connections you have maintained and role-modelled with your family, friends and colleagues means they are there for you too, so accept help. It should be a two-way process, even with your employees!
Self-awareness extends to becoming more attuned how you are feeling and showing up, and whether that is aligned to what you want (and what others need from you). Put simply, it reduces stress. Getting to know your early warning signs with increasing emotional arousal means that you can take action, reducing a decline into the unhelpful space that can fuel anxiety and depression. To maintain access to our cognitive resources that allows us to problem solve, we need the right head space. Identify your signs at increasing levels of intensity and plan your response for each. Whether you engage with mindfulness, self-talk or social support, find what works to regulate your emotions and keep your sophisticated cognitive brain in control. And remember the power of physical activity on reducing stress.
Having made the last two points, it is ok to sit with the feelings of unhappiness, for a period. Self-compassion is a key skill; giving yourself permission to feel the normal emotional response to life events without the immediate need to ‘fix’ it. But keeping in mind that the feelings will pass is a helpful message to remind yourself. Avoid putting pressure on yourself to fast-forward without reflecting, expressing and learning and having time to plan.
Mindset has a huge part to play in resilience and knowing where you have control, what you can influence, and the factors you should let go of means that you can reduce mental noise. Accepting that much of what happens cannot change, other than how you respond to it, reduces the huge expenditure of resources on things that make no difference (including complaining!).When you recognise you’re worrying, take back some control and choose whether to ditch, delay, delegate or do something. The way you think about situations and react is within your control. The power of positive emotions should not be underestimated.
So once you have decided that you can do something positive to influence your situation, finding your path on which to take your first steps is critical. It might look familiar or the route may be different. Either way, clarity about your direction is necessary for momentum, even if a specific goal is not clear. And then acceptance that you will encounter challenges and changes of course enroute reduces the element of surprise and helps build resilience.The best formed plans have a tendency to change (as they should, to adapt to a constantly changing reality). When we can anticipate uncertainty, barriers or ‘failings’ along the way, we can resume our course more quickly, so identify the potential for these at the outset. Narrowing expectations about what you will experience on that path sets you up to fail.
The word ‘failing’ is such a loaded term. Our mindset determines how we frame that. Are you defeated? Or do you learn from the experience to reduce the risk of that happening again? Expectations to succeed without hiccups is naïve and that can really erode our self-confidence. When ever you ‘fail’, reframe that as a learning opportunity. What specifically can you take from that experience to reduce the likelihood of it happening again?
Reframing is difficult when our emotional arousal is high so if you struggle to see a different perspective, to find an explanation that feels more acceptable, ask others how they see things. You’ll know the people who are good at this; avoid those who have a tendency to join wallowing in the depths of despair. That doesn’t help either of you.
Now something that I’m quite vocal about is the fact we do not need to set ourselves goals in order to shape a successful plan. Goals can add yet more pressure and expectation, setting up the possibility of further stress and failure. Instead, a kinder approach is to create an outline of your vision and share it with others to gain their support and give them permission to gently hold you accountable.
When your vision is shaped around your values and what gives you meaning and purpose in life, it is so much easier to feel motivated and to achieve success. The journey feels fulfilling and you can enjoy the journey rather than solely focusing on getting to the end. Start by listing what is important and motivates you – what are they key foundations for your vision? Checking out a list of core values or asking a Strengths Coach (examples in the references) might be a good place to start.
Finding opportunities to use your strengths and to apply your learning from past successes provides you with self-confidence and strengthen resilience. It is too easy to focus on the negatives when we’re feeling challenged, but that achieves little. You could engage with a strengths assessment or simply ask yourself this question: ‘What 3 positive things would person X say about me?’ Repeat the question for a range of people and build up your profile. And ask what you, or people you respect, have done in the past to increase success. Doing more of what we’re good at, what you enjoy and what you know makes a positive difference, puts us back in the driving seat.
It’s worth taking note of activities, places or people that cause your negative narrative to start rolling again. Our brain is a pattern-matching organ and so without realising it, we have a tendency to self-sabotage just by doing the same things as usual. Knowledge gives us power to change the pattern. Disrupt negative cycles by changing some of the unhelpful factors, whether that’s drinking before bed and sleeping badly, or starting the day with energy-sapping email. That requires a degree of problem solving and not everyone finds that easy. If you struggle, reach out and ask for help.
Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they can shape reality (whether that is about actual events or how we perceive and respond to them), in contrast to those who attribute all that happens to external factors. No surprise that people whose mindset accepts responsibility have greater resilience. And so being decisive, actively problem solving and taking action not only makes you feel better, but shapes your locus of control in the future.
We can grow, learn and change the way we see ourselves and how we respond to events around us. Our abilities and skills, despite being shaped by our experience, are not fixed. And that opens up new opportunities to consciously shape your practice to develop greater resilience.
Do it for yourself, your friends, family and colleagues.
Enjoy the sense of positivity, engagement with life and ability to flourish that resilience brings.
Also see this recording of me talking about Resilience in a new world.
Want some help? That’s what I’m here for.
Amantha King, Strengths Performance Coach
Carla Maroussas, Values and Purpose Life Coach