I was talking to a friend very recently. She had started a business during the Great Recession of 2008. What a time to have started one! She described the difficulties and challenges associated with shepherding a startup during economic uncertainty. She now says that’s nothing compared to what she is navigating today. She decided she would press on, doubling down on both her physical and psychic investment in the business.
Her coping with the setbacks for her business during the pandemic demonstrated what we know is resilience. Resilience involves both mental and behavioral attributes:
- The psychological ability to rebound from adversity and setbacks.
- The capacity to cope with and adjust to stress.
- The ability to adapt to life’s challenges and rise above them.
- The maintenance of both stable psychological and physical functioning in the face of stressful and disruptive situations.
Interestingly resilience is pretty common and humans show remarkable amounts of it. Where does that resilience come from? There are three factors that affect how resilient we are:
This is your human nature, the amount of resilience that you were born with. We all have certain amounts of resilience that are innate in us, and likely those amounts differ among us. Just watch young children. Some bounce back (sometimes literally) quickly from setbacks whilst others take a little longer.
This is how adeptly you learn from experience with setbacks. It is how you change and adapt so that resilience is a little easier the next time. My friend approached crises during the pandemic armed with the knowledge, skills and fortitude developed from the 2008 crisis. Sports players develop this type of resilience based on analysis of their game performance.
This is the intentional skill building and practice of techniques that build resilience. Certain techniques build your overall capacity for dealing with stress, tension or calamity. Other techniques develop skills that you apply in the moment when a challenge arises. And of course some techniques build both types of resilience. The intentional practice of either type creates habits for maintaining resilience.
Each of these factors has an influence on our ability to cope. How much each influences us is based on our own journey through the challenges of life. So what challenges have caused you to rely on your resilience? What did you learn from the experiences? Did they develop your resilience for future trials?
British researchers Sarah Bond and Gillian Shapiro wanted to know more about the challenges people encounter at the workplace. They surveyed 835 UK employees and discovered that managing difficult relationships/politics in the workplace drained their ability to be resilient the most. Second was the volume or pace of work stretching them to their limits. These data were collected long before our pandemic, which has certainly increased their impact. Clients have told me that once they started working remotely the work increased and the process for getting it done slowed down, while communication with coworkers became less frequent and more strained. This created stress and required them to put into place numerous resilience practices.
Are these two challenges – managing work relationships and your workload – issues for you right now? What else is challenging your resilience?
When you encounter setbacks or stress, knowing how you react to those challenges is useful to help you implement resilience recovery. Paradigm Personality Labs created a self-assessment called the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ (WPB5), based on the Five Factor Model of personality. Deb and I both find using this assessment very helpful with clients, particularly when the individual is facing uncertainty or ambiguity at work. Who isn’t?!
One of the traits measured in the assessment is Need for Stability which measures how one responds to stress. People at one end of the continuum, with low Need for Stability, respond to stressors in a calm logical manner and are referred to as “Resilients.” Others at the opposite end of the continuum, with high Need for Stability and referred to as Reactives, respond to stressors in a more emotional manner– alert, concerned and excitable. In the middle of the continuum are Responsives, possessing mixtures of the characteristics of the other two.
What is fascinating is that this trait is then broken down into 4 sub-traits: Worry, Intensity, Interpretation and Rebound Time. Rebound Time is the amount of time it takes to return to the state of mind you had before the crisis occurred. Were you to complete the assessment you would receive a score showing a rapid, moderate or longer rebound time.
This is worth considering whenever you are responding to stress. Those with a need for a longer rebound time need to allow themselves downtime to recover and also should cut themselves some slack about how long it might take. If you have a longer rebound time, it’s essential that you don’t compare yourself to others’ rebound time.
There is no right or wrong here. Honor the time you need and make mental space for the rebound to occur. As someone with a longer rebound time, I knew that when the pandemic hit and my business changed dramatically, I would need to put in place my learned practices and to forgive myself when I didn’t immediately pivot to new business behaviors.
There are multiple pathways to resilience. Putting aside the Natural Resilience we’re born with, we can classify them as Adaptive Resilience Techniques, Learned Capacity-Building Resilience Techniques, and Learned In-the-Moment Resilience Techniques.
Adaptive Resilience Techniques
- Journaling the experience with 4 columns: what happened, what I did, what I learned, what might I do next time. If you’re not a journaler, set up regular discussions with a trusted friend or a coach to talk through these items.
- Look for models of how to handle such experiences. Read relevant books. Check out TED Talks. Watch movies where the characters face such situations.
- Don’t just think about what you might do next time. Practice it. Put yourself into easy (and then progressively tougher) versions of what it would be like, even if only in your imagination, and run through rehearsals.
- Work with colleagues on case studies or real challenges and have After Action Reviews to analyze what worked and what did not, with a focus on what to do next time.
- Write a book or an article about your experience. It doesn’t have to be published or shared, especially not if that adds more stress to your life. The process of writing about your experience is the important part of learning from it.
Learned Resilience Techniques for Capacity-Building or In-the-Moment (often both)
(For anyone who’s taken a stress management course, the following sample of techniques will look familiar.)
- Work off the energy, e.g. the gym, brisk walks, regular running, bike rides, rock-climbing.
- Chill in nature, either in-person or by conjuring serene scenes up in your mind.
- Use yoga and mindfulness practices to slow your thoughts down and calm them.
- Take up art on a regular basis. Play a musical instrument, paint, draw, sculpt, sing.
- Experience positive vibes from others. Use the 3:1 feedback ratio. Research shows that resilience is built with a ratio of 3 positive pieces of feedback to one negative piece of feedback.
- Allow yourself to laugh. Force yourself to smile, even alone and for no specific reason. (Go ahead. Smile right now. Feels good, doesn’t it?)
- Regularly list gratitude for the things you do have in life.
- Hang out with friends and family – at least the family members that you like!
- Explore using Cognitive Behavioral techniques (CBT) to develop capacity and manage your reactions. Audible/Great Courses has an audio course that leads you through the techniques, and there are many books available.
- Speaking of books, a favorite is The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles, by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté. It provides techniques for both building capacity and managing yourself in tough moments.
- Focus your energy only on issues and tasks that you can control.
The last tool is especially a key one. Many clients that I have coached originally described placing their attention on issues that are out of their control. These concerns brought them much anxiety and distress, with little possible progress. Meanwhile issues within their control received way less attention. And they are the easiest ones to fix!
Deb and I have placed research-based practices into an easily used framework we call The Necessary Nine™. These practices are essential to leading other people in times of uncertainty and threat. They are equally important to manage yourself when resilience is needed. They are:
- Quieting: those first actions to quiet your nerves, your rapidly beating heart, and the voices in your head
- Caring & support: feeling heard, feeling valued, feeling treated with kindness; care for and forgive yourself; accept support and caring from others
- Connecting with others and feeling included
- Purpose and seeing a way to achieve it: this can be personal or organizational that aligns with personal purpose
- Structure & prioritization: action planning and doable steps to achieve the purpose
- Contribution: implementing the plan and feeling like an “origin” who significantly contributes to its progress, rather than being under the control of others
- Communication: seeking and finding timely, understandable, honest, consistent communications where possible
- Acknowledgement: ensuring contributions are visible and valued; experiencing success and making sure others see it
- Flexibility: using one’s own flexibility in the face of changing circumstances, as well as obtaining others’ flexibility to meet differing needs & changing situations
You’ll notice practices 1-3 are internal mindfulness and self-caring actions, practices 4-6 propel you to do something to overcome your setback, and practices 7-9, while often projected outward, require your own action as well. People don’t see that you are changing until you tell them and ask them to pay attention – your “headline on personal change,” as Deb says. I found that pivoting my business during the pandemic required more flexibility than I imagined along with changing my mindset about what clients truly needed. It also required that I repeatedly told people how I was changing my business model and asked for their input and attention to that change.
Start practicing the pathways to resilience as well as the Necessary Nine™ and you will see improvements in your ability to be resilient. Just pick two or three to start. Don’t make this another pressing demand in your life. Just focus on what you need and can reasonably do.
We’ll talk more about how to apply the Necessary Nine™ as a leader in the next blog. Stay tuned!