Leadership and Change efforts are never easy. They require a vision, a change management approach, and they always demand that we become resilient in the face of opposition and resistance. To lead and initiate change is to expose oneself to criticism, rejection, and sometimes condemnation. Resilience can make us bulletproof.
Everything we do as soon as we get off the beaten track generates resistance. The opposition we experience is normal; just like criticism, condemnation and rejection. They test our resolve. Not to expect it, that is what isn’t normal and leads to stress and a feeling of being pushed around every time. Expecting it means you can plan for it and remain a few steps ahead of the game. Our expectations are responsible for our disappointments. We are all born with an aptitude for resilience, or at least with the means to develop it. The people who are not resilient are often also the ones we think of as negative, nervous, distracted, limp, chronically depressed, the very ones who constantly seek solace in strong drinks and pills.
When faced with criticism, rejection, and initial failure understanding the factors that keep us believing, trying, and ultimately prevailing can make all the difference. Resilience is a fundamental quality that enables an individual to survive, thrive and flourish. It is often described as the ability to learn and grow from adversity. The ability to flex and bend, without breaking, and to spring back. Some even simplify it to “falling down five times, getting up six”.
Those we see as resilient tend to exhibit high vitality, an ability for sustained focus, optimism, enthusiasm, and productivity. Resilient people are not passive and don’t wait for someone to come and save them. They are not victims nor slaves of their circumstances. Resilience is not a quality that one possesses or does not possess. Rather, it is something that we do, an action, a skill. A set of actions, behaviors, a way of thinking that can be learned; an ability to make choices that lead to a more fulfilling life. Resilience can therefore be summed up as the ability to face adversity, to bend without breaking, in order to bounce back better and go even further, to become stronger, rather than returning to a state of vulnerability. It requires conditioning, before, during, and after adversity or a traumatic event.
We may be more resilient in some areas of our life than others. The first step to being resilient is to recognize our own resilience.
- When have you been most resilient in your life?
- What factors contributed to your resilience?
- How can we increase our resilience?
It is impossible to cope with difficulties adequately when you lack sleep. Sleep is one of the prerequisites for resilience. The factors that contribute to our resilience can be classified into four areas: the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual. Taking care of yourself physically requires a good diet, frequent exercise, sleep, brain activity … etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? You certainly can complete the list for each area.
Other factors that condition our aptitude for resilience are independence, a sense of autonomy, an awareness of our own strengths; energy (resilience comes down to managing your personal energy well); vitality enables us to better resist vicissitudes; a goal, an overarching purpose in life. When we have conviction and know what we want and who we are, what we believe, our values, and what we’re ready to fight for and die for, it becomes difficult to defeat us, motivated as we are by a cause greater than ourselves.
Pleasure is also essential to our capacity for resilience. It recharges our batteries. A sense of humor too, for the same reasons. Courage, not the absence of fear, but the will and determination to face what frightens us; persistence and optimism both allow us to reveal what’s possible. A high ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions; a support network, loved ones who wish us well, and above all, the feeling of being absolutely responsible for one’s own existence.
Fear is a bully. Don’t let it bully you. Stay in the situation/fire, in spite of your fear. The more you let fear win, the bigger it grows. Face your fear by staying in the situation for at least 5 minutes. Breathe slowly, deeply, in and out. Later, increase this practice time to ten minutes, and feel your fear subside.
The biggest obstacle to resilience is not genetics, but the very way we think. How we give meaning to events is built firmly on the assumptions we make about ourselves and about the world. Our reactions are shaped from deeply held beliefs and are often not part of a conscious decision-making process. We have to make it conscious.
In times of adversity and change, our mental shortcuts can help us manage an overload of information—but they can also lead us astray. Our thinking styles and personal biases influence our viewpoint and we sometimes develop patterns of behavior that are self-defeating. Our beliefs can explain why we overreact to seemingly minor issues and can impact on our ability to make simple decisions.
Learning to identify our deep beliefs and determine when they are working for us and when they are working against us is part of increasing our resilience. A thinking style that sees problems as insurmountable can lead us to give up, even in a situation in which we have control.
Our attention is the absolute master of our brain and rumination, chewing the cud, is the first cause of our stress, the one that undermines our resilience. And yes, our beliefs are responsible for our emotions, our reactions and our behaviors. So, control your attention and you will control your ability to be more resilient.
Steps to building resilience
Rumination is the cause of stress
- Wake up. Connect to your bodily senses and commit to the present. When you allow yourself to notice how your body feels moment to moment you stay in the present. When you’re in the present you cannot be stressed. There is no rumination going on. If you find it hard to stay in the present, without forcing it, count your natural breaths.
- Control your attention. Consciously direct your attention to where it is most needed. Choose what you pay attention to.
- Detach. Observe your thoughts. Let them come and let them go. You are not your thoughts. You have these thoughts; they don’t have you.
- Let go. This takes practice.