“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Resilience is often heralded as an essential skill to have in your toolkit. Being able to develop and expand your resilience has never been more relevant than now – both personally and professionally.
The purpose of this blog is to explain what we mean (and don’t mean) when we talk about resilience, why it’s important and how you can cultivate it.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is your ability to:
- Adapt and recover from stress.
- Maintain a positive state of wellbeing even in difficult times.
- Grow rather than crumble in the face of adversity.
Ultimately, it’s about not letting setbacks, set you back.
What it is not…
Resilience is not:
- Being a superman or superwoman… being invincible whatever comes your way.
- A trait that some lucky people are born with.
Endurance vs Resilience
“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven
A common mistake is to confuse endurance with resilience. Whereas endurance means you ‘get your head down’, plough on, get stuff done and never give up. Resilience is about looking up! Learning and adapting to help you find an alternative way to keep moving forward.
A useful way to visualise the difference is surfing! Yes, stay with me…
Just like in the ocean where the waves keep coming; in life, challenges will continue to appear.
An endurance approach when surfing would be to keep on attacking the waves the same way, every time. When you fall off, you jump straight back on, determined to beat the next one. The cycle continues and although you may manage to hang on to your board for the last few waves, when you do finally walk back onto the beach you’re battered and bruised and have not made a huge amount of progress.
A resilient approach to surfing would be to first take stock. Reflect on what you can learn from your last attempts and potentially what others are doing around you. Observe and learn as much as you can about the waves. This insight will help you to adapt your approach, for example by changing your timing or altering your stance on the board. It is also essential to take a break between the waves to recharge your energy – an important resource (we’ll come back to the importance of personal resources shortly). When you’re back on the beach you’ll be tired but also energised as you’ve been learning to ride the waves.
Why is resilience so important?
Building resilience is an important part of growth and change. When you increase your capacity to cope with the demands of life, you will increase your happiness and performance. It will also help you maintain balance during difficult or stressful periods whilst playing an important role in protecting your mental wellbeing.
Resilience in the workplace has never been so critical for helping individuals, teams and organisations to thrive. Cultivating a flexible and positive approach within the work environment enables:
- Better problem-solving
- Maintains motivation
- Increases sense of fulfilment
- Boots productivity and performance
How do you build a resilient mindset?
Know Your Resources: Resilience is a dynamic state, it is constantly in a state of flux depending on two factors:
- The challenges that you face
- The resources that you have to meet the challenges
Think of it as a seesaw. The more challenges that you face, the more resources you need to draw on to address the balance. With that in mind, developing your resources will help increase your resilience.
Your resources are physical and mental and include how you take care of body, how you manage your emotions and mood, what you do with our thoughts which dictates your outlook. Your support network such as friends, family, colleagues, mentors and managers as well as your environment and nature are also important resources to consider.
Here are three specific strategies to increase your resources…
- If you can win your morning, you can win your day. Concentrate on how you can kick off your day in a positive way? For example, try ditching your phone – leave it downstairs rather than have it on the bedside table. Introduce rituals which will help you foster a helpful energised outlook such as meditation, exercise or journaling. Prioritise the first three things that you want to do in that day.
- Exercise is proven to be the best way to flush out stress! When you are anxious there are high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your body. Moving your body flushes this from your system – relieving pressure whilst boosting your energy. If you’re not a fan of exercising, prioritise time for a brisk walk each day.
- Remember that we are human beings not human doings! We are not machines therefore be mindful to schedule regular recovery time by eating away from desk, taking a break from your screen, moving your body and getting outside if you can. Sleep is also key for sufficient recovery so aim to get 7-9 hours’ sleep per night.
Focus on what is in your control: Write down everything that is filling your headspace. Then ask yourself, what things can you control or influence? By focussing on what you can control, your actions will have an impact. It is simply a waste of your time and energy to focus on things that you can’t control which will leave you feeling demotivated and no further forward in dealing with your challenges. Remember the surfing analogy, it makes sense to focus on your tactics and approach rather than focus on when the next wave will come and how big it will be – this is totally out of your control.
Always choose your response and attitude to an event: Although it can sometimes be difficult to see, you always have a choice about how to respond to an event. Practise being less reactive and nurture a response that will be helpful. Ask yourself the question, how will this serve me? Another useful technique for enhancing your positive voice is to write a gratitude list, spend a few minutes each day focussing on the things that you are grateful for.
- Resilience is not a trait that some lucky people are born with. It is a skill that you can learn and master.
- Be mindful not to confuse resilience with endurance. They are very different things.
- Remember that resilience is dynamic (like a seesaw). It’s important to increase your resources as your challenges increase.
- A high resilience day equals a high performing day.
- Ultimately the goal is to not only learn how to surf the waves but also enjoy the ride! For me that is the true essence of resilience.