Resilience

Resilience isn’t about being tough

We use resilience in the face of adversity which comes in many forms, from the impact of a pandemic to the somewhat lighter arriving late to an appointment or spilling coffee down our favourite top.

There is no absolute agreement in psychological research about resilience, but one way it’s been summarised uses the three R’s – Resistance, Recovery, and Reconfiguration.  The first of these is often translated as toughness, but I don’t think that’s helpful.  Let’s look at the other two before returning to Resistance.

Having asked hundreds of people, I’d say that Recovery is the most common of the Rs we use to describe resilience, typically using a phrase like the ‘ability to bounce back’.  This might bring to mind the analogies of the sapling flexing in the wind or the more literal bouncing back of a ball.

Bouncing back can be a good analogy, but like most complex things that involve humans, it isn’t perfect.  For example, bouncing back implies a ‘fast’ return, quickly recovering to where we started, which is perfectly reasonable for those lighter adversities but less so for something like the loss of someone close.  Even with great skill, recovery may take some time, and that’s normal.

Reconfiguration refers to the growth we may go through while dealing with adversity. It’s common for people to describe that although they wouldn’t choose to go through their difficulty or wish it on anyone else, now they are different.  Somehow stronger, more skilled than before, or with a better appreciation for the value of life.  I used to wish I could have this kind of growth without going through adversity, but I’m not sure it works like that!

If you are currently going through adversity, and many of us are, I find it helpful to appreciate that growth is a possible outcome and even asking ourselves, ‘how can I grow from this?’ If it seems insensitive, or your answer is ‘I can’t’ then it might be too early, or the question needs phrasing differently.

And finally, we get to Resistance.  The image this suggests for me is an oak tree – majestic and solid.  But even the mighty oak will flex and move in the wind.  The core may look solid, made more so by its growth through adversity from a sapling, but the leaves and branches still flex, and forces still create strain through the roots.  For me, this describes how we may have developed skills, mindsets and resources – the three aspects that I suggest make up resilience – that allow us to work with difficulty and continue to function well in the face of adversity.

One of those skills, for example, is our ability to work with unpleasant emotions rather than them working us.  Blocking out emotion, which for many is the epitome of toughness, is rarely a helpful long-term strategy.  Having the skills to face and feel unpleasant emotions, working with them and responding wisely is a real resilience skill – and a fundamental one.  It helps us to be flexible, see options, function, and perhaps learn from our adversity.

Business consultant Tom Peter suggests that business leaders often consider the hard stuff of finances to be the bottom line, the fundamentals of business.  When the actual hard stuff is what we often call the soft stuff, how we treat our customers and staff, the consideration we put into our services – it’s the bottom line that’s soft, totally dependent hard stuff of working with people.  He coined the phrase “Soft is hard.  Hard is soft,” which is a perfect analogy here – the soft stuff of emotions, for example, is actually the hard stuff of resilience.

It’s not toughness we develop; it’s skills, mindsets, and resources for working effectively with adversity – as, if you reflect, you already know.

The soft skills that are crucial in the modern workplace

By J Shaw for reachremarkable.com

Workplaces are changing — and you need to keep up if you want better opportunities. Now that organisations are disrupting their processes with automation and other technologies, recent LinkedIn data revealed that job skillsets have already changed by a quarter since 2015. Professionals need to further step up their upskilling considering that job skillset changes are again expected to double by 2027.

With automated tools handling more work processes, employers are now more interested in the soft skills that professionals can offer. In the new face of the workplace, these are the soft skills that are taking over:

Creativity
Many individuals limit their perception of creativity to artistic talents. However, this soft skill is becoming crucial in workplaces, especially because it sparks innovation.

Creativity can be a lifesaver in tricky career challenges, which is why our article on the ‘Three Easy Everyday Creativity Tips’ suggests that you should dare to be different. Rather than keeping up with industry trends, you can try to suggest products and services that you may have encountered in your personal life. You can also get inspiration by reading books, movies, or even TEDTalks about highly creative individuals.

Agility
Industries have had to change working conditions and processes in the past few years, forcing employees to learn how to become more agile and flexible.

Given the drastic changes, it’s no surprise that 24% of professionals listed agility as their top answer in LHH’s poll on the top soft skills to develop in 2022. Since agility is a key part of resilience, you’ll often see it described as flexibility in resources that discuss the importance of resilience in the workplace. Being adaptable to change is a necessary skill to develop in the modern workplace since it teaches you how to become open to various processes in your professional life.

Communication
Workplace communication was already a big problem for some companies, but this became even harder once remote and hybrid teams were established.

Communication skills are often taken for granted, and Business Advice points out that this can result in misunderstandings, arguments, and even financial losses. So if you think that you need to be better at presenting your ideas and handling arguments, then you have to practise delivering concise messages and treating your co-workers with respect.

Self-confidence
Many professionals think that confidence is a value, but it’s actually something that you can develop through learning, practice, and persistence.

Instead of ignoring negative self-deprecating thoughts, our article entitled ‘Mindfulness is Not…About Stopping Your Mind Thinking‘ suggests that you can start by being aware about your thoughts on yourself and your work. Once you’ve become aware of these perceptions, whether negative or positive you can properly acknowledge your thoughts and let go. By keeping these thoughts in check, it’ll be easier to focus on your unique strengths and become more confident handling work projects, meetings, and more.

Time Management
Big work responsibilities can get so overwhelming that many professionals end up using more time worrying about the task itself than actually doing it.

Instead of worrying, time management expert Julie Morgenstern suggests that you dedicate 15 minutes of attention to the tasks you want to accomplish. Since it’s easy to set aside 10 to 15 minutes of your time, you can use this as a chance to draft an important e-mail or to do some quick research, freeing up your mental space for other tasks.

Strong soft skills are able to help your hard skills shine in the workplace. By developing your soft skills, you’ll find it easier to cultivate work relationships and accomplish crucial tasks.

 

Have you improved your resilience?

We went into a protective COVID-19 lockdown, then came out.  We had a mostly glorious summer.  Then, schools, colleges and universities went back to having students in classrooms with people standing in front of them teaching (who’d have thought this would ever be a surprising thing?).  There were some real challenges in universities initially, but things even there are heading back towards ‘normal’.  Even if you have no direct connection to people starting back to full-time education, you may be impacted by the slow creep of our old normality re-establishing itself, even if we have to wear face coverings whenever we’re close to others.  Now we’re back into a lockdown.

Near the start of the lockdown version 1, my monthly newsletter mentioned how we might be adapting to the new normal… and then we started to go back to our old normal, and now a slightly new normal.  The signs look good for a 2021 COVID-19 vaccine (e.g. see The Conversation here), so things are likely to swing back, but this is a time of testing.  So what have you learned about yourself?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet includes the phrase, “There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.” I dislike this quote because we could read it as blame – if you’re suffering, it’s your own fault – a mostly unhelpful perspective in my view.  Some of us are dealing with higher vulnerability, perhaps with the loss of loved ones, financial or relationship challenges and many other issues caused by a situation that we couldn’t reasonably predict.

But, it also represents an element of hope.  How we feel doesn’t have to be the whole story.  Psychological flexibility is a key aspect of resilience.  If we’re flexible, we’re more likely to see options and opportunities.  Unfortunately, unpleasant emotion – anger, fear, frustration, sadness and so on – tend to take away flexibility.  They can cause us to narrow our attention to the object of our emotion.

My own experience of homeschooling my eleven-year-old son during the first lockdown is a good example for me.  Math’s was a real challenge.  I would get frustrated, he would get frustrated – and in that frustration, we would close down, lose flexibility.  I couldn’t see another way!  Explaining something in a slightly louder higher-pitched voice, for some reason didn’t help.

Eventually, I would take a break.  Slowly, alternative ways of describing a problem or ways of dealing with the situation would creep in.  Over the weeks, I learned a lot – yes, about my son, and about angles in triangles (it’s been a long time), but I also learned how to spot and manage my and my sons rising frustration before it took away our flexibility.

I learned to be aware of the rising frustration and work with it through mindfulness, which itself is a learnable skill that has been invaluable in my own life.  I’m sure that you have been through change, and with that change have developed.  In what ways have you developed that will help you deal constructively with future challenge and adversity?

There’s nothing quite like real life for learning lessons – but it also requires an openness to learning.  William B. Urvine’s book, The Stoic Challenge, describes seeing challenges as tests of your ability to get through something while maintaining creative control of your choices [that’s my summary] – which is one way of maintaining a creative and realistic outlook.

Perhaps you feel like you know yourself a little better, know when to take a break, or when to speak openly with friends or others who will support you.  How the amount of sleep you have impacted you for better or worse;  how to mentally stand-back, maybe taking a few breaths to gain some perspective rather than ploughing into an argument?  Maybe you’ve learned how much impact your environment has on how you think and operate?  Perhaps you’re a little more open to change, able to adapt more flexibly?

Reflect, and see how the challenges of recent times have helped you develop.

Using daily life to grow resilience

Schools and colleges shortly universities have gone back to having students in classrooms with people standing in front of them teaching.  Who’d have thought this would ever be a surprising thing?  Even if you have no direct connection to people starting back to full-time education you may be impacted by the slow creep of our old normality re-establishing itself, even if we have to wear face coverings whenever we’re in close proximity to others.

Near the start of the lockdown, my post Staying flexible when it’s tough mentioned how we may be adapting to the new normal… and now we’re doing it again!  The signs look good for a 2021 COVID-19 vaccine (e.g. see The Conversation here), but this is a time of testing, so what have we learned about ourselves?  I don’t mean as a whole, I mean each of us as individuals.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet includes the phrase, “There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”  I dislike this quote because we could read it as blame – if you’re suffering, it’s your own fault – a wholely unhelpful perspective in my view!  Some of us are dealing with higher vulnerability, perhaps with the loss of loved ones, financial challenges and many other issues entirely caused by the situation that we couldn’t reasonably predict.

But, there’s also some truth in there, and it represents an element of hope.  How we feel, doesn’t have to be the whole story.  Psychological flexibility is a key aspect of resilience.  If we’re flexible we’re more likely to see options and opportunities.  Unfortunately, unpleasant emotion – anger, fear, frustration, sadness and so on – tend to take away flexibility.  They can cause us to narrow our attention to the object of our emotion.

My own experience of homeschooling my eleven-year-old son is a good example for me.  Math’s was a real challenge.  I would get frustrated, he would get frustrated – and in that frustration, we would close down, lose flexibility.  I couldn’t see another way!  Explaining something in a slightly louder higher-pitched voice, for some reason didn’t help.

Eventually, I would take a break.  Slowly, alternative ways of describing a problem, or ways of dealing with a situation would creep in.  Over the weeks, I learned a lot – yes, about my son, and about angles in triangles (it’s been a long time), but I also learned how to spot and manage my and my sons rising frustration more frequently before it took away our flexibility.

This ability to be aware of the rising frustration and work with it are aspects of awareness, which is a learnable skill – most commonly through mindfulness training – that has been invaluable in my own life… and of course something that I’ve now been teaching for seven years (see Mindfulness at work, or my public courses).

Staying flexible when it’s tough

Have you adapted?  Chances are good that you’ve adapted to a new lock-down normal – even if it isn’t one you would choose.  At the heart of resilience is our ability to remain open and flexible, and to some degree our ability to adapt to this new normal highlights why, perhaps paradoxically, flexibility can be difficult.

I have adapted.  New routines have formed – combining walking the dog with running for exercise, most cooking is now from scratch despite the extra time it takes, I train and coach online now, and many more subtle adaptations.

I’ve even noticed the odd fleeting inner concern about going back to the old normal – even though that old normal was the normal for decades!  Noticing this was a great reminder of the short-term nature of our emotional system and it’s aversion to change, despite our ability to adapt!

When things are going well it’s hard to see that in the face of adversity my openness to options, and willingness to change will be affected.  But one part of experiencing adversity is a narrowing of our awareness – our world view reduces, honing our thinking down to the difficulty we’re facing.

If you’re facing difficulty now, here’s five ways to encourage openness to flexibility by exploring the bigger picture, or to clear some mental space so we can:

  1. Do something physical – such as stretching or some form of exercise (running up and down the stairs has become a ‘thing’ in our house).  After exercise there’s often a period of more open awareness.
  2. Ask yourself, “In a week/month/year/decade (pick a relevant time period) how important will this be to me?” Or perhaps, “…might I be able to see this differently?”  You may then ask, “What would my future self tell me now?”
  3. Imagine someone you care about was going through this / feeling like this, what advice would you give them?  And, what would be my attitude towards them?
  4. Often whirring thoughts in our head block everything else, so let them out.  If you have a trusted friend that’s a good listener, try opening up to them.  Or try this…get a pad with plenty of blank sheets of paper and a good pen; start a 15 minute timer.  Begin writing about anything that comes into your head – and just keep writing – don’t stop writing.  Write, ‘I’m not sure what to write now’ if necessary, but keep going.  Afterwards, you might look over what you have written and see if there’s anything to learn from it… or you might simply shred it and move on.
  5. How do your feet feel while you’re walking?  Simply coming into the present moment where our reality is much simpler, and if it’s physical sensation (like how your feet/face/head etc. feels) more objective than the often biased complexity of our busy heads, can help to make mental space.

There’s no right way, so experiment a bit.

Reach Remarkable Partner with Firstbeat

Lifestyle Assessment ReportFirstbeat is the leading provider of physiological analytics for sports and well-being. They are able to transform heartbeat data into personalized information on exercise, stress and recovery. Reach Remarkable have partnered with Firstbeat in order to provide the Reach Remarkable Lifestyle Assesssment and Report. The lifestyle assessment can be used to support one-to-one coaching, or with a group as a part of courses like 7-Weeks to Performance, Resilience and Wellbeing.

Revolutionary analytics technology

Firstbeat has developed revolutionary analytics technology that creates a digital model of user’s physiology through advanced modelling of heart function and heart rate variability (HRV). The background of Firstbeat is in exercise and physiological sciences and thier products are based on physiology research, working originally with elite athletes.

 

 

Read more about Firstbeat at their website.

How can mindfulness impact resilience – 2

Here’s the next part on how mindfulness practice helps build resilience.  Continuing the theme of the ‘resilience tank’ from part 1, which described making better use of the resilience you have by reducing the impact of stress (turning off the tap quicker).  In part 2 we look making the tank itself bigger!  You’ll find the post over on LinkedIn.

How can mindfulness impact resilience – 1

So, it’s a smart idea of build resilience before we actually need it – as per the last article, you wouldn’t try and run a marathon without building good physical resilience, mental resilience should be no different.  I  also suggested that mindfulness practice is a great tool for building resilience, but how exactly does mindfulness impact resilience?  Here’s a link to the first of a short series on that very topic, how can mindfulness impact resilience.

-Mark