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Six key elements that drive resilience

By Phil Crenigan FIML

Let me say at the outset that resilience is not yet another leadership competency that you have to master to be an effective leader or colleague. Resilience, or our ability to cope, is a fundamental life skill that helps us navigate what life throws at us. It is a quality we all draw on daily and none of us are immune to having our resilience challenged.

The good news is, with strong self-awareness, and a commitment to manage the positive and negative voices in our heads using some simple techniques, we can build our capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that we emerge from difficulties stronger, wiser and more able.

Tests to our resilience

In several recent workshops my clients identified times in their lives when their resilience was tested. They referenced the unexpected death of a partner or loved one, the ending of relationships (whether they were 17 or 70 years old), redundancy, work pressure, bad bosses, ageing and worsening health, bullying, harassment, not being accepted or valued by others and times of financial stress. Typically, we experience these life challenges as one-time, infrequent events. The pandemic has of course thrown many of these at us in quick succession, testing our resilience. 

The resilience diagnosis: examining thoughts, feelings and behaviours

The first step in building our resilience is using our self-awareness to identify when we are losing it, via a change in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. My clients came to the fore again with consistent themes and patterns. Do any of the following resonate with you?

  • Avoidance and incapacity to face reality
  • Fixation on one or no solutions
  • Feeling stuck
  • Blame
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Emotional outbursts

I also encountered consistent references to increased dependency on alcohol, changes in sleep patterns, drop in exercise regimes, increase or decrease in weight, lack of energy and feeling constantly tired.

This all-encompassing negativity often fuelled by a constantly negative news cycle resulted in an absence of joy, happiness, optimism or hope. We have all been there, it’s part of being human. By practicing a few simple techniques, we can escape the dark side by embracing some simple exercises in positive psychology and nurture and cultivate the positive voices in our head.  

Positive reframing: replacing ANTs with POTs

When our internal voice has a negativity bias it has a profound impact on our ability to cope. A simple technique is to make a note of our negative thoughts or catastrophic thinking and replace these with a more productive goal or thought. Focus on the outcome that you want. Some useful reframing questions include, ‘What is the best-case scenario in this situation?’, ‘What is likely to happen?’, then form a plan based on the answer to those questions. Replacing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) with Positive Optimistic Thoughts (POTs) is a powerful circuit breaker. A more balanced, pragmatic perspective restores control and strengthens your ability to cope. Planning for the worst, best and probable case is a simple but powerful technique.

Elements that drive resilience

In a series of weekly tutorials with clients over the last few months, I’ve seen some amazing results. Participants committed to practicing new habits including appreciating themselves and others, gratitude, and reaching out if they need help.

So, what are the key elements that drive resilience? Here are six that you can use as a simple scorecard: 

  1. Self-belief. The trust you have in your own actions and your capacity to deal with whatever comes your way. Remind yourself daily of what you are, not what you aren’t.
  2. Elasticity. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and not stay attached to what is familiar and comforting. If you want a different outcome don’t keep doing what you have always done.
  3. Meaning or purpose. Having a sense of purpose helps us get through difficult times. Meaning may come from a particular goal or it may come from our values or beliefs. Knowing what is important and maintaining a sense of perspective are helpful positive traits.
  4. Finding solutions. Working with what is available even when resources are limited or options narrow. Also, letting go of what is not working and congratulating yourself for doing all of the above drives resilience. Asking yourself how you can make the best of what is happening now is preferable to hoping that things will just get better.
  5. Reaching out. Emotional support is all around us if we seek it. We are never on our own. It is equally important to offer support to others which in turn provides you with a sense of value and purpose.
  6. Emotional control. When under pressure, emotions become heightened and negative emotions dominate how we see the world. Emotional control enables us to retain a sense of perspective and to view problems in their correct size. The insights gained from being engaged with your emotions and guiding yourself through them with self-compassion will lead to a greater understanding of your needs.  

Phil Crenigan is a Fellow of IML ANZ. He is the managing director and principal at Executive Turning Point, a coaching consultancy for senior leadership teams.

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