What does resilience mean?
If you look for resilience in the dictionary, you might see such entries as “the ability to be happy and successful again after something difficult or bad has happened”, and “the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed”.
So obviously the first of these relates to humans and the second to not humans, although the second one kind of works for humans too. At least, in the dictionary sense. However, for me, there’s something about resilience that is more than this, or at least there can be, if we think of it as the opportunity to continue to learn and grow while experiencing challenge and change.
Indeed, resilience researchers Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney said that “A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to tame and master it”. And my favourite definition is one that I heard at an event once – that “Resilience isn’t just the ability to bounce back, but to bounce forward”. So if you want to get the best from yourself and your team during challenging times, what are the four things that you need to do to build resilience?
If you want to build resilience, we probably need to start by saying something about stress – a topic closely related to resilience-building. Stress is a subjective physiological and psychological response to challenge and change; subjective because what’s seen as stressful for one person, may well be exciting for another, and of course vice versa. And stress can be both positive and negative.
Positive when you feel energised and engaged with something and you feel in control – this is sometimes called ‘eustress’ and sees your autonomic nervous system firing up and readying you to perform. And stress is negative when you feel threatened and out of control. This can lead to your body responding by invoking a fight, flight or freeze response, which can actually start shutting down non-essential physical and psychological functions in readiness for you to get angry, get gone or get stuck.
Long term (chronic) stress has all sorts of negative health outcomes which I talk more about in Season 7, episode 4 on controlling the controllables. So to build resilience, you need to learn to respond positively to stressors, that is stressful stimuli in your environment.
My 4 point plan to building resilience includes: 1. Being realistic about what you can control, 2. Mastering your mindset, 3. Playing to your strengths and 4. Building out your support network.
1. Control your controllables
My first tip on building resilience is to be realistic about what you can control and what you can’t. Typically, we can control around 50% of a situation. That might include areas in which we have knowledge, skill or experience, it may also include our response to situations, including our interpretation of what we are experiencing, but it may not include the situation itself, which is often outside our control.
Other factors outside our control include, for example, the behaviour of our boss, global pandemics, the weather, how long the queues are when we go shopping, our work colleague’s mood and so on. We might like to think that we can control, and maybe even feel responsible for, far more than is actually the case, but the advice from the experts is to forget about the 50% that you can’t control, and be ‘impeccable in your 50%’ .
Attempt to control only what you can control but take 100% responsibility for it. An approach to doing this well is the Control, Influence, Accept model, first described in 2008 by Neil Thompson and Sue Thompson, who said that when facing a challenge, you need to identify the issues or elements of the situation that you control; then the elements that you can’t control, but that you can influence.
And finally, acknowledge the things that you can neither control nor influence, and accept them, adapting if necessary. When thinking about this approach to building resilience, your team and the people you know can be a useful source of alternative perspectives on problems, stressors and challenges, which may well help you see your personal controllables and uncontrollables in a more realistic way.
2. Choose your mindset
My second tip is to choose your mindset – a topic I talk more about in my podcast at Season 7, episode 5. I’ll summarise here by talking about a model we at Strengthscope have developed to help people do just that: it shows two paths, relating to two mindsets, one path is the path of limitation, the other is the path of possibility.
When you’re facing a challenge or a stressful situation using a negative mindset, you might ask yourself, and others, questions like: What’s gone wrong? Whose fault is it? What’s the problem here? Sometimes, these lines of enquiry can be useful; however, it’s important to recognize that questions which focus on the past or on the problem are not solutions-focused nor positive.
Sticking with a negative mindset for too long can lead to you feeling helpless and powerless, you may seek to apportion blame and you may doubt ourselves and others. When you adopt a positive mindset in the face of challenge or change, you might ask different questions, questions like: How have you dealt with similar challenges in the past? What strengths do you have that could support you (we’ll come onto that one in a minute) and Who else could support you? These questions, path of possibility questions, are future-focused, solutions-focused and positive. So the questions that you ask can lead you towards one mindset or another. And this is true of you as an individual and as a team. The way you frame your questions can make a world of difference.
3. Play to your strengths
My third resilience-building tip is, as far as you can, to play to your strengths. I cover this in more detail in my podcast on empowering your team with strengths, at Season 7, episode 8. Your strengths are those qualities that energise you and which you are great at or have the potential to become great at. To identify your strengths, it’s a good idea to use an established framework that can help you have a conversation about your strengths using a common language.
Once you’ve figured out your own unique strengths, if you are clear on the strengths that you can call on when facing a tough situation, the act of selecting and using your strengths can feel empowering, like you are better able to take control of a situation, to trust yourself that you can overcome your challenge.
When I choose to take my strengths with me as tools, then I can use them to prepare how I will approach a challenge as well as feeling that my strengths are there supporting me when I’m actually in the moment. As a team, knowing the strengths of your colleagues and calling on their strengths when the going gets tough can help build a sense of cohesion and confidence in the knowledge that while we may be in this together, we can get through it together too.
4. Build a rich support network
My final tip for building resilience is to build out your social network. High levels of social support have been associated with improved psychological and physiological outcomes, like reducing stress-related illnesses, increased self-confidence, improved problem-solving and the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin, which reduces fear and anxiety and improves mood.
All of these things can help you to build resilience. As your social network is so valuable to your mental health and happiness it’s important to consider who’s in your network and how much time you’re spending with them. In your social network, you are likely to find people who give you energy and others who drain your energy. Energy drainers (or mood hoovers) won’t help your well-being and resilience.
Ensure that you balance drainers with those who give energy, and if possible cut out or reduce how much time you spend with drainers. When working in a team, make sure that you have considered all the stakeholders who can help you to navigate a crisis and recruit them into your network: cheerleaders, champions, mentors, collaborators, counsellors (metaphorically-speaking) all have a place.
So there’s my 4 point plan for building resilience: 1. Control your controllables, 2. Choose your mindset 3. Play to your strengths and 4. Build a rich support network. I hope you’ve found this podcast useful; if so, please like and share and please take a listen to the other podcasts I’ve mentioned today. Till next time, keep bouncing forward.
This podcast is available on all major podcast platforms. Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, ACast, TuneIn, Breaker and Soundcloud. Check out the back catalogue, leave a review and subscribe to get them every Monday morning!