The secret to Resilience: Build emotional & mental fortitude so emotions don't undermine efforts
Many people believe that “resilience” is all about knowing how to survive. That’s just the beginning.
The truth is, MOST of us, when in crisis can – or at least will try our hardest to – survive. That is almost innate, instinctual.
So then people think that resilience is about “Bouncing back” – again, that’s not quite enough. Yes, we have to have the moxie to survive crisis, but you also need the inner strength to have the momentum to hit rock bottom and not crack like an egg and then rebuild when (having survived crisis) you’re exhausted.
On top of this, you bring in the positive psychology approach, and there they say – you’ve survived, you’ve bounced back – well why stop at normal – bounce higher – thrive.
So resilience is, at least for me, made up of being able to navigate 3 dips:
Crisis – often external, unexpected or sudden, can require an acute and immediate response. (...through which you survive)
Exhaustion – often physical and emotional. Having been through the above will not only wind you, but those around you. Community spirit which tends to flourish in crisis may fall away when the emergency subsides, and the resources you carefully conserved may be used up. The rainy day savings are used – but there’s still a drizzle. (...though which you rebuild)
Competition – often psychological. This element to resilience can be needed even without crisis and exhaustion. Knowing how to overcome any psychological barriers to success (as well as real external pressures) may be important even if you live that “charm’d life”. (...and then you thrive)
Thus for resilience you need more than survival instinct – and some sort of practical capability, you need mental, emotional and physical fortitude. Resilience means you know what to do and have the capacity to do it, but it also involves having the strength to persevere – especially when little seems in your favour.
Mental and emotional strength means that your emotions do not undermine your efforts to be effective. Resilience is knowing what you need to do - and having that personal power to do it!
The good news is, it can be learned…the less comforting – like any muscle training, it takes a bit of time and effort. As a coach I teach both practical tools, as well as emotional ones.
Practical strategies to build resilience
1. Depending on what your situation is or where you are within it ask yourself the following:
a. Pre Crisis audit
– What or who keeps you going when you are exhausted?
– How can you take or find respite?
– What is the minimum you need during the crisis stage in order to survive
b. Post crisis reflection
– Who or what of your new collaborations can help you restore?
– What renewed, revisited or transferrable skills can now be utilized?
…and do a regular ‘sense check’ on the consumer and client climate, exploring new areas or opportunities where possible.
c. Future growth
– Have all the exposed weaknesses been addressed satisfactorily?
– What lessons were learned and how can they inform your current decisions?
– Have you thanked people who came together to pull through … and do you continue to do so?
2. Audit your areas of weakness
i) Reflect on and correct areas of weakness in your initial response stages
While the same thing may not happen again in your lifetime, you may have identified certain areas where your response was sluggish or affected morale and trust. Be aware of what happened, through asking the ‘5 whys’ (asking ‘why’ five times to get to the root of the problem).
ii) Know that intellectual awareness is NOT the same as practical preparation
It is good to know what you might do in theory, action is essential. In life coaching terms, I tell over-thinking clients “don’t be the most enlightened person that never lived”. You need to put those ideas into practice, and if you cannot, then work to adapt them so you can.
iii) Are there wider opportunities or personal/professional networks with whom you can grow collaboratively?
Use this time to network or reach out to explore opportunities, especially since you have been afforded time to think, as well as knowing that others’ habits and behaviours may change after a crisis. Consider also previous areas of expertise which may even be now defunct. Would their revival serve you well?
iv) Be aware of changing consumer/client/interpersonal behaviours
After a crisis or changed situation, the lifestyle we had been used to may change and behaviour may follow. As an organisation, keep abreast of and consider the possible mindset of clients and customers; Personally – do the same with friends and family
v) Reflect on your responsiveness and growth potential
– If you knew a disruption or crisis would last longer than the proposed 12 weeks, how might you respond?
– If you knew six months ago this would happen, how would you prepare?
– What long-term strategic projects or goals may have to change or could be started as a result?
– Who can you collaborate with to help with any changes of direction, or to help each other rebuild after financial loss or other negative effects?
vi) Be mindful of your ‘fear responses’
Crisis brings fear, and fear can result in knee-jerk reactions. Be aware of what yours are so that you do not fall back into old habits. You would not drink poison if you were thirsty, why would you engage in toxic practices just because you are afraid?
vii) Future plan ‘what worked’
You may find that new adaptations such as “work from home” resulted in better productivity (and fewer overheads, more room to add location-based services and so on) – if this is the case, think carefully to best optimise any new implementations. Don’t just rush into buying the technology you are using because ‘it works now’ – think about how that method is going to work in the future and how you might want to use it and invest accordingly.
Mental and Emotional strategies to enable you to keep going – especially when exhausted or demoralised:
Learn to BE well
“Wellbeing” is the word often categorising emotional, physical and mental fitness. I’d break it down further. While resourcefulness, intellectual aptitude and practical competency can be learned in school (and indeed is often the focus through life), we do not always learn to build emotional and mental strength. Some of us do not really know how to “BE well”.
Positive psychology posits that 5 pillars "PERMA" contribute to being well:
Positive Emotion – notably hope and optimism
Engagement with something that “gets you going”
Relationships (healthy ones)
Meaning in what you do
Achievement - notably in things that are meaningful to you
Therefore, simple daily practices can help build your wellbeing strength little by little. They aren’t as formal as “self care” – they are little wins that often take a moment of recognition rather than a day (or even money) to be set aside. The more you are able to work on wellbeing – the better you will manage whatever curveball is thrown. The biggest secret when it comes to resilience, is that we often KNOW what to do, but we need to prevent emotion from consuming our ability to do it effectively!! This is not to say “don’t feel” – I feel greatly – anger, fear, sadness, and of course joy, elation, hope – but emotion is instinctive and often reactive, effective behaviour is a chosen response.
Try one of these daily – and stick with what works!
Build Positive Emotion
- Give and receive gratitude. Don’t just journal about 3 things you are grateful for, also appreciate and acknowledge 3 things that others have thanked YOU for. This helps you build up a sense of value which works two-fold: i) you do not impose on others to provide it, you appreciate it when it arrives; and ii) you start to recognise your self worth. If you are the type of person who shrugs off a compliment with “It’s nothing” – this exercise is definitely for you.
- Photograph positive moments. I set friends the “21 Day – I Love My Life” challenge – to take one photo a day of the little things we appreciate in our world. I keep mine in an album and look at it.
- Set a daily intention. You can join me at 6.30am Monday-Friday on facebook doing this, this year! (Or check out the edited playlist on YouTube). Intention setting helps me focus for the day and gives me breathing space – but also reminds me to use positive characteristics that I may not previously have considered.
-Exercise. Do not underestimate the value of physical health. Even if your exercise is a 5 minute walk around the block, the fresh air will clear your mind and get your blood flowing, and the walk will improve your posture.
- Reflect on what you “used to love” and see if you can find a way of engaging with it. Just because you used to play in orchestras doesn’t mean you need to be concert standard, but at least consider hiring that instrument you loved to play a tune.
- Reflect on what you love right now and maybe see if you can fit more of it into your life. By the same token, if you are spending all your energy in something that doesn’t engage, it might be time to think about making the shift to something which does, or at least exploring the options available to you.
Cherish healthy Relationships
- Who warms your heart? I sometimes look at the traits and values of my closest friends and reflect on what I love about them. This allows me to focus on cultivating those behaviours into my own life, and recognise who energises me - valuing them more (and then spend less time with those not on that list!)
- Your friends are your friends – be a friend back. Not only is friendship reciprocal, and a number of my lovely friends have often said “If you need to talk I’m here.” – and they know I am too. But for my part, I also have a coach – someone I pay to “talk” to so I can continue being a friend to my friends and a wife to my, just as kind and generous husband! Of course we share “secrets” but we also all have lives and are as much there to laugh and love as advise!
- Check in on others. So you haven’t heard from someone in a while – contact them!! Why wait!? And sometimes, especially with lockdown, a video call or telephone chat is even warmer than a text – it really is sometimes “lovely to hear your voice!”
- Think back on your “life achievements” – Reflect on what made your proud (and it doesn’t have to be the things that others said made them proud!!) That is how you identify what is meaningful to you. Then see if you can incorporate that sense of purpose in what you do now. For example, if helping others was something you are proud of – could you fundraise or could you donate something?
- Meditate – This is not for everyone, but sometimes finding a connection with nature just by sitting for a moment, or thinking about it as you walk outside can be hugely grounding and refreshing for body and soul.
Achievement can mean “little wins”
- Savour the little moments of pleasure as well as the big. If you catch yourself enjoying a moment – spend another relishing it, even if it’s simply how the frosty grass crackles, or how nice a sip of a hot drink is on a cold day.
- Focus only on being that little bit better than you were yesterday. Again, it’s not about the big leaps, but recognising daily, incremental, progress can help.
…and be kind to yourself
Remember, the brain is complex – and sometimes you are just NOT ready to do anything at all. That’s fine, and normal – and why I put out continuous content so it’s there for when you are! Be kind to yourself – know that you have the resources when you need them…and also that you really are stronger than you feel right now.
It’s not that people who seem to be “more resilient” are better or luckier or richer – it may just be that they’ve worked hard to become versatile, they learn from experience, and they are smart with where and to whom they direct their energies.
…and you can learn that too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilienceFor coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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