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When is resilience not resilience? Have we got resilience wrong?

Resilience.

It’s talked about a lot.

It’s frequently offered as a workplace training program.

But why?

Is there a recognised deficit of resilience?

Is it because so many people are reported as being disengaged at work?

Or is it something else, because, what if the assumption that you’re lacking resilience is wrong and you already have more than enough?

What if, our current interpretation of what resilience is, is misguided?

Because resilience is not resilience,

  • When it’s a poor excuse for bad job design.
  • When it’s an indicator of a toxic work culture.
  • When unrealistic expectations are the result of unhealthy work practices.
 

What does resilience mean to you?

For a long time, I thought of resilience like a bouncing ball. You hit an obstacle, it knocks you over, but then you find a way to overcome that obstacle and you bounce back. Hurrah!

Except, that interpretation really didn’t fit into my own experiences. Life is messy and often you can be left dealing with multiple challenges simultaneously.

When the proverbial hits the fan, it typically does so in big fat chunks.

Has it for you?

When you last went through a tough period where you found yourself struggling to cope, did you have a quick rummage in the kitchen drawer to see where your resilience ball was? 

(You know the drawer where you keep all the clingfilm, baking paper and aluminium foil, spare batteries, used birthday candles and saved bits of nice ribbon from birthday presents.)

No, I didn’t either.

Here’s the thing. We are all resilient. You, me, and everyone else.

But we are human too and as such, prone to fallibility, stuffing up and falling foul of the impact of too much unmitigated stress.

The issue isn’t that you lack resilience, it’s more about understanding how a particular adversity, challenge or hardship is affecting your ability to cope and which items you need to take out from your emergency resilience top-up backpack.

The challenge lies in having the energy to open the backpack when you’re already exhausted and unsure whether you will receive the support resources you require to get back on top of things.

 

The key to resilience is sustainability.

Looking back on a time when life and work were going well, you probably remember how easy it was to get stuff done, easily, quickly and without all the distracting dramas.

How great is that delicious state of flow when everything just falls into place? You can see you’re making good progress and achieving the desired outcome. Best of all, you’re totally absorbed, you’ve lost all sense of time and loving the moment.

The issue for many in the modern workplace, is that work conditions are frequently not right for flow. 

Add in the emotional and mental conundrum of dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, a horrific and a senseless war, climate change, economic uncertainty, and the rising costs of living (I’m thinking of selling the car, and just using my bike), little wonder you might be feeling that your resilience is wearing a bit thin.

If you’ve got to the bottom of your resilience bucket, it’s time to step back, reset and restore the energy and vitality to be the healthiest, happiest version of you.

The good news is that the way to build sustainable resilience is to undertake some small tweaks to what we call life. Because these activities are small and easy to implement, you’re not feeling burdened by yet more ‘stuff’ to do. You don’t have to overhaul everything to reap the benefits.

Oh, and did I mention they are free too?

Mental wellbeing, physical fitness, emotional stability, and happiness is all within our reach.

All you need is the why, the what and the how.

 

Start with Why?

Simon Sinek in his “Start with Why” Ted talk explains that when you know your why, you’re ready to buy.

Are you ready to buy into building sustainable resilience?

Do you know what’s in it for you?

Have you got a clear idea of exactly why feeling confident, capable, and calm or whichever feelings you are aspiring to, matters so much to you and what the difference will be when you have that?

 

Build your self-awareness.

While it can be good for self-esteem to believe you are the best thing since sliced bread, lacking self-awareness can hold us back. Tasha Eurich, organisational psychologist and author of Insight: Why we’re not as self-aware as we think and how seeing ourselves clearly helps us succeed in work and life (I agree this is a ridiculously long title!) found in her research that having greater self-awareness is linked to better decision-making, more happiness and success.

She suggests you can begin to be more self-aware by checking in with yourself for a couple of minutes once a day and asking a friend, questions like, “Why are you friends with me?” or (if you’re feeling brave) “What is the most annoying habit I have?”.

 

Identify your daily non-negotiables.

We’re all different. Only you know what’s most important to how you show up each day. Sustainable resilience is about ensuring you honour your non-negotiables. Every. Single. Day.

 

Recognise your limits.

OK this one can be tricky. No one likes to be seen as a wuss, incompetent or ineffectual.

But you are human as I’ve mentioned before and as a member of Homo Sapiens, you have psychological and physiological limits, that if exceeded in the short term, you might get away with. But in the longer-term, ignoring those danger signs is the fast track to burnout, exhaustion, and mental mood disorders.

The problem for many is that the longer you keep ignoring the signs, the harder it is to see them.

This is where like every good farmer knows, regularly checking your boundaries can make all the difference.

 

Reach out.

The most resilient people I’ve had the privilege to work with are the ones who know they don’t have to suffer alone.

We are social beings. Having strong bonds of connection at home and work is the key attribute to sustainable resilience.

How much easier is it to deal with challenges when you know you have people around you, who know you, understand you and will always support you?

When tragedy strikes, whether it’s a bush fire, flooding, or war, is when your resilience shines through as we come together to sort things out. It’s because this is how we care for ourselves our families and communities. It’s what keeps us going and gets us to the other side of our troubles.

 

Resilience is a work in progress

Resilience is a journey, not a destination.

As we travel through life, each experience good or bad teaches us something about ourselves.

Creating sustainable resilience is what will enable you to adapt to the rapid and ongoing changes, the anxiety and uncertainty and retain healthy coping skills. And, if you’ve found that resilience ball, you can use it to help you bounce forwards.

This is mental wellbeing in action.

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If getting better at thriving is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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