Everyone thinks about something different when they hear the word Resilience. If you’re in sustainability and corporate management, you think about your company’s resilience and its ability to withstand changes in the economic environment. If you’re a sportsman, you might think about endurance first or your body’s ability to recover from muscle strain. But for most of us, resilience can best be described as bounce-back-ability. It’s the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, the ability to adapt to life’s adversities and cope with the stress of everyday living.
Stress and reversals of fortune are no strangers to an entrepreneur or change-maker. When you are trying to support or effect change on a daily basis, you meet with more setbacks than most. Added to our daily struggle with things like family or relationship problems, health problems, or general financial worries, change-makers need to pay more attention than most to their personal resilience.
Up until very recently it was thought that resilience was an innate capacity, something that people were either born with, or not. Today we know through much research into the psychology around stress management, that resilience is something that everyone can learn and improve at any stage of their life. It is true however, that your natural DNA and talents, will predispose you to being more careful at, or mindful of, one aspect of personal resilience more than others. The goal is to bring balance to all four pillars.
So here they are. Have a think about which comes most naturally to you, and which one you are most likely to neglect.
Good health is something we should never take for granted. “It is health that is real wealth, not pieces of gold or silver.” Mahatma Ghandi. Resilience begins with good self care. That encompasses a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, managing your weight, getting regular health checks and understanding what it takes for your body to perform with ease. Our bodies were not designed for today’s sedentary lifestyles and the curled posture we adopt for much of the day puts physical stress on our skeleton, so it’s not an indulgence to consider regular visits to a chiropractor or osteopath, massage or having a personal trainer as a luxury.
Change-Makers are often Type A personalities and are natural high achievers. They naturally have quite strong constitutions – after all you can get a huge amount done in one day can’t you? – using your strength and intellect to power on through the work. The flipped of that ability to achieve is the fact that you can also run on virtually empty. I know I used to get through the day powered by sugar, caffeine and refined/packaged foods, followed up by wine in the evening.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is put a small amount of your life budget aside for self care. If you struggle, there are many Health Coaches out there who can step in and give you some support.
Mental resilience is all about our ability to be flexible in our thinking, to be able to weigh options, consider alternative solutions, the ability to conceptualise a step-by-step means to reach a goal, to understand cause and effect, to be able to take perspective and above all, to problem-solve.
Scientific investigations clearly show that people’s problem-solving skills play a significant and causal role in their psychological well-being.
It’s also about the motivational aspects of problem solving, and learning . to understand and use the factors that motivate us as individuals to solve problems, including elements such as interest in the problem situation, perceptions of self-efficacy, and attribution styles.
The intersection of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Positive Psychology in developing problem-solving capacity has done a huge amount in the last 10 years to promote processes which build resilience. Padesky & Mooney’s (2001) Strengths-Based CBT Model was one of the most popular early programs.
A sure sign of having depleted your personal resilience is a reduction in your capacity to tackle simple daily problems and make decisions.
Scientific studies show that a primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance and help bolster a person’s resilience. Having a support network to go to in times of crisis is very consoling and helpful – something I neglected woefully at one time in my life.
Creating and maintaining a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and ability – which can often be gained by increasing your problem-solving capacity as discussed in mental resilience – is also critical. Learning to trust ourselves and our instincts and finding ways to work on our capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses is valuable.
Developing emotional Intelligence (EQ) is great strategy in staying emotionally resilient. EQ was popularised by leading author Daniel Goleman in 1995, although the foundation work in articulating its role in our lives was probably done by a wide variety of people including Edward Thorndike, Abraham Maslow, and Psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer.
The development of positive psychology, maintaining positive emotions while facing adversity help to promote flexibility in thinking and problem solving. Positive emotions serve an important function in their ability to help an individual recover from stressful experiences.
Spiritual resilience comes down to our world view and our belief system. That doesn’t necessarily mean being part of any organised religion; rather it’s about having faith in the future and believing that there is meaning to your existence. Meaning can be found in having or understanding our life’s purpose. Knowing that the work we do on a daily basis is meaningful and purposeful, and serves some good end is enormously sustaining. This is not the same as having a passion.
In many ways spiritual intelligence is also the natural progression from emotional intelligence. Once we are in control of our thoughts and emotions, we are in a good place to examine our relationship with the infinite, God or the Universe – whatever we want to call it and however we respond. It also helps us engage with our intuition and respond to life’s ups and downs from a secure place within ourselves.
The use of techniques designed to connect us more with our souls and soul’s purpose and journey in life have become increasingly popular in entrepreneurial circles. Steve Jobs famously practised meditation every day, mindfulness practice is becoming common in global enterprises such as Google, and conscious innovators and coaches are becoming more prevalent in start-up organisations. I interviewed Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation and Sustain who put in place a Director of Consciousness in his first organisation to care for the spiritual wellbeing of his employees.
How would you like to improve your Personal Resilience?
So where do your strengths lie? Are you focused on fitness and health? Do you have flexible and agile thinking taped? Are you emotionally secure with a great support network? Are you fully connected to your purpose in life and through your work?
I’ve always been very good at mental resilience – I’m one of life’s natural problem solvers. I’m pretty clear about my purpose in life. I have to work very hard at emotional resilience which is my downfall, and I struggle more as I get older with physical resilience. That old muffin top middle is getting the better of me!
We’ll talk in a lot more detail about strategies and learning in all of the four areas of personal resilience in the future, but for today perhaps you could just make mental note of the area you would most like to work on.
Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership by Sarah Alexander