Building Resilience: A Skill for Success
As the old saying goes, “change is the only constant.” While this has been true in life since the beginning of time, it rings truer than ever today, when change seems to occur at an unprecedented speed. You might be familiar with the abbreviation “VUCA,” referring to the qualities of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – all words that may be used to describe the world into which we’re heading. How do we make sure we’re ready to take on a VUCA world? When it feels like we’re standing in the center of a metaphorical hurricane, how do we ensure that the ground beneath us holds firm? Resilience. More than just a buzzword under the umbrella of “emotional intelligence,” resilience is a necessary skill for long-term success.
Throughout the progression of my career, I have found that building a skill is a bit like strengthening a muscle. It takes time, prioritization, and consistent, dedicated effort. If we have not put in the work to cultivate and maintain resilience within ourselves, a bad day can quickly snowball into a bad week. While it may sound dramatic, research has also shown that a lack of resilience can lower your sense of self-worth, your feelings towards your job, and your overall job performance. Just as positive sentiments create a ripple effect across workplace culture, so too do negative ones; resilience and positivity are closely and inextricably linked.
All of this begs the question – how does one build resilience?
The over-simplified answer: build your foundation, stick to it, and manage your energy along the way. For the more detailed answer, keep reading!
Before we dive into the details, let me outline a scenario for you: As an HR leader, I had been working with a somewhat difficult customer, helping them build their HR strategy for the last 18 months. It had been a challenging journey in numerous ways.
Tremendous amounts of time and energy had gone into learning the business, building relationships, spending time with leadership and their teams, as well as coaching and getting to know my own new team. Just as we were starting to build momentum and see some quick wins, the leader of the customer’s organization suddenly left, resulting in a new leader quickly stepping in.
I was left with a lot of questions. Was all my effort for nothing? Does this new leader want to take things in a different direction? Will they care about the priorities into which I’d invested all this time and energy? On top of this, my team was asking me what this meant for us – and I didn’t have all the answers.
Build Your Foundation
This example highlights the reality that chaos can strike at any time in both our personal and professional lives. When a situation feels like it’s spinning out of control, how do you adapt? How can you create an island of stability – a place of refuge – in a world full of instability and volatility?
This process of foundation-building is crucial but may be considered the most difficult. If we think back to our analogy of strengthening a muscle, starting your resistance-training regimen is often the hardest part. It’s not uncommon to see fitness center motivational slogans such as “the most difficult step is the one through the front door,” and that same mentality can be applied to building this new skill.
Just like strength training, this foundation will look different for each person, but includes things like:
· Buddy system – people you know you can trust for guidance and encouragement when chaos strikes. You may also consider using a “phone a friend” system here!
· Proper technique – what’s your first reaction? Stress? Panic? Fear? Leverage techniques such as positive reframing with the goal of improving your ability to adapt and react when situations feel beyond your control.
· Starting slow – not every unexpected change is the same. Think about it carefully; will the situation matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 days? Or 10 years? This perspective provides insight on the importance and impact you attribute to each change.
While the initial inclination in my scenario was to think all was lost, I took a moment to pause, and reminded myself that this is a temporary challenge. I thought about who else were advocates I could engage. I was proactive in finding out what the new leader’s early perspectives and priorities were. In similar circumstance, reflect on what’s going on, discuss your concerns with your team, and jointly think about next steps – they might provide some fresh perspective that help the situation seem less daunting. You are not alone!
The great news is that science is on your side as you embark on this journey – the anxiety and uncertainty that surrounds new endeavours actually helps your mind grow. Start to develop solutions to propel you forward into the unknown, and although your brain’s resistance might at first motivate you to stick with familiar tasks and patterns, creating an action plan can help you break through that initial barrier.
Stick to It
There is a quote by Robin S. Sharma that I love: “Change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end.” It highlights the need for perseverance, and the need to choose to remain consistent. The key word for this step is choose – stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something new begins when we consciously make the decision to do so. The first change is sometimes the hardest, but each time, it gets successively easier. As discussed in the context of “building your foundation,” when it comes to strengthening our resilience muscle, sometimes just getting to that first workout is the most difficult part! Once the wheels are in motion, that muscle gets progressively stronger, making the initial resistance feel less and less significant.
This is a long-term goal and will require long-term effort, and constant self-reflection can be a powerful tool in keeping us moving forward. I prioritized taking time to reflect on my own experience. I asked myself – why did this situation knock me off course, and what others might do the same in the future? Which, if any, of these factors can I control? I realized one of my motivators was to be needed and have meaning – this reflection helped me recognize where my anxiety was coming from.
Manage Your Energy
Resilience takes energy – there is no way around it. While a good nights’ sleep is often thought of as the best way to maintain peak energy levels, our overall wellness can have just as big an impact. True wellness is multi-faceted, with each component affecting the others. To perfectly illustrate this concept, consider this: “full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.”
When thinking of these sources as types of wellbeing, I would also argue that financial wellbeing is a key contributor to our overall feeling of wellness, especially when you consider that finances are the number-one stressor for Americans.
Actively working to improve your mental, spiritual, financial, physical, and / or emotional well-being doesn’t necessarily mean that you must take drastic steps, but it is another area in which intention alone simply will not suffice. The concept of self-care seems to be having a moment in the spotlight, with the media often portraying it as candle-lit baths or self-indulgence. However, if you’re using that bath as a form of procrastination or are racking up credit card debt on indulgence, those self-care practices can quickly become more harmful than beneficial. This is where another hot topic – mindfulness – comes into play.
If you find yourself struggling with resilience – perhaps experiencing overwhelming feelings , excess stress, or anxiety – take time to reflect on where you’re at. Looking back, hindsight revealed for me that I was not focusing much on my physical health and energy. In the moment, that lack of energy played a role on my ability to frame the situation and react appropriately.
By framing our objective in a similar manner to a fitness or strength training program, we provide ourselves with an excellent starting point to achieve our goals. Building your resilience is worth the effort, with an impact that can ripple through our personal and professional lives in this VUCA world.