Recently in a conversation with colleagues, I brought up the concept of the value of “cultivating resilience,” and one of them asked me to define my understanding of the term and explain its significance in the work place.
After collecting and considering numerous definitions of “resilience,” I have centered on my own definition: “Resilience is the human capacity to deal with, overcome, learn from, or even be transformed by the inevitable adversities of life, and to ‘bounce back’ from a stressful situation, returning relatively quickly to the original state of well-being.”
The definition of the term “resilience” in physics adds to our understanding of the concept: “The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed.”
Resilience can be seen as our degree of “response-ability” to both short-term stress and chronic stress. Our degree of resilience could be indicated by how we quickly our nervous systems can bounce back and regain equilibrium from specific emotional triggers and from acute, single stressors—and also how we navigate long-term chronic stress that has built up over time. Both types of stress are common and inherent in our life experience at home and in the work place, and our ability to respond effectively and regain equilibrium relatively quickly is increasingly important in both our professional and personal lives.
It is undeniable that in our fast-paced lives in the 21st century, with rapid change such a constant companion, that resilience to stress has become one of the most valuable sets of skills one can develop. This set of skills has become recognized as so significant that resilience is often considered one of the top five traits necessary to being a successful and innovative leader.
Brain research over the past decade has brought us a new understanding of our ability to change the ways we think and react, much more than we were originally taught. This understanding of the “neuro-plasticity” of the human brain sheds light on ways we can cultivate and develop our own resilience over time by actually re-training our minds to react differently. While we may have a natural resilience set-point influenced by our genetics, upbringing, knowledge, and past experiences, recent studies in brain research have made it very clear that we all have the power to make a conscious decision to maximize our resilience. It is good news that we all have the ability to employ specific attitudes, practices, and habits of mind that lead to greater resilience, and it is in our best interests and for those around us, to make an effort to do so.
The following four “Keys to Building and Retaining Personal Resilience” have been identified by Metcalf and Palmer in their Innovative Leadership Fieldbook (2011.) I have expanded upon them to further explore these strategies to develop increased resilience. (We are splitting this discussion in to two blog posts so we will cover the first two this week and the remaining items next week)
1. Be aware of your own level of stress and take active steps to address your stress before it gets the better of you. Build daily routines that help your body recover from stress.
- Learn to be increasingly aware of your personal stress level through recognizing key signs and symptoms of stress at any given point in time and making a consistent effort to take steps to face the stress constructively before the stress level gets too high.
- Take responsibility for yourself. Design and practice your own Self Care or Personal Renewal program, without considering it self-indulgent.
- Take the time and effort necessary to surround yourself with a personal support system, get sufficient physical exercise and sleep, create down time and internal time to reflect, pursue hobbies that rejuvenate you, spend time in nature, and seriously consider learning to meditate.
- Do not make the mistake of thinking that the time spent rebuilding is self-indulgent. On the contrary, it will assist you in being more productive, in making better decisions, in increasing the effectiveness of your immune system, in making you less likely to be unnecessarily reactive, and, generally, will make you more effective and easier to work with.
2. Harness the Power of Connection at work and in your personal life.
Invest time in building key relationships with colleagues and build your skills of honest, direct, and skillful communication, and empathy with everyone in the workplace. At the same time, make an effort to surround yourself with a personal support system outside of work. We need relationships most when our stress is highest. We need to reach out and know that we can trust those around us with our most challenging situations.
- Create solid friendships at work. According to research by Gallup, “Those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged. Social relationships at work have also been shown to boost employee retention, safety, work quality, and customer engagement.”
- Do things for others. Again, according to Gallup, “When we surveyed more than 23,000 people, we found that nearly 9 in 10 report ‘getting an emotional boost’ from doing kind things for others.”
- Create a solid foundation of family and friends outside of work whose key focus is on providing support regardless of the challenges you face—those who support you as a person they care about.
This week we reviewed two of the key elements in building resilience. Next week we’ll turn to the remaining elements.
To learn more about becoming a more effective leader using Innovative Leadership we recommend taking leadership assessments, reading the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations and participating in the online innovative leadership program with coaching. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.
photo credit: www.flickr.com mariachily