Is there anything we can do to help us improve our resilience…especially when we may feel as though we have nothing left in the tank?
Yes, there is and we can also help improve the resilience of those around us – our children and colleagues for instance. Here are some resilience hacks to help you feel tougher and more able to cope with what’s thrown at you.
Many of us don’t like getting feedback, me included. We assume the worst, for a start, and our hackles are raised before we’ve even truly considered what the other person is saying. However, feedback can be useful, and not just for the content.
The first thing we can do on our journey is to try and divorce the feedback from our feelings. Yes, sometimes there can be a malicious intent there, but this is rare and often the person giving feedback is doing it to help us understand something or improve at something. However, stepping away from the emotions is not always easy.
It often works to wait before you reply to any request before you make any firm commitment. Think about taking feedback in the same way. Don’t feel you have to reply or even defend yourself there and then. Just say, “that’s interesting/thank you for that, I will have a think and get back to you if I have any further questions.” This signals that you are taking what they say seriously, so not shrugging it off, but also allowing yourself time to consider the content and implications.
Then, if it is triggering something in you, whether that’s a feeling of anger, hurt or defensiveness, you have some space to think about why. Is it because of the person who is giving feedback? (E.g. they remind you of your critical Dad and that’s pressed a button). Is it the way they gave it (“I don’t mean to criticise but…”)? Were you prepared? And finally, the feedback itself: is it valid? Is it helpful? Is it correct – if you are being told how to do something better, are they right?
If the feedback is still triggering something think about asking a second opinion: “Do I always giggle in a board meeting/how much time should it really take to write these reports?” This should give you another perspective to help you assess whether the initial feedback is valid.
Regularly asking for feedback is an ideal way to build resilience and improve your performance at the same time.
- Get Used to Failure
Those with the most resilience are not those who have succeeded at everything. In fact, they will probably have more than a few failures under their belt. People talk a lot about failure being part of success, and I totally agree, but I also think failure brings something else to the table: an enhanced ability to be compassionate towards those who have failed or are struggling.
But, back to failure. Being scared of failing is often cited as one of the main reasons people hold back from trying new things or leaving places that no longer suit them. It’s why there are so many half-finished novels languishing in people’s drawers and why people don’t follow their dreams. One of my best friends, tango teacher David Bailey, tells me that he instinctively knows that the people who come up to him and say “I’ve always wanted to learn how to tango” are the ones who never will – they’ve put so much onto the idea that they would rather keep it as a fantasy than face the possibility that they can’t do it.
The more we let a fear of failure stop us from doing things, the more that way of looking at life will permeate into our soul. The solution? It is to regularly and often invite in the possibility of failure, whether that’s learning something new, setting up something new, selling something new, or whatever stretches you. If you are letting a fear of not finding anyone on a dating App hold you back then you need to get on there and get over it. If you are stopping yourself from learning Russian because it might be too hard, you need to start, even if it’s just by downloading an App and doing five minutes a day.
- Be Kind to Yourself
Just as failure can help you feel more compassionate towards others, it can help us nurture a sense of self-compassion. Over the years I have failed at many things – here are some of them:
- Learning Bridge – not the right time or the right place and I will start again, but for the moment the experiment was a failure
- A number of work projects – some weren’t right for the target market, some failed because I just didn’t persevere long enough
- Getting ultra fit and toned – (sigh) I’ve failed and this and still failing (but still trying!)
- Two marriages. I like to think of them as two successful long-term relationships that came to an end. Nevertheless I sometimes do see them as two failures
I could easily beat myself up about them, especially the business ideas that didn’t work because I didn’t stick with them, but I can also choose to feel compassion for the woman who had so much on she couldn’t see where she should be focusing. I can choose to recognise and acknowledge the pain and disappointment of the ending of those two marriages and feel sorry (without lumbering into melancholia) for the woman (i.e. me!) that had to endure that.
This is good practice for when you are actually enduring hard times, recognising that yes, you are going through hell. While we can’t do anything about those situations in the past, we can do what we can to help ourselves in the present by looking to others for support, practising self-care and just being a little easier on ourselves.
- Drop the critical language
Life is so much nicer for everyone when they are not being criticised and that includes being criticised by yourself. Being resilient means that you do everything you can to support yourself, including refraining from using critical language.
- Flip It
There’s a great book by this title, and it’s all about how we can take difficult times and flip them to find the learning in them. This isn’t always easy. Getting sacked or being made redundant can be hugely distressing at the time, but there are thousands of stories out there of how people used that as the trigger to get them on the path to finding a job or career that truly suited them and their values. Likewise, any break up is difficult, even amicable ones, but we can flip them to focus on our new found freedom to do what we want when we want, take up the whole bed and sleep like a starfish, and find someone more suitable for us in the future.
- Go on a Self-Care Journey
Trauma and stress will take its toll on our physical resilience as well as our emotional reserves. You are much more likely to fall ill after a stressful event like a bereavement, redundancy, or divorce (or even moving house) because of the stress it takes on your body. This is why self-care, especially that which focuses on building fitness, promoting good health and reducing stress, is also a factor in building resilience.
The important thing is not to wait until you feel like you need it. Use the power of habits to start now, so that you build up a reservoir of strength, as well as some powerful and enduring routines, that will keep you going during the dark days.
- Short-circuit stress
Being able to get into the chilled zone quickly – and when we need to – can really help us in those visceral moments when we need it. We have two nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is all about arousal – so being alertness, ready to take flight or even hide. The parasympathetic nervous system in contrast is all about dampening that arousal and moving into relaxation. Any type of breathing exercises will help you do that. However, in truth, all you need to do is to breathe into your abdomen so that it physically rises, and at the same time make sure that our outwards breath is longer than our inward breath. This will help the body move into using the parasympathetic nervous system, and the more we practise this, the easier it will come so that we have it right there, at our fingertips, when we need it.
- Talk or Write Through It
I’ve long been a fan of journaling and do it in the spirit of Julia Cameron who writes about journaling in her book, The Artist’s Way, as a way to communicate with our creative side and break through writer’s block.
However, many therapists suggest that journaling is a marvellous way to work through your feelings and thoughts about a particular experience. The Greeks believed that writing about yourself and your experiences was cathartic, i.e. cleansing. You can get all your feelings out there on paper. If you keep your journal safe, you can also write about things you may not ever say to another living person (or write on a piece of paper and burn or bin straight away).
The other thing about journaling is that you begin to see patterns in the way you react or experience things. So, you may notice that you often jump to conclusions and think the worst about situations, or you may find yourself able to express your annoyance with certain people (those who talk at you, for instance) or certain people in particular.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Julia Cameron suggests doing your pages in the morning, by hand, and keeping to three pages as minimum (although she doesn’t specify how big the pages are!). There are times when I’ve needed to do it first thing in the morning, when I’m going through a difficult situation, but usually I leave them to later in the day so that I can reflect, or get my notebook out when I’m in a coffee shop and have some space to myself.
Again, Cameron suggests keeping your pages to read through at a later date, but I prefer to write quickly, with my handwriting joined together so that my hand never leaves the page. This means that if anyone finds my journal or pages they wouldn’t be able to read a word I wrote, but it also means that it’s pretty impossible for me to go back through it too. However, I’m fine with that.
Cameron’s stance is that you should write by hand, to trigger the feeling or being creatively productive, but I know many people who swear by doing it on their computer as they find writing by hand clunky and clumsy. It’s all about whatever works for you.
- Become More Optimistic
I’m not a natural optimist. In fact my natural tendency is to catastrophise. I sometimes convince myself that this is useful, i.e. that I have thought of and planned for every eventuality, but the reality is that I’ve probably spent a lot of time worrying for and thinking of the worst.
Being prepared can be useful but it is also exhausting and often involves wrapping up your time in something that may or may not happen. I would love to be an optimist. Optimists live longer, are more resilient and more fun to be around too. Actively courting a more optimistic attitude to life can definitely increase your resilience quotient, but how do you do that?
- Change your language. Every time you spot yourself jumping into pessimistic speak, stop yourself and change to something more hopeful instead. Do this consistently through all your vehicles of communication, including social media
- Pretending to be optimistic, i.e. faking it until you feel it, may help a little but it’s not going to sustain you long term. The thing that will do that is to focus on your why in your life. Why are you doing what you do, living where you are, wanting what you want?
- Existentialist Jean Paul Satre affirmed that our freedom of choice is what makes us different from animals. In every given moment we can choose what we feel and what we are going to do next. At The Existentialist Café is a great book if you’re interested in learning about existentialism
- Gratitude is a commonly accepted and adopted way to boost optimism. I do my own gratitude list in my head before I go to sleep at night. Admittedly I often don’t finish it before I’m snoozing, but it’s a nice calming practice and does help you to recognise all the great things you have – and have achieved – already. Alternatively, you can add a gratitude practice to your journaling to kill two birds with one stone.
- Finally, we all have problems but the danger is getting stuck in the quagmire of the problem. Acknowledge the problem, make sure you understand all the issues and connotations, and then move on and look at potential solutions. This is especially important in team situations – be the one to look to the solution!
- Find a Sense of Purpose
There are many authors around resilience who say that finding a sense of purpose is key. The author and therapist Victor Frankl puts his survival of the concentration camps down to having a sense of purpose. In his case he wanted to get out the camps alive and share what he endured and discovered with others.
If you already have a strong sense of purpose that is great. However, if you don’t have one, or don’t recognise yours, then putting pressure on yourself to discover your purpose can be counter-productive.
One thing we can hang onto however are our values. Even if we don’t have an overriding purpose, or passion, or feel that we are fulfilling a certain destiny, we can hang onto those values as both our map and our compass, and keep coming back to them, even in moments of stress. This will help us stay grounded and on track.
We may believe that status and money are important drivers for feeling fulfilled and happy with our work, but meaning is an often overlooked but incredibly important need. A study as far back as 1997 (Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin and Schwartz) found that workers who looked at their work in terms of “a calling”, or being able to do meaningful work, were likely to obtain higher scores on life, health, job satisfaction and health.
This makes redundancy an ideal time to examine our work, meaning and calling, with the idea of being happier and healthier in the next chapter of our lives.
Paula Gardner is a career psychologist and coach and the founder of The Redundancy Recovery Hub. Author of The Career Pause and Pivot, Paula regularly coaches clients around moving forwards after redundancy. Having changed career mid-life, and previously ran her own PR and marketing agency, Paula’s USP is her real life experience as well as psychology and coaching know how.
Look out for Paula’s psychology based tutorials, or book a one to one at members’ rate here.