The truth is we can’t control much at all in our external environment.
Life can be messy, chaotic and even unfair. We may be hit with health issues, redundancy, divorce, death of loved ones, being passed over for promotion, stock market ‘crash’ where our financial wellbeing is under threat, or conflict in our work environment or life. It’s easy to fall victim to what occurs. The only thing we control is our response to what comes at us.
This is where resilience comes in. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after one of life’s inevitable setbacks. It’s the ability to put things into perspective without diminishing them.
How do we increase our emotional resilience and positivity? Here are 7 ways I help my clients increase resilience, internal strength and to find their joy.
1. Find your purpose
What is your reason for being? What gives your life meaning and fulfilment? What is the contribution you believe you can make in your life? It may come directly from the products or services you provide either direct to clients or to your employer. Perhaps there was something missing in your childhood that you are driven to replace. Or maybe there is a clear notion of the legacy you want to leave and how you want to be remembered.
Your purpose will give you an emotional connection to something much larger than you. When life throws its inevitable curve balls at you, purpose provides a bigger context to the extent that barriers become challenges which can be overcome. It provides the energy to move beyond the immediate setbacks and to live up to your potential.
2. Develop a positive mindset
Not long ago, the widely-held view was that people were born optimists … or not. However, according to Shawn Achor set out in his presentation “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, optimism can be learned. It is a life-critical skill. 90% of our happiness is predicted not by our external world, but by the way your brain processes it. Only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. 75% is predicted by our optimism levels, our social support and our ability to see stress as a challenge. Positive thinking is linked with increased performance.
Now, it is accepted that we can develop a positive mindset. We can increase our optimism by flipping situations to find the silver lining. When we practice gratitude each day, we basically rewire our brain. Just 3 different things that you appreciate each day for 28 days! Finally, making useful or productive mistakes contributes to a positive mindset. This technique is about letting go of blame and shame around making mistakes. Instead, we look at the mistake and ask “What can I learn from this so that I have a different outcome next time?” We take the lesson and let the mistake go. Practiced regularly, these three techniques will shift your mindset over time to one that is automatically more positive.
3. Let go of perfection
Many of us have been strongly influenced by perfectionist parents or caregivers. The ideal is what we aim for and nothing less is satisfactory. The problem is we can’t define the ideal. All we know is that we haven’t achieved it. When we expect our performance or our lives around us to be perfect, we are bound to be disappointed and that generally leads to dissatisfaction, self-doubt and reinforces the feeling of not being good enough. It is hard to be resilient if we don’t believe in ourselves.
4. Replace your inner critic with a Master Mind group
Many of us – if not all – have a critical voice that undermines us, ticks us off for not doing the ‘right’ thing, voices petty jealousies or plays out the martyr to name a few of its roles. Believe it or not, this inner voice has our wellbeing in mind. It might be attempting to keep us safe from hurt, from being used, from failure and rejection. However, what it really does is undermine our possibilities by nipping at us constantly, wearing us down.
How much more useful would it be to have an internal Master Mind group of all the people you respect and appreciate – alive or dead – whose voices could give you support and constructive advice, opening up possibilities. Make a list of all the people whose sage advice you would love to have access to. What would they say to you about whatever situation you’re currently experiencing. Make a habit of asking them each day (again that habit thing) and over time, you will internalise their voices. If you’ve had a great mentor or coach, you’ll know what I mean. After a while, you start hearing his or her voice in your head providing another perspective on the situation you’re currently experiencing. Try it.
In addition to your internal Master Mind group, develop an external support group to provide a sounding board and objective advice when you need it. If they can also cheer you on where that’s valuable, even better.
5. Separate your feelings from reality
We each have our personal unique view of the world. Our brain filters the 11 billion pieces of information we’re exposed to in each minute (no I have no idea how the neuroscientists arrived at that figure) down to 150 that we take in then down to 5-9 that we actively pay attention to. We eliminate most of what we see, hear and experience. How do we do that? What is the criteria we use? The answer is that our amazing mind has developed a filtering system based on all our experiences, our parenting, our religious upbringing, the culture we experienced growing up and our education to name a few. These experiences are organised into filters including values (what drives our choices and behaviours), beliefs (which influence our capabilities and interpretation of the world), attitudes (groups of beliefs), expectations and needs.
By the time a conversation or situation has been put through our filters, it bears our own unique interpretation, so any response we have is not to the situation itself. We are responding to our interpretation of the situation. While our feelings are real, they are in response to an imperfect interpretation of what occurred.
No wonder we get into arguments about what really happened in any given situation. None of us has the whole story. We only have 5-9 bits out of 11 billion.
We need to separate the objective event from our interpretation so we can open up the possibility of responding differently.
6. Flip judgement to curiosity
In my experience, judgement is usually about deciding that someone’s behaviour or some situation is not delivering to the standard of how things ‘should be done around here’. It closes down conversation. It puts people and situations into boxes. It judges them as right or wrong.
Given that each one of us has such a small part of the story of what’s going on around us, can we really afford to dismiss someone else’s perspective or behaviour as not being right? Firstly, there is no such thing in human behaviour as right or wrong. If you disagree, ask yourself whether there might be some wisdom and insight within the 10.9999 billion bits of information around us that we have eliminated. Secondly, other people’s different perspectives provide us with an opportunity to expand our own wisdom – to regain some of the missing pieces from the jigsaw puzzle that is the whole story.
Being curious opens up possibilities and contributes to us being able to see the silver lining in any difficult situation.
All the great inventions and achievements in our world have been created by someone or a group who focussed on the outcomes they wanted to achieve and, in spite of challenges, kept going until they achieved their desired outcome. What do you want to create? What’s your Vision for your life or your career? Why is that valuable? What contribution will you make in the process? How important is it to you? When you’ve answered those questions and decided you really want/need to achieve this outcome, stick to it. Don’t give up when you encounter the first challenges. Keep going. You’re on a mission.
Perseverance, together with Purpose provide you a bigger context in which to evaluate and respond to life’s curve balls.
These tools – if used, of course – will make a significant difference to your ability to bounce back after any kind of setback. This doesn’t mean that the minute something ‘awful’ happens, you will be able to bounce back. Emotional processing takes time. However, when we have a high level of resilience, the amount of time between the event occurring and us being able to put it into a context that allows us to move on is so much shorter.
Given how much of life and work are uncertain – in a constant state of change – being resilient is just about the most important capability for career or business success.