Resilience is the new ‘hot word’ in dialogues on leadership. It is understandable that this quality of facing adversity effectively will be valued in the face of the most far reaching series of disruptions that our world has known in recent history. The definition of resilience via a google search, is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or, it is elasticity; the quality that allows a thing to spring back into shape. In our psyche, this elasticity could come from any of several strategies whether conscious or unconscious.
The leaders we work with at TAQ worry about their own personal resilience and staying power even as they tackle increasingly complex business choices every day. Processing and responding to the onslaught of challenges currently coming at them can be exhausting. Marathon runners know well that to stay in the race one needs to calibrate effort through the run and replenish with fluids, salts and sugars at repeated intervals. We recommend using the same principle to build resilience. Regulate your energy, build a bank of resources that can replenish you and build a habit to draw on this sustenance regularly. Here, we look at different resources/strategies that you can draw on as you find your way back to center.
An athlete who ignores the pain from an injury to stretch beyond and perform, a singer who despite sudden loss decides that ‘the show must go on’, or the business leader who doggedly pursues a target despite extremely challenging market conditions may all be buffering. The buffer is a temporary cushion that we create as we postpone dealing with the problem. Real feeling is kept at bay. This may be useful as a way to slow down the onslaught of pain or loss. It does the work of a painkiller or anesthetic, but does not build capacity for resilience. In the long run, it causes a great deal of ‘burn’ and can run us into physical and emotional debt.
Resilient people learn and adopt emotional habits that build in the elasticity. Some habits they exhibit are –
- admitting mistakes and not brooding about them,
- actively regulating how they feel through exercise, sleep, meditation
- regulating their own consumption of information, limiting exposure to factors that can trigger them
- not taking things personally, focussing on facts rather than the emotional drama or any other device that helps them manage their inner world
These are specific behaviours they learn either by watching significant others or through trial and error, and they know that what they do can change how they feel. These are habits anyone can embrace through practice and go a long way on the road to recovery.
A friend to listen and lean on, offer emotional support, good counsel, and sometimes just to witness our journey can help mitigate stress. Research shows that responses to stressful situations were modulated when the individual had another person with them (even a nurse) and even further reduced when the person was a known friend/ relative. Close relationships can be a source of strength and sustenance.
Relationships are built over time but we can start investing in relationships anytime, even when we feel lost or have the wind knocked out of us. The act of showing compassion to another person is as or more powerful as having someone show compassion to you! New pathways almost always open up when we make a genuine connect to a fellow being.
How we define ourselves affects how resilient we are when our very identities are threatened. The more crystallized and resolute we are, we go further along in a particular sphere. It helps us streamline all efforts to build that image we carry of ourselves. But it is a double edged sword – it can also impede our ability to learn and change. Think of a dedicated dancer who suffers a major injury and therefore cannot dance anymore. If his identity as a dancer overshadows all other roles that he plays, the road to reintegration can be that much harder. Or someone who is an expert in a technology that overnight becomes obsolete. Recovery may need that person to learn new technologies and let go of out-dated knowledge. The more set we are in a particular identity, the harder it is to bounce back. But if we have other identities in our lives, other roles we perform and fluidity between the different spaces, we have paths open to us to figure out what is at our core, and find ways to re-craft our lives.
Purpose is the answer to several questions such as ‘what am I here for?’, or ‘what is meaningful for me?’ It is not that those who have a great sense of purpose do not feel despondent when things go wrong. They just have a powerful anchor that acts as a beacon to help them find their way back. A famous story of resilience of our times is that of JK Rowling. She apparently conceived the idea of Harry Potter in 1990 while she was working for Amnesty International. The next few years saw the death of her mother, the birth of her first child, divorce from her husband, life in poverty, and rejection by several publishers; but through all this she persevered with the idea of Harry Potter series the first of which was finally published in 1997. Purpose does not have to be something grand or noble. It can be anything that makes life meaningful; that gives hope and energizes us to take action.
If you are feeling lost or thrown off by recent events, spend some time mapping the resources that you do have that can help you find your way back – people in your life, meaningful work, projects or hobbies that can affirm your identity, habits that you can learn and make your own.
Once you know what resources work for you personally, (1) strengthen them (for e.g., if relationships replenish you, invest in building deeper ones), (2) identify when you are off center and (3) access them freely and frequently. Resilience is a habit and needs constant practice.
We do not usually think about investing in our emotional capacity the way we consciously learn to do math or work computers. Building the elasticity is a worthwhile effort though, one that could really help us weather difficult times and make good choices for ourselves.