Becoming Resilient

January 18, 2013

upside down
In a turbulent environment, the challenges vary every day. They keep coming and changing. Some you handle more successfully than others. As a set, they require skill, flexibility, and resilience. Building and maintaining resilience turns on your tending to your mindset, body, and heart as well as to any warning signs that your resilience is running low.

Identifying and acquiring key skills enables you to experience success, an energizing and resilience building event. The experience comes both from the acquisition of the skill and from the rewarding effects of its application. FMRI’s show that our brains literally ‘light up’ when we receive positive feedback from our world, i.e., succeed. So, pursue your own development and the restorative sense of accomplishment that flows from it. Similarly, make sure that your work week includes adequate work activities that you enjoy. Know what work you prefer and try to do as much of it as possible.

As for failure, it will come more often in a white water world. You don’t run a Class V river without flipping. That ‘failure’ is not the point. Rolling back up and continuing on is. That kind of resilience requires a mindset that accepts being flipped (e.g., making a mistake like misjudging a timeline or misreading a meeting or sending an e-mail better left unsent) and a commitment to learn from the experience and to practice how to roll upright (e.g., negotiating a new timeline, adjusting to real time social cues, or conducting difficult conversations.) Accepting the inevitability of setbacks and practicing to overcome them generates resilience.

Also, recognize that a permanent white water world requires a ‘pareto’ orientation, namely that 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of what truly matters. Trying to ‘get it all done’ doesn’t work because you have too much to do and still more is coming. Concentrate instead on identifying and pursuing the key 20%. Sort and resort. Create ‘not-to-do’ lists, lists of perfectly good ideas and initiatives that you will NOT pursue in order to have a maintainable pace and to secure adequate resilience.

Keep in touch with your friends and loved ones. They will help you restore your heart. Share their lives and yours. They will help you remember that you count for far more than the river or its challenges or any trip down it. They will thereby help you to deal with the river, the challenges, and the trip.

As for your heart, attend to warning signs that your resilience, your ability to bounce back, runs low. Pages 128-129 of Your Job Survival Guide provides a fairly long list of those signs, including working harder with less result, persistent tiredness, an inability to relax without drugs or alcohol, an absence of long personal conversations, a dearth of smiling or laughter, a creeping numbness, a pervasive sense of being overwhelmed, and frequent dreaming of ‘escape’. Recognizing these warning signs should prompt action like taking vacation, altering life patterns, and looking for a new job. Under such circumstances, keeping on keeping on will not serve you well. (For more on leading, see Chapter 4 in Your Job Survival Guide.)