How to Supercharge your Resilience
Resilience is something you should desperately want more of. Life coach Nikki Swan explains how to build resilience for greater happiness and success.
What does resilience mean to you?
Over recent years, resilience has become a buzz word. So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, let’s stop for a moment and consider the opening question. Maybe your response included:
the ability to just keep going,
not giving up, or even,
the ability to bounce back after adversity.
These are all relevant. But they might not convince you that resilience is something you desperately want more of. According to eminent psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté resilience, “is the basic ingredient to happiness and success”. More of a hook line, right?
A resilient person learns from their experiences, and rather than becoming overwhelmed by anxiety and worry, they develop ways of coping with these emotions – of weathering life’s storms. The good news is that we’re all resilient in one way or another, and it’s not a characteristic that you just so happen be born with, but more like a muscle that you can develop.
So, let’s talk about two things that are key in supercharging your resilience - flexible thinking and compassion.
Picture the scene. It’s 5.25pm on a Friday and just as you’re about to leave your desk. Ping goes your e-mail and it’s from your boss, asking you to come to their office first thing on Monday morning. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? Maybe it starts with curiosity. And maybe this leads to further analysis of what you’ve been doing that day? Or that week? Perhaps you start to wonder what you’ve done wrong? Maybe you re-read the e-mail and imagine that the tone sounds angry and abrupt. Oh no! Your boss is angry with you! At the extreme, you might then spend the entire weekend ruminating over the scenario and the impending meeting of doom on Monday morning, where you’ll certainly be handed your P45 for breakfast. How would this make you feel? And how would it make you behave? You might feel fearful or anxious and maybe you’d reach out for a short-term fix (whatever that might be for you – sugar/more alcohol than usual or something else). Chances are, the dreaded meeting on Monday morning wouldn’t be nearly as bad as you’d anticipated.
So how does flexible thinking help? As humans we’re evolutionary programmed with a negativity bias. And what I mean, is that we’re constantly scanning for threats and spotting things that might be a risk to our survival. In the scenario I’ve just described the beliefs about the adversity and the consequent rumination, would likely have triggered your body’s stress response system and consequently, would also have led to a less pleasurable weekend than usual. Thinking flexibly is acknowledging that you have a choice of the thinking track you choose and thus how you feel as a result. The next time you encounter adversity, try this. Imagine that there aren’t one, but three possible outcomes.
First, the worst outcome (hello, negativity bias), that is, you’re going to lose your job.
Next, what’s the best possible outcome? Maybe a promotion? A pay-rise? Choose whatever you like.
Lastly, think about the most likely outcome, which could be, for example, that your boss wants an update on the project that you’ve been working on.
If you consider the most likely outcome – how would this change how you felt and behaved over the weekend versus the worst-case scenario? Hopefully an improvement. You can also take this further – depending on which of the above three routes you take, you end up at another choice point where there’s another best, worst and most likely pathway. So, if it helps you to avoid catastrophising, you can plan what the options would be if you did lose your job – e.g. get a new job with a huge pay rise/get a new (better) job using the skills you’d acquired in your current position/be unemployed for a few months and then get a new job. Things usually aren’t as bad as we first imagine.
By being aware of where our thoughts take us and thinking about the alternatives, we are better prepared for adversity and more equipped and resilient towards life’s challenges.
Are you aware of your inner dialogue? What do you say to yourself when things aren’t going your way? Anything self-critical, like “I’m an idiot”, “I’m a bad parent”, “I’m selfish”. If you’re working late at work and miss the kids’ bedtime, does that really make you a bad parent? Being self- compassionate and kind to yourself is a more productive way of promoting resilience. For example, missing bedtime but telling yourself “ok, that was today, I’m doing the best I can, and tomorrow I’ll be back for bedtime”. From here you can plan how you’ll make that happen the following day. Conversely, being self-critical could, at worst make you feel guilty, perhaps even helpless and the knock-on effect potentially making you less effective at work, taking longer to get things done and missing further bed times. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the inner critic gets louder and meaner. Remember that you aren’t alone, other people have the same challenges and nobody can give 100% to everything in their life at all times.
In a similar vein, criticising yourself because a presentation didn’t go as you’d planned (“I’m an idiot”) is also counter-productive. You don’t have to be delusional about it (“it went really well”) but a more productive way of thinking about it would be, “ok, so that didn’t go as I planned, what I learned is X and next time I’ll do X and Y so that I improve my presentation skills”. Self-compassion, according to Rick Hansen, “lowers self-criticism and builds up self-worth, helping you to be more ambitious and successful, not complacent and lazy.”
So, the next time you become aware of less than compassionate self-talk, ask yourself what you would say to a close friend in a similar situation? Be as kind to yourself as you would be to them.
In a world of instant gratification, it’s frustrating that we can’t become super resilient overnight. However, flexible thinking and self-compassion are just two methods, that with ongoing practice, will help you to supercharge your resilience, in turn leading you to more happiness and success.
Nikki is a transformational coach and wellbeing advocate. Before setting up her business, Mindful Swan, she spent 15 years in the corporate world (ex PwC and Deloitte). Connect with Nikki on LinkedIn or download her free wellbeing guide at www.mindfulswan.com