Resilience is your ability to adapt to changes around you. It requires a strong and open mind. The more options or possibilities you can see when faced with adversity, the more likely you will be able to adapt with ease. Everyone is different, but here is a recipe for resilience that works for me.
A desire to be in control
I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to be in control. In fact, I believe that our purpose in life is to be in control. It’s just not to control others, but to control ourselves, and specifically, our thoughts.
Self-mastery is our ultimate purpose. And what better way to learn to swim than by being thrown into the deep end of the pool? The global pandemic of 2020 has thrown us all into the deep side of the pool. We can look at it as an unfortunate event, or we can use it as a teacher towards self-mastery and building your recipe for resilience.
1. You’re not in control
Possibly the most important thing to realize as a human being is that we’re not in control. That’s a very memorable lesson I learned when I landed the day of the boxing day tsunami that hit Thailand and killed thousands. With all our latest technology to report seismic activity and all the warnings nature sent out, leaving the forests empty of all wildlife, we were met by surprise when the wave hit, too late to respond.
As we drove down the coast and witnessed the impact, I remember feeling extremely humble and extremely small realizing how powerful mother nature is. That was the defining moment I realized that we’re not in control.
Yet, we try to control everything around us as if we were more powerful than earth itself. We try to control our environment and the people around us, while the only thing we truly have control over is what goes on in our mind.
You’re not in control. No matter how powerful you are on this world, you’re not more powerful than the forces of nature.
Once you realize this universal truth, the art of practicing resilience becomes easier. When you go with the flow rather than try to force your only way, life, even in a global pandemic, becomes easier.
We’re not in control. Fact. The breath, however, as the vehicle for our emotions and thus physical experience, is the one thing we always do have some degree of control over. Even when it feels as if we’re out of control in every other aspect of your life, we can always consciously control our breath and with that, our brainwaves.
Simply by changing your focus to your breath to consciously slow down your breath you slow down your mind to calm the anxious monkey inside constantly jumping between the past and the present.
Next time you feel out of control or experience anxiety as a result, stop and breathe slowly. We can’t feel anxious and calm at the same time, but we can choose to calm down. You can always change your focus from the thoughts and feelings causing anxiety in your body or controlling your breath.
3. Accept where you are
You can’t change until you’re not willing to admit to where you are. It’s the first step in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program – a proven recipe that has helped so many people stay sober. And it works. It doesn’t, however, come naturally to us when faced with adversity.
The first natural stage when dealing with any type of trauma – including the anxiety of not being in control – is denial. By not admitting to the reality facing you somehow, you hope it will disappear. The opposite, however, happens. By denying the issue, it tends to become bigger until it is so big that you can’t ignore it anymore.
Accepting the reality of what’s happening is the hardest part of the change. If you can accept it, even just a little, you can start changing. If, however, you deny it’s existence, it’s impossible to change and you remain stuck where you are.
Admitting something doesn’t work or that you were wrong isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of growth. Everyone does the best they can with the information and experience they have right now. It’s not failure, it’s seeing more.
Honesty takes courage though. If you’re really honest with yourself, is your team as motivated as you portray them to be publicly? Are your projects running as smoothly as you would like them to run? Are you delivering high-quality products and services as you tell the world?
It doesn’t make you weak to admit there’s a problem. It makes you realistic. And when your willing to admit to the problem, you’re help-able and accountable.
4. How have you succeeded in the past?
Once you’ve admitted to the problem two things happen immediately. You experience immediate relief, and new options become available to you. You can take a step forward.
It’s also, however, easy to fall into a dark hole of despair and self-pity, blaming yourself for not being better than you currently are. It might be useful to realize you’re not as great as you think for a while – humility is a great virtue – but it’s not useful to stay stuck in self-blame.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do after you’ve made the mistake that defines you, not the mistake. So once you’ve accepted the reality that you are not where you want to be, start looking for what is working or has worked in the past.
Appreciative inquiry is a technique grounded in positive psychology focused to link back past successes to current failures or problems. Spend a few minutes to talk to a colleague. Ask them questions generative questions (read more in the post) and start dreaming up possibilities of how these past successes can help shape a possible future.
If you can describe a possible future, it is possible to reach it. The first step of making a dream a reality is to solidify it with your words. Words create worlds.
5. Change your perspective
There’s a saying that the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. To become more resilient means to have more options available to you. Investors have followed this advice for as long as it has existed with the famous “don’t keep all your eggs in one basket”. When you only have one option, having it removed leaves you with nothing. Having multiple options adds to your recipe for resilience.
The more options you have the higher your chance of bouncing back after a set-back.
There are many techniques available to help you think laterally and come up with new ideas. Pick one, anyone, and spend some time coming up with as many possible ideas as possible.
One of my favourite techniques to gain insights to find a new solution is combining an empathy map with body storming. By embodying the problem collectively it’s easy to identify opportunities. It allows you to step outside your limited perspective. Within an hour or two you’re able to identify possibilities without having to go through the expensive and rather restrictive design process.
Even if you choose not to do anything with these new insights, simply seeing possibilities helps alleviate the pressure of feeling out of control. Looking at the same problem from a different angle enables you to adapt.
Resilience is the art of graceful change. It means that even when you fall down seven times, you stand up one more time. Improve your recipe for resilience by reducing your fear and look for alternatives. But first and most importantly, you need to admit to your pain before you can do something about it.
Are you brave enough to change?
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.