Is there anyone who would not like to be more resilient? To have that capacity to bounce back when life appears to have turned its back on you and sent you unexpected curved balls? This is not about being Bear Grills tough, but about being able to handle the interminable and myriad daily stressors that test us and our resolve. I have been thinking about this issue for some time now but was prompted to write about it by a recent article on the subject in Time magazine.
Resilience is probably one of those characteristics that we would all like to have more of. It is a characteristic particularly important for leaders in every sphere of life and especially for parents in these days of uncertainty. We need to inculcate in our children that capacity to deal with whatever comes our way in a positive and determined manner.
This is no easy task. Some people are inherently more resilient than others but all of us can learn the skills and capacity to be more resilient; and recent research supports this.
There are a few key things we need to practice to be more resilient.
Firstly, when we were still roaming the plains we lived, loved and hunted in groups. We are social beings to our core. In those days loners simply did not survive so being social and gregarious is buried very deep in our DNA. Sometimes it seems that individuals have become more important than teams. This is a big mistake. Loners are lonely and often prone to psychological issues. The encouragement of individualism at the expense of the team is the wrong way to go. It puts unnatural pressure and stress on the individual, especially the talented individual, and dangerously makes him or her believe that they are more important than the team of which they are part.
Secondly, strong social connections are a really important part of your resilience armoury. In fact the more I think about it the more convinced I become of the importance of building long-term, enduring relationships for a whole host of reasons but not least of all to be available in times of stress to help us bounce back from the dark places we have landed in.
The way you respond to stress is at the heart of building a strong set of responses that enable you to bounce back and to deal with even the most unexpected and unfair blows life sometimes throws at you. We know that we are equipped to fight, flee or freeze in the face of danger. This is your natural stress response. What we need to do is to learn how to use this energy positively so as to recognise when it kicks in and how to deploy the energy in a healthy future-focussed way.
This may well be one of the reasons for the rising interest in extreme sports and the growing popularity in exercise. Scientists have shown that fit individuals handle stress much better than unfit people.
In the Fortune Top Companies survey CEOs indicated that a conscious culture is top of mind for their organisation’s success. Research has also shown that living consciously is significantly important to deal with and rebound from stressful situations and challenges.
We always urge those that participate in our team and leadership wilderness experiences to stay in the present and to be present. This avoids the necessity for ‘catch-up’ if and when the unexpected occurs as it often does in Big 5 country! The catch-up, even if it is just a few seconds, can be as stressful (or more so) than the event itself.
Another important factor recommended by Dennis Charney and Steve Southwick in their Book: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges is the development of a strong set of ethical values to guide daily decision-making and behaviour. It is this last point that is apparently most absent in our leaders today; in virtually all levels of society but particularly amongst our political leaders. It is the rare politician who lives by and projects a clear set of values that others find easy to follow. In leadership this is a crucial component of success. The most ethical leaders are seen to stand for something clear, important and worth supporting. Those that tell people what they want to hear and then do the opposite merely confuse those for whom they are supposed to set the standards.
So what is it that we can all do to learn in order to recover quickly and positively from life’s challenges?
Espouse a strong set of clear values; develop a positive outlook; exercise regularly and test the limits of your fitness as part of this process; face your fears head-on; support others and reach out for support from others when you need it – remember you are a social being; develop your talents and strengths to the full because they are what define you. In life self-confidence is inextricably bound up with recognising and building on our strengths. It is really worthwhile to work on developing them to the full.
There is so much that we can do to be the best we can possibly be and it is so much better to do it in the company of others for whom we care and who we know care for us. The best of resilience has much to do with living our gregarious social and inherent collective consciousness to the full!