You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle you can build it up, draw on it when you need it and in that process you will figure out who you really are – and you might just become the very best version of yourself.
These words from Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and Founder of LeanIn.org, remind me that resilience isn’t necessarily instinctive, it’s something you develop over time. Sandberg lost her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, to an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease in 2015. In her book, Option B, she explores how we can find strength in the face of adversity to develop resilience.
Resilience exists when an individual is able to psychologically (either mentally or emotionally) protect themselves from the negative effects of stress, during periods of crisis, or to help them overcome adversity. This means we can use our past experiences of stress, failure or disappointment to build resilience and successfully negotiate new challenges and crises.
What is resilience?
Resilience comes in many forms: mental, emotional, physical and social resilience are all important. Resilience is being able to respond positively to a negative or challenging situation. There are several different ways people can respond to such situations. One key to developing resilience is the ability to adapt your behaviour to cope with the crisis, bounce back from it, and take those learns into the next situation. Of course, there are other ingredients to success – a healthy amount of pragmatism; confidence in your strengths and abilities; strong communication skills; and emotional intelligence.
And never lose sight of your purpose – it will keep you anchored. It’s easy to forget the reasons behind your effort, but if your purpose is strong and clear, it will help clarify goals and be a driver of resilience.
Crystal Palace Manager Iain Dowie famously coined the term bouncebackability to describe the remarkable turnaround his team made during the 2003-04 season. Crystal Palace had been on the cusp of relegation, but against all odds, they fought back and won promotion through the play-offs.
If you’ve read one of my blogs before, you’ve likely heard me tell the story of how Insights had just made a multimillion-pound investment in building our first global headquarters when a global recession hit in 2008. We were really feeling the pinch as our clients everywhere started cutting our learning solutions from their budgets. We were under huge pressure to retreat from our investment and stay in our more humble surroundings, at least until things improved. We didn’t. Instead, we turned to our people and together we made it to the other side of the recession – stronger than ever.
What I learned from that experience – and what Dowie and his Crystal Palace team probably also learned – was that, it’s not always going to be plain sailing. You will face adversity. There will be times when you’re under enormous amounts of pressure. But if you can look back and understand what helped – and what didn’t – you can take those learns into the next crisis. The next time you’re in the eye of the storm, you can draw on your past experience, and with a sense of calm, draw on your resilience to come out on top. To demonstrate bouncebackability.
How can we be more resilient?
Right now, coronavirus is dominating our world. People everywhere are experiencing tragedy and loss. Our health services are under serious and sustained pressure. Our schools, offices and places of social connection are closed. Our economy is suffering like never before. How do we build resilience in the current context?
I’ve often said that self-awareness is the foundation on which all else is built. People who truly understand themselves are more capable of doing the right things right. Self-aware people know what they’re great at, where they fit into teams, when to challenge and when to sit back, where they can be of the most use, and how to turn their ideas into new realities. They know when to ask, and when to tell; when to explore and when to exploit; when to think and when to act. They understand how others perceive them. They can adapt their approach in the moment, to build better, faster, stronger connections with those around them. Self-awareness allows you to be more present in the moment so that you can take advantage of the learning opportunities. And, as we’re already discussed, being able to examine what helped – and didn’t help – can help you next time.
Elsewhere, get comfortable with disruption, because right now – more than ever before – change is the only constant. Taking a step back from emotional reactions to challenges will mean you can think about how you can respond proactively.
Understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t control what other people think or how they behave. Equally, you can’t control how other people will deal with their emotions. Sometimes you will make mistakes. Sometimes things will happen to you over which you will have no control. But you can control how you look after yourself, by making enough time for your own physical and mental wellbeing. And that will positively impact how you show up for other people, and how they, in turn, respond to you.
Andy is Chief Executive Officer of Insights Group, where he guides us to fulfil the Insights purpose - to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.