Following on from the last blog I wanted to concentrate on how to build resilience for adults.

The link between wellbeing and resilience.

Interest in how to boost human wellbeing is growing. This may be the result of an acceptance that stress is part of everyday life, or that as humans we may not be adapting as fast to technological advances as they are capable of being designed, which in turn puts us under pressure. The human body is remarkably slow to adapt even if the spirit is willing!

Currently, a quarter of all employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.” Many of us now work in constantly connected, always-on, high demand work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout can be widespread. Since the pace of change is unlikely to alter, it is even more important that we equip ourselves with ways to adapt or at least, cope with what comes at us.

The Tools We Need

Tool kit

In my work on stress I have often referred to each of us as developing a toolkit in life. This set of tools is partly the result of what we learn and partly what we are taught or shown. Essentially, whatever we experience we learn from, and that develops a tool in our kitbag, or an ability to respond to that situation. If we meet it again we use the right tool, but if we meet unfamiliar situations as we get older we tend to rely on our previously learnt tools – our existing kitbag – and these may not suit or be adequate. This results in overwhelm and a difficulty in handling the situation, which in turn means some of us withdraw and get upset, others get angry, and still more get stressed. Either way, the core issue is we are trying to use the wrong tool in our kitbag. What we need to do now is probably to seek advice – books, blogs, colleagues, family, and advisers (like me), who can guide you.

What is Resilience:

In my experience, “resilience is the ability an individual has to respond calmly to a situation; to work out a plan of what to do, and then take action on the plan until the situation has been resolved”. Experts who have studied this believe it is not an innate quality, you are not born with it and you can learn the skill. I would endorse that wholeheartedly but equally there are two features to the way a person thinks which do seem to make a difference

The Optimism – Pessimism Scale. Being Optimistic in life is related to the belief that life is essentially a positive experience and that good things do happen. Being pessimistic on the other hand can be related to the belief that negative things inevitably happen and if this perception is deeply ingrained a person can believe evidence suggests they are particularly susceptible to the negative experiences life offers.

Beliefs are important as they enable us to filter the experiences we go through in such a way that we can recover quickly from them and build greater resilience, or we tend to withdraw and want to take shelter pretty much every time situations throw difficulties or hurdles for us to step over. In time this builds a reluctance to try things in case they go wrong.

So instead of happily weathering the storm we become a person who doesn’t weather anything well and constantly expects it to metaphorically rain. There is no doubt that life can be very tough for some people so assuming the worst may have its origins in self-preservation, and come from a very understandable place. To correct this in small steps please read the suggestions I will make at the end of this blog, but essentially it lies in seeking and building evidence to the contrary – that life can have small moments of happiness and to learn to appreciate these.

If you want to take the Happiness Test which measures your Optimism, Pessimism score, why not look at this link:from Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/test/1320

The other characteristic that can influence our resilience is referred to as Locus of Control or the belief we have about who is in control of our lives. Are you someone who believes you are or that forces beyond your control influence your life? LOC measures two predominant personality types; an Internal who believes that they are in control of whatever happens to them so even if negative events hit them it is not what they go through but what they do about it that matters. An External believes that they are very largely affected, and therefore influenced, by forces outside their control such as the Government, their Boss, things they cannot alter easily. Therefore, they react with great concern because everything that happens is potentially a source of stress so they will look to others to form ideas and answers about what to do. Strengthening your resilience is about believing in how much you have a chance of influencing your attitude to situations as the situations itself.

If you are interested in measuring your Locus of Control score to see if you are an Internal or an External, try this link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/tests/personality/locus-control

To Develop Greater Resilience.

  • I see this like a Boxing Match: resilience in action is when you step in to the match and take a punch. When it is ‘time out’ you step back and sit on the side for a bit. This is the equivalent of you measuring the size of the punch, assessing the damage, and determining the impact – what else will it effect, how big and how bad? Once you have thought that through If you need to take some Hippo Time (this is Paul McGee’s* excellent idea that if you need to wallow, then do!), it allows you to feel sorry for yourself but not indefinitely. Wallowing doesn’t change it but it can feel good for a bit when you are angry, hurt or deeply disappointed. Then instead of just getting back up, take advice. Use your friends, family, advisers as if you were a Boxer taking coaching from their Coach and build yourself back up a bit. Have a plan, think through what’s needed and be prepared to take a bite size step. Then go back in the ring and be prepared to fight again. That is what life is about, try and try again! So, in short:

          Event + Impact + Time out + Coaching + Plan of Action = go again!

  • PMA – Positive Mental Attitude – An optimistic, adaptive, and positive outlook enables you and promotes others to see the good things in life and to keep going even in the hardest of times. Positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are transient and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it is important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future.
  • Build Networks – Make friends with colleagues and other professionals. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience.  Resilient people build good relationships with others because they understand that seeking support can help individuals overcome adverse situations, rather than trying to cope on their own. They also provide support to others, but not at the expense of themselves.  They nurture themselves because they understand that if they are not strong they are can’t support others
  • Set clear goals – Taking bite size chunks is a strategy that though well used is useful in relation to building resilience. If you get rejected when you’ve written a book for example, and the re-writes seem huge, take a chapter, and re-write that – develop the sense that little is a start and this massively offsets against the desire to procrastinate or not even begin. I love this drawing we’ve used in my Twitter feed for this because it reminds me.

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  • Laughter – the best medicine – Research has shown that laughter reduces stress and is beneficial to health. It also creates a sense of wellbeing and optimism and builds connection between people. Choose from your friends when you need a boost so that you cherry pick someone whose attitude is a tonic for you. They may talk about other things and not even touch on your issues but that alone can work to reduce the size of the issue or just give you a break. 
  • Exercise mindfulness – People in the business world are increasingly turning their attention to mental training practices associated with mindfulness — and for good reason. For example, organizational psychologists Erik Dane and Bradley Brummel found that mindfulness facilitates job performance and preventive medicine researchers Kimberly Aitken and her colleagues found that online mindfulness programs have been shown to be practical and effective in decreasing employee stress, while improving resilience and work engagement. Even greater value might be the regular practice of meditation. Some of us find it easy to sit calmly or in silence but others may struggle so this site is useful I’ve found for explaining both the benefits and the process //fitnessgoat.com/wellness/meditation-101/
  • Work at adjusting your beliefs – look for evidence of your thoughts. If you think the world is negative and rotten things always happen to you, start to keep a journal. Keep a daily record of small but positive things that happened to you that day – a driver who gives way for you on the road, someone holds the door open, another smiles or chats, yet another pays you a compliment and someone may have picked up the item you dropped as you ran. These are all evidence – a record of positive experiences which you look at and read again.

This list is not exhaustive but it’s a start. Building resilience takes time or in my words when I speak on this subject to businesses and individuals:

Resilience is not one quality working alone. Its in your thinking, your attitude, and your daily habits. Persistent focus and determination, consistently applied, pay off over time

 Let me know how you get on? Tweet to me at: suefirthstress

*Paul McGee: SUMO: Shut Up Move On, the Straight Talking Guide to Succeeding in Life available on Amazon