Build Resilience to cope with change: Develop ‘Bouncebackability’
None of us are under any illusions that the environment for business today isn’t fragile, complex, demanding and constantly changing; it is also a trend that doesn’t seem to have an immediate let up. Politics, technology, regulatory changes… it’s all rapidly changing.
Add to this, an explosion of technological innovation where we are seeing entire work forces replaced by robots: AI that could, in the not too distant future, mean that there are no human beings in a call centre or serving you fast food, or even cooking it. Never before has humankind seen the amount of change that has happened in the last 20 years.
Managers are faced with a tsunami of change and are expected to navigate this, whilst executing the company strategy and keep their team afloat.
In an era where business keeps moving faster and stress levels are rising, it is no small wonder that we need to learn the new must-have skills: Resilience in order to Bounce Back.
According to the International Labour Organisation, workers in developed and developing countries are facing increasing strain at work. It’s clear that stress and burnout related to the increasing pace and intensity of work are on the rise globally. A survey of over 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America found that employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 82.6% of all emotional health cases in Employee Assistance Programs, up from 55.2%.
Also, a recent large-scale, longitudinal survey of over 1.5 million employees in 4,500 companies across 185 countries conducted as part of the Global Corporate Challenge found that approximately 75% of the workforce experienced moderate to high stress levels — and more specifically, that 36% of employees reported feeling highly or extremely stressed at work, with a further 39% reporting moderate levels of workplace stress. There is a clear correlation between rising workloads, changing environments, stress and ultimately the need to build resilience.
The current and rising levels of stress in the workplace should be cause for concern, as there is a direct and adverse relationship between negative stress, wellness and productivity. In modern workplaces characterised by cutbacks, deadlines, rivalry and organisational change, success relies on an individual’s capacity to cope and even thrive when faced with stress.
Can resilience be developed at work? Yes, but it takes work. The Harvard Business Review defines resilience as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.” Essentially, it’s your ability to keep calm and carry on in the face of any s*** life (and work) throws at you. Resilience is a person’s capacity to respond to pressure (stress) and the demands of daily life. Dictionary definitions include concepts like flexibility suppleness, durability, strength, speed of recovery and buoyancy. In short, resiliency affects our ability to ‘bounce back’.
Despite the overwhelming consensus and supporting evidence that resilience is vital for success, the truth remains: building resilience is hard.
So how can we develop ‘bouncebackability’ and stay motivated in the face of chronic negative stress and constantly increasing demands, complexity and change?
My 14 top tips to help you bounce back and build resilience:
Recharge: Take a break
If you’re trying to build resilience at work, you need adequate internal and external recovery periods. As researchers Zijlstra, Cropley and Rydstedt write in their paper: “Internal recovery refers to the shorter periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday or the work setting in the form of short scheduled or unscheduled breaks, by shifting attention or changing to other work tasks when the mental or physical resources required for the initial task are temporarily depleted or exhausted. External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of work—e.g. in the free time between the workdays, and during weekends, holidays or vacations.” If after work you lie around on your bed and get riled up by political commentary on your phone or get stressed thinking about decisions about how to renovate your home, your brain has not received a break from high mental arousal states. Our brains need a rest as much as our bodies do. So, take a break.
Focus on what you can control
Author and TV broadcaster, Charlie Jones, describes what he discovered about how champion rowing athletes prepared mentally for success. In his interviews with these athletes, he often began by asking the athletes what they would do in case of rain, strong winds or choppy waters—all certain to happen during the events. The response was always the same: “That’s outside my boat.” There are many situations that occur that can blow us off course and affect our resilience. It comes down to choosing our attitude; choosing to maintain focus on results and outcomes, not on obstacles. Buoyant people focus on things that make their boat go faster, those tasks that are within their control and that pay returns on the energy they invest. What’s “outside your boat”?
Use interrogative self-talk – Are you curious and motivational or unconstructive?
The ability and willingness to learn from experience and, subsequently, apply that learning elsewhere is a mindset adopted by people who thrive vs. survive. The agile learner sees difference as an opportunity to learn as opposed to a threat to their own identity. They seek and act on feedback, always looking at ways to improve themselves.Typically when we try to prepare for something important, inevitably we talk to ourselves. As you may guess, it’s called self-talk. Research shows that positive self-talk is better than going a neutral way. This positive self-talk is not as effective as something else (and it doesn’t relate to positivity or negativity). It’s what researchers call interrogative self-talk, which is, instead of saying to yourself ‘You can do this’, you ask yourself, ‘Can you do this?’ The reasoning behind this is that questions, by their very nature, elicit an active response. If I go into a sales call and ask myself, ‘Can you do this?’ at some level I have to answer and the way I answer is really important. I can answer, ‘Last time I did this sales call I didn’t do a good enough job of listening, and so I’ve got to make sure I listen more carefully.’ So what are you doing there? You’re preparing. You’re rehearsing. You’re practising. And that ends up being more muscular than the kind of chest thumping ‘I can do this. I got this’ kind of self-talk.
Say No When Necessary
For some of us we want to please others and demonstrate a level of ‘contribution’, for others we want to be helpful or demonstrate our level of competence by rescuing situations. Thinking you should not say no to someone is a symptom of ‘the disease to please.’ But saying yes all the time can add to your workload and causes burnout. You do, yourself and the person making the request, a disservice by saying yes all of the time.
Manage your boundaries
Saying no, staying focused and keeping on track is not always easy. Many tasks or people requesting additional things can take you off track. This can be difficult to manage especially if the request has come from someone senior. At this point you have a choice. To simply do what has been asked of you regardless of the impact or communicate the impact and other options. Boundary Management is all about flagging up impacts and offering options. Three great steps to manage your boundaries;
- Impact – Share the impact of continuing with that course of action
- Option – Share some options and the impact of those
- Choice – Offer them the choice of how to proceed
When working through a difficult issue or situation it is all too easy to get caught up in the detail. Developing a sense of perspective will help you to stay focused on the bigger picture. Remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve, that the challenges you are facing are only temporary and try to imagine how you will feel when you have worked things through.
Be humble and ask for help if you need it
Being buoyant doesn’t have to mean struggling with problems on your own. In fact, the most resilient people are those who know who to ask for help and when. Building a network of trusted people whose opinions you value, and who can offer you all kinds of support, can be invaluable in helping you to become more resilient at work and home. A starting place, is being OK asking for help. If you are humble enough to admit to yourself and others that you are struggling to cope – you are well one your way to finding strategies to thrive. Strange though it may seem, offering to help colleagues, friends or others through difficult times can also help you build your own resilience levels. This is due in part to exposing you to a range of different problems and situations which you can reflect on in future. It can also encourage you to take a step back when facing problems of your own, by considering ‘what would I advise my colleague/friend to do if they were in my situation?’
- Humility occurs when you are able to recognise that pursuing a continuous path will not work. It will mean taking time out to seek support and identify alternative approaches
- Treat problems as a learning process. Develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills and build achievement
Change your scripts
“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” The words we use are extremely powerful and they link directly to the thoughts we have – these are an indication of the scripts we play in our heads. By becoming aware of our thoughts, particularly the type of thoughts that are unhelpful, we can begin to process of turning them around. To be resilient, we need to be in control of the scripts we play and build strategies to overcome scripts that affect our resilience. The interesting thing is that the more the scripts become a part of who we are, the more true they become. It’s almost as if we attract the outcomes that we don’t want. Change your scripts … change your life!
- Acknowledge reality. Write down your negative scripts; identify and acknowledge which of the scripts you are in line with
- Critique your scripts. Look at the facts and ask yourself if your scripts are really true
- Be your own friend. What advice would you offer your friend if they were using similar scripts?
- Phone a friend and seek advice. Rather than accepting things as you believe, seek advice from a trusted friend or colleague. This could be advice or feedback on your performance, or on what they have personally experienced
- Problem solve. Focus on the solution to the problem rather than allowing yourself to get lost in the scripts you are playing. Take steps to move forwards
- Celebrate your successes. Take time at the end of each day to review what went well and congratulate yourself. This trains the mind to look for success rather than dwelling on negativity and ‘failure’
Control your emotional state
When building resilience, it can be challenging to manage our own internal emotional state, especially in difficult situations. We all deal with challenges differently, some get emotional and cry out of frustration, some feel anger which is followed by a verbal or physical outburst or some dive headfirst into activity to stop them thinking about the difficult situation? Being able to manage your state so that you can perform even in the most challenging of situations is clearly something that is of huge value wherever you work, whatever you do and whoever you are!
- Take control of your body. Move; do anything that pushes different chemicals around your nervous system – this could be doing more exercise, or simply taking the stairs instead of the lift. Lift your posture, stand tall, high and successful. Not only will you look confident, but you’ll feel more confident. Consider changing your facial expression and breathing, even the smallest changes will help you manage your state
- Take control of your internal dialogue or self-talk. You can change the content or the language of your inner voice, so you become your own champion. Do you have an inner voice that tells you you’re not good enough?
- Your emotional state is made up of your thoughts, emotions and physiology – changing any of these can influence your state
Compartmentalise your cognitive load
We receive 11 million bits of information every second, but the executive, thinking centres of our brain can effectively process only 40 bits of information, according to Shawn Achor, co-founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and author of The Happiness Advantage. One practical way to think about this is that though we can’t decrease the amount of information we receive (in our inboxes, for example), we can compartmentalise our cognitive tasks to optimise the way we process that information. Be deliberate about compartmentalising different types of work activities such as emailing, strategy or brainstorming sessions, and business-as-usual meetings
Take some time out to reflect
Becoming more reflective is another way individuals can build ‘bouncebackability’ at work. In other words, being in tune with one’s emotions and emotional reactions can serve to buffer against the effect of stress. Being aware of possible ‘triggers’ to stress can provide individuals with the opportunity to prepare and gather resources so they are better able to ‘bounce back’. If an someone knows that a particular circumstance will be especially challenging, they can then implement coping strategies, such as seeking support. Back to be humble!
Build a strong support network
The poet, John Donne, first coined the saying, “no man is an island”. That platitude has been used time and time again to the point of cliché, we know. But it wouldn’t have stuck around that long if there wasn’t an element of truth to it. Don’t be an island. Reach out for help, and when it’s time for you to do so, provide that support to others.
Finally, creating a culture of ‘phycological safety’ where people feel safe to say how they feel and share if they are struggling to cope. A culture of safety includes team members being encouraged to:
- Speak up, share how they feel and ask any questions
- Openly share bad news, and report early warning signs of potential problems
- Maintain composure during ‘emergencies’ and times of heightened stress
- In case of needing further support, seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority
- Keep an eye on each other, and be there to offer support throughout the challenge
- Lastly, but importantly, once the challenge has passed, to encourage resilience team members to thank others for their help and discuss any other challenges.
Return to Recharge: Take a break
- Speak up, share how they feel and ask any questions
- When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Take steps to improve your basic human needs – nutrition, exercise and sleep
- Make time for activities that you enjoy. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges
- Try really hard at a task, then stop, recover and then try again
- Time spent completing high stress activities should equal time spent in recovery – the need for recovery rises in line with the amount of work required of us
- Rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering
- When the mental or physical resources required for a task are temporarily worn-out, take short scheduled or unscheduled breaks in your work day; shift attention or change to other work tasks
- Outside of work – evenings, weekends, holidays, vacations, ensure that you give your brain a complete break from high mental arousal. Our brains need to rest as much as our bodies do
- Get back in control of your distractions and give yourself time to recover – download an app to help you switch off from technology – e.g. Offtime or Unplugged
- Take your lunch away from your desk and instead spend time outside or with your friends — not talking about work
- Take all of your paid time off
- Relax, meditate, sleep, watch movies, write blogs, listen to entertaining podcasts or anything that helps you to feel rejuvenated and ready to return to high performance
‘Bouncebackability’ and ‘resilience’ are really important and they can help you cope with change. Why? Because there’s only one thing you can control in life: yourself. Tough times are inevitable. It’s how to get back up after you’ve been knocked down that’s tricky to nail.
The ability to cope well with pressure, adversity and uncertainty relies on developing behaviours, thoughts and actions. Anyone can learn these habits and create strategies to help increase resilience and bounce back. You are not going to develop resilience overnight. It will be like growing a pearl in an oyster – slow and steady, but with each day you’ll get stronger. Compassion comes into play. Be kind to yourself when you react instead of respond. Keep reflecting. Re-draw your comeback plan if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.