Want to boost your resilience?

Posted by Katherine Sum
3 Oct

Top Tips for Dealing with What Work (and life!) Throw Your Way

by Sally Dellow

Practising Gratitude
I am generally not good at habits. I enjoy variety and spontaneity too much. But most nights I write in a gratitude journal that I keep by my bed. I capture 3 things I’m grateful for from that day.  About 7 years ago I read “The Optimistic Child” by Martin Seligman (the ‘godfather’ of positive psychology) seeking to help my daughter rebuild her optimistic mindset after a series of setbacks at school.  The tool we landed on was his gratitude practice. Now, aged 16, she has certainly bounced back and is thriving, and the gratitude practice has stuck with me.

Those who know me on Facebook may recall that I also post on the second working day of each week under the hashtag #GratiTuesday. What do I post? It might be gratitude for the blossom I see from my minibus window. Gratitude for getting the last seat on a non-stop flight to the UK for work. Gratitude for friends. Gratitude for the food I eat for lunch and the cash with which to buy it. Gratitude that my laptop fires up when I switch it on…

Regularly searching my life for things that are working out and going well helps me realise how many there are — even on the darkest days. So when my laptop doesn’t work, or a project is behind schedule, or there’s a critical delay in a client payment, or when I face my children and tell them I’m getting divorced, or have to rush one of them to hospital with a broken bone… I’m practiced at finding perspective, ‘reframing’. My gratitude-fueled positive mindset helps me face and solve problems, rather than becoming overwhelmed. It makes me resilient.

The Role of Resilience
We live in a world of constant change: ambiguous and uncertain career futures, the comparisons, judgement and isolation that are the dark side of social media, the challenge of managing huge volumes of information… It’s easy to feel a bit unfortunate. A bit hopeless. A bit out of control and sorry for ourselves. We can feel like a hostage to fortune.

That’s why we need resilience. It’s role is not to help us bulldoze through till we finally burn out. (I call that “super-coping” and I see far too many clients doing it. It is unsustainable). Instead, resilience helps us feel more positive and resourceful in the face of adversity, providing access to perspective, hope and energy.

So, what is resilience? And are there simple steps to accessing and renewing our reserves of it? Resilience is the difference between a raw egg and a rubber ball, when they both roll off a table. The egg smashes; the ball bounces back and can fall again and again and again — undamaged.

The wonderful Centre for Creative Leadership has come up with 8 elements of building resiliency. While it’s a robust model, I find it a bit hard to remember — especially in moments of stress. It’s also really designed as a long-term developmental blueprint. (Take a look — and talk to us if you want to put in place a programmatic approach to building resilience in your teams and organisation).

My goal for this blog is to offer a way to tap quickly into your current reserves of resilience in any stressful moment.

Quick Fix Tricks
As with everything, your best first move to access resilience is to stop and take THREE SLOW, DEEP BREATHS…

Then my 3-step, easy-to-remember resilience recipe is:

  1. Attitude of Gratitude
  2. Right to Reframe
  3. Champion Choices

Attitude of Gratitude
Continue to breathe deeply and ask yourself:
“What is one thing that is working right now?”  Force yourself to answer the question. Find something! Anything! Your response might be as basic as, “There’s coffee in the pantry, I can go and make a cup to drink while I think” or “At least my laptop is working so I can email a few people and ask for advice.”

The combination of oxygenated breath, smoother, slower heartrate and positive perspective dials down the stress hormones in your bloodstream and allows other, more helpful biochemicals to rebalance in your system. This helps open up your pre-frontal cortex — the part of the brain where your problem-solving capacities lie.

Right to Reframe
Next, return to that slow, deep breathing. Stand up. Gently roll your shoulders and wiggle your fingers to release some muscle tension. Now, deliberately step-by-step, examine your reaction to the presenting problem from the opposite perspective (even if it feels a bit ‘fake’). This is reframing.

With reframing, apocalyptic reactive thinking such as:
“It’s a disaster! My boss is going to kill me! I have no idea what to do! I’m going to get the blame for this!”
becomes
“The missing components mean a significant delay in delivery from the Hangzhou factory.”  “I need to think this through and identify solutions or mitigations. I’ve done that with other significant problems before.” “I’m accountable, but not alone. I can ask my peer in logistics to help me explore a range of possibilities and ideas.”

Champion Choice
Choice requires clarity.
Clarity comes from a calm and open mind. The door to that mind is the biochemicals in your bloodstream.
So, keep breathing deeply and slowly.
Try to put a smile on your face (bark out a stress-relieving laugh of disbelief at the situation, or just briefly push the muscles of your mouth and cheeks up into a quick smile shape: fake it ’til you make it!).  These physical moves help change the hormone balance in your bloodstream and your brain.
Clarity enables choices. Choices are decisions and decisions are empowering.

I have the huge privilege to work as a coach on IMD’s High Performance Leadership Programme under Professor George Kohlrieser, I’ve been exposed to his incredible toolkit developed over a lifetime as a hostage negotiator. He taught me that choices create a sense of control…

Feeling in control is a big contributor to resilience under stress. Of course, your choices might be constrained, less-than-ideal. But making them feels strong, hopeful, future-focused.

Professor Kohlrieser tells the story of talking “Sam” into surrendering in a life-threatening hostage scenario. George offered Sam choices right down to the last minute: “When you take the scissors from my throat do you want to put them on the bed or throw them into the corner of the room?”, “Do you want me to handcuff you or should the police Lieutenant do it?”. “Shall I cuff you in front or behind?”… Every time Sam chose, he because calmer. He faced his awful situation with clarity and self-control.

In our workplace disaster scenario above, you could ask yourself:
“There are 5 people who could probably help and advise me. Who shall I call first?”
Or
“Shall we pay to buy in components quickly from a more expensive supplier or pay the penalty for a week’s delay in delivery to the client?”

Bounce Back
At Dramatic Difference, we develop high performance people. Resilience is a characteristic that’s vital to high performance.

Both as actors and as executive coaches with a passionate interest in neuroscience, we know that your brain lives inside your body, and your body can help rescue you in times of stress.
So, to transform from eggshell fragile to rubber ball resilient: Breathe. Smile. (And keep doing that).

  1. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude — notice the smallest things that are still going OK
  2. It’s Right to Reframe — turn the situation around and use positive language to name what’s going on.
  3. Champion Choice — make a list of options. Choose some people to help you generate ideas and possible actions. Make the best, clearest choices you can. If they turn out to be imperfect, keep breathing deeply and make the next decision and the next till you’re back on track.

Please do comment on this blog – we welcome your feedback and questions.

And if you’d like to talk to us about this blog or any other aspect of developing high performance people, you can reach us on +852 3481 3473 or through admin@dramdiff.com

SALLY DELLOW

Sally Dellow is a director of Dramatic Difference, a Hong Kong & Singapore based L&D consultancy that develops High Performance People.