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  • David Tong

9 stepping-stones to a more resilient life. Part 1 - mindset

Updated: Mar 23, 2021


Many people will currently be thinking about the difference that Covid-19 has made to their lives. Their business may have been damaged, their job affected, their ambitions thwarted. As we now turn our mind to coping with the aftermath of the lockdown, but with the threat of a second wave lurking, the topic of resilience inevitably surfaces.


How are we best going to respond to the challenges we now face?

Resilience is partly about being able to bounce back, but it is also about building the capacity to cope with day-to-day pressures. An expert on resilience, who talks very practically on this subject is Lucy Hone; she advises on disaster recovery in New Zealand and has also experienced personal tragedy, that she has had to overcome. She has given a compelling TED talk on the subject and I recommend it – ‘The Three Secrets of Resilient People’, TEDx Christchurch.

I have taken some of Lucy Hone’s thinking and combined it with other work on the topic to create a simple ‘9 step model of resilience’. These are structured under three headings and cover:

In this blog I will cover the first three steps highlighted by Lucy Hone about creating a resilient mindset. Future blogs will cover the remaining steps.


Perspective

When something unwanted occurs, we should try to avoid asking, ‘why is this happening to me’? This starts us down the path of victimhood - which holds us back from taking an active response to a threat. Instead, our capacity to cope is increased if we recognise that ‘bad stuff’ will happen.


A perspective of ‘acceptance’ is a surprisingly powerful response because it enables us to organise our thoughts quickly and productively instead of tormenting ourselves with a period of emotional anguish when we feel the victim.

Another way that we can develop a coping perspective is to keep things in proportion. Some people immediately see the difficulties they encounter as catastrophes and our primeval threat response short-circuits us into this type of reaction. But if we engage our rational brain to ask, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ this will often help us return to a more balanced view where we can think constructively.

Positivity

People with a positive outlook tend to respond better under pressure. They are more likely to believe they can cope, they will see more possible solutions and believe things will eventually get better, giving them the motivation to endure.

If you see yourself as a ‘glass half-empty’ person, but don’t want to feel this way, there are techniques you can adopt to change your mindset. Start by ‘tuning in to the good things in life', noting those things you can be grateful for, recording small events that make you smile and regularly acknowledging your colleagues for their help and ideas. This may sound trite, but there is strong evidence from modern neuroscience that this type of mindset shift is possible. You may be cynical but if you are struggling with resilience, experimenting with ways of becoming more positive is a good investment.

Plasticity

As we try to build a resilient mindset our focus needs to be directed at being adaptable not just strong - keep in mind that the strongest tree sways in the wind. Another saying that some people find helpful in building adaptability is: ‘we may not be able to stop the waves, but we can learn to surf them’. The lesson here is that we may not have much control over external events, but we can learn to control our reactions to them.

Here are two techniques that will help us take control of a tough situation. Before we react or respond we should ask, ‘is this action going to help or hurt me? Sometimes, when under pressure, we divert into negative behaviour such as revenge or self-pity, so quickly bringing to mind the challenge ‘will this help or hurt me?’ can steer us towards a better response.

The second technique is called the re-frame. This is best explained by an example. If we are under time pressure, we should try not see our 15-minute morning walk to the station as a frustrating start to the day but re-frame it as a simple way of building exercise into our schedule. In other words, we turn our negative mindset around and see the situation in a positive light. The re-frame is a great way to start building a more adaptable mindset.

In the next blog we will consider ways we can manage situations better to help us cope at work.

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