Building resilience as we journey along the rocky track of life.

Adversity is a training course that helps us build resilience if we handle it the right way. And a key ingredient of resilience is being able to handle obstacles, failures and unforeseen incidents. The more obstacles we’re able to overcome now in the mess that is 2021, the stronger and fitter we will be for what the next decade is going to throw up.

What matters now is maintaining enough steadiness so we’re able to see what’s ahead. To review the main lessons learnt from the setbacks and actually emerge more capable. And this can be a valuable opportunity to develop the humility to be a learner.

What thrives in a crisis?
We hear the word ‘unprecedented’ a lot and it’s shrouded in drama and fear. But instead of dreading the unknown, we should see it as a huge opportunity. At the bottom of volcanoes and at the side of great big earthquake lines, there’s much more flora and fauna growing than in the surrounding plains. Disruption can be a fruitful thing.

I noticed for the first couple of months after the start of the pandemic, it was all ‘these are unprecedented times’ and that felt pretty bleak. But it struck me that ‘unprecedented’ means none of the rules apply and while that’s hugely unsettling, the flip side of that is that it’s hugely empowering. It’s about turning that void into a space to create. And I think this is why resilience is so key. So how about leaning into challenge and treating it as a training course?

You’re in training
You may be panicking about the fact that you’ve not done something dramatic in 2020, career-wise or business-wise, not launched a podcast or training course or side hustle. But maybe it’s enough to offer your minimum viable product right now and dabble with new ideas on the side. Maybe a soft slow start is useful, or maybe you just need to crack on and try things and kind of review it as you go and grow as you flow. Removing perfection from the goal might be a good un-blocker.

And if imposter syndrome kicks in, focus on your current task and do it to the best of your ability. Sometimes our learning curve hasn’t caught up with our self-perception. If it doesn’t feel like you’re trained to do the role that you’re now doing, remember that in 2020 we are all in training. No one really knows what they are doing. Focus on the sustainable foundations that are going to help grow good things in the future.

Every single week brings new challenges, whether that’s with your family, your work or business, your finances, your health, etc. How can you develop resilience that means you can keep putting one foot in front of the other?

Be more fox
You’re never too young to lead and never too old to learn, so resilience is about getting over your ego quickly so it can’t hold you back. Nature shows us very harsh lessons and very inspiring ones about how to thrive through rapid change, so that we are able to keep up with the environment around us. You need to be more fox and less panda.

If you’re a Panda you’re stuck. It’s not that pandas are lazy but burdened by only eating one food source, which is bamboo. Being a panda makes you vulnerable to rapid change. You could sit there and chomp away and keep doing things obstinately like you always have, but what if the bamboo runs out? Being a panda makes rapid overnight change very stressful. You’re stuck with these old ways of working, too busy to look up and beyond your current space to see what’s over there and how to get to it.

What you need is a fox mindset. A fox may have been trained as a hunting fox, but overnight, his environment changes and he recognises very quickly he needs to adapt to become a foraging fox. You might, for example, have had 30 years of experience in writing and designing popular training courses, but Covid may have taught you to be humble enough to recognise that your usual work is not there anymore. And you can either sit there for six months grieving over it or get your L plates on and start trying out new opportunities. This is known as the growth mindset. This is being more fox.

Of course no one wants to be foraging around, being like the learner again, but we need to get over the fact that the story’s changed for everyone. Often part of that resilience is not getting embarrassed by the fact that you’re starting out again when everyone else is. Look beyond your current situation – what else could you be doing to improve your situation?

Resilience boosting tips

Dilute your day
Structure in enough diversity in your day to roll with the punches and endure those bumps in the road. If all you’ve got in a day is one client call that all your financial future is dependent upon, it will have a huge impact if that call doesn’t go your way. Make sure you fill your day before and after the call, diluting its impact.

Think GAIL
Every evening think about one thing you’re grateful for: G. One thing you’ve accomplished or achieved: A. One thing you’ve improved upon: I. And one thing you’ve learned: L. This forces you to make each day count and boosts your resilience.

The meaningful stroll
There’s nothing like a stroll through a graveyard to remind you to be grateful in terms of where you’re at and what you can do today. There are people who would have loved to live through the last seven months but didn’t get the choice. You may not have considered today a success so how do you make tomorrow count?

Stop start continue
Getting stuck in thinking mode can impact your resilience negatively, so get into a stop, start, continue routine to either pat down the day before, or ramp up in the morning. On Sunday evening when you get that feeling of dread think OK, based on last week, what do I think is one thing I want to start doing this week, one thing to stop and one thing that served me well enough to continue. It’s a great discipline to apply to shift and evolve your focus.

Be a cartoon
Sometimes motivation comes after action. You might not be motivated to write that proposal, but just do it and you’ll feel motivated afterwards. You could wait all week until you’re in the mood to write that article. And then in the meantime you’ve just got even more self recrimination and guilt. So just do it. Like those cartoon characters who start running but remain on the spot with their legs going round and round until suddenly they get a bit of traction – and suddenly they’re off. That. Do that.

And if you have a bad day – or even a bad week? It doesn’t matter how well you know what you should be doing. It gets to all of us at some point because we’re not machines. The natural resilience boosters of being out and about and having more of a diverse environment are missing. You have to artificially create randomness and plan a change of scenery. Like Mr Foxy get out and about, instead of sitting in the same little bamboo circle, which may have felt nice and comforting for the first couple of weeks but is now starting to impact your resilience because you’ve run out of your own steam.

Words: Laura Thomson, a culture change and human psychology expert who specialises in the future world of work.

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