Here we are again - Quarter 4 - the last three months of the year. Since returning from summer holidays a few weeks ago, it has become clear what we have and have not yet achieved this year. Competing priorities, looming deadlines, as well as planning for next year tend to mean long hours and pressurised working. How well will you be able to cope with it all over the next few months? If you feel like your resilience could do with a boost, you are not alone. Read on for some great quick-win techniques and brilliant resources for further exploration.
Resilience is often the elephant in the room. While we train current and future leaders to better negotiate or have more impact, we rarely train them how to better cope with all the demands that are coming their way. We expect them to simply get on with it. However, our work with high-potential leaders shows that this is a missed opportunity as our most promising talent are also often the people who are the busiest. Just as we can train techniques for higher impact presentations and better negotiations, so can we train effective techniques for increased resilience. Not surprisingly, resilience is one of the five key principles in our high-performance mindset workshops.
Resilience refers to the ability to keep functioning effectively in the face of major life stressors, such as bereavement or divorce, and work-related stress such as job loss, toxic working relationships or being out of your depth in a new job (The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory). Resilience is made up of a pool of several coping resources that we can draw on in the face of stressful events. We can learn to be more resilient. But we must also understand that resilience is a finite source and that we need to keep topping it up.
The Resilience MOT that we ask high-potentials to complete during our workshops often leads to a few aha moments. Take a look – where could you personally achieve a few quick wins?
Most people find areas for quick-win resilience boosts and are keen to act straight away. We make sure that these intentions and their new knowledge are transferred into concrete actions through our micro-learning and nano-coaching nudges. These have been shown to be effective tools against the infamous Forgetting Curve, the phenomenon that outlines how quickly we forget newly acquired knowledge. After 7 days without additional input, we have forgotten the vast majority of our newly acquired knowledge.
Let’s take a quick look at work-related stress, the very reason that we want to increase resilience. There are multiple stress theories and the one we think is most useful if we want to identify ways of reducing the experience of stress is Lazarus and Folkman’s appraisal-based theory of stress. It highlights the role of appraisal in the stress process and states that not everyone will respond the same to an external event. Our response is driven by
whether we think that an event we are facing is harmful or benign
whether we feel that we can deal with it.
What may be a challenge for some, may be a source of stress for others.
Here are some great tips for changing the way we may perceive potentially stressful events; a lot has to do with our internal dialogue.
Change your thoughts
Based on principles from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (don’t be put off by the title), we can work on changing the way we think and reduce the likelihood of falling prey to thought errors such as dramatization, predicting catastrophe, blaming and so on.
We often use a technique that is very effectively laid out in Dr. Sarah Edelman’s book: Change Your Thinking. We help high potential leaders use a simple 5-step process:
What was the situation?
What were my thoughts and beliefs?
What thinking error did I fall prey to? (dramatizing, predicting catastrophe, etc.)
Disputing my thoughts and beliefs
Taking positive action
Here is a shortened example of what this may look like in practice:
Woke up in the middle of the night ruminating about an earlier conversation with my boss about the reasons for continued funding delay for my work stream.
My work is not valued in the new, post-merger organisation. I will lose my job
While it would be nice to have full support for my work and for budget to be signed off, in times of organisational change it is normal that there are delays and uncertainties. Even if I lost my job, I would get a 3 months’ notice period and would be able to find another job; I have a good network of contacts.
Meet the new head of department and update her on my work. Continue work by drawing on existing resources rather than waiting for new budget to be signed off.
Accept your thoughts
Another powerful approach is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It suggests that rather than trying to change our thoughts, we need to learn to accept them.
A powerful insight for high-potential leaders is ACT’s central argument that thoughts are simply words and stories. They are not reality, commands or the truth. If we accept that they are simply our mind’s background music they become less threatening over time.
Here are some fun, yet effective, activities to practice.
Sing your most stressful thoughts to the tune of a children’s nursery song. ‘I can’t do this, it’s too much’ will soon become less potent when sung repeatedly to the rhyme of The Wheels on the Bus.
Give your thoughts or worry a name, just like a movie: ‘Ah, here is the ‘I am a fraud, one day they will me out’ story again’.
There are other great ACT techniques and if you want to find out more, try Russ Harris’ book ‘The Happiness Trap. Stop Struggling. Start Living’.
There is a lot of great evidence that (re) training our mind to ‘see’ the positives in life and not only the things that go wrong, pays off. Try keeping a gratitude journal:
Record things that you have experienced in the past week for which you are grateful
Don’t make it a chore and don’t feel that you must write in the journal every day
Experiment with shorter or longer entries – the research evidence is still mixed; see what works best for you
Log small things (a cup of tea) and big things (a promotion). Log your gratitude for people.
Everyone is talking about mindfulness, and for good reason. It has been shown to have many benefits such as improved focus, high job and life satisfaction, decreased stress, exhaustion and hostility. Here is a mini-mindfulness exercise to try. It seems to be one of the exercises that many of our course participants still practice months after the workshops.
Next time you get to a red traffic light as a pedestrian, don’t risk your life to cross.
Wait for the lights to turn green.
Take it as a cue to be mindful – even if only for a minute or two.
Observe what is going on around you and within you. Don’t judge.
Simply be in the moment and notice: How are you standing?
Feel the laptop bag on your shoulder and your feet on the ground. What does it feel like?
Observe your breathing and your thoughts
Simply notice. Observe. Be in the moment.
Try this wonderful exercise to ground yourself, slow down and refocus. It's so simple yet very effective.
Breathe in for as long as it takes to read this sentence
Breathe out for as long as it takes to read this sentence
Repeat 5 times