In this post you won’t be inspired by the resilience of someone who has overcome devastating trauma. As much as I am deeply humbled by these incredible human beings - my life, perhaps like yours, looks a little different, a little more ordinary. Yet it is still incredibly messy with lots of moving parts, unfolding in a system that I have little influence over. In short, my life is completely normal.
Almost. As a serial expat, entrepreneur and business coach I find myself increasingly exploring resilience as an antidote to the unexceptional stresses and challenges that I, and my clients, face on a daily basis.
RESILIENCE DOESN’T COME NATURALLY
Resilience is our emotional immune system. Like your physical immune system, we only really think about it when flu season hits and our throat starts to tickle. The strength of our immune system relies on our genes, our average level of stress over time, diet, exercise and how healthy we believe ourselves to be. You read that correctly - our beliefs about our health have been found to be a key component of how healthy we actually are *.
Like our immune system, resilience is built up over time. Every challenge we overcome has the potential to better prepare us for the next. But, unlike our immune system, this doesn’t happen automatically. We must choose whether the really bad days break us down or build us up. A lot easier said than done, I know. So to help you, here are some ideas to pack into your resilience starter pack.
1. LIE WELL, LIE OFTEN
The mind-body connection is a hot topic of mainstream research at the moment, for good reason. It turns out that being able to deceive yourself is an essential component of being resilient. Highly resilient people truly believe that everything will work out OK in the end. You may have grown up with mom or dad always saying: everything will be fine honey, and now you say that to your children and they believe you and pick themselves up and carry on. The truth is that we don’t know if it’s going to be fine but the belief is enough to motivate us to move through adversity.
Such (ungrounded) positivity actually flushes our brain with the feel-good hormone, serotonin, and strengthens connections in the left prefrontal cortex. Along with serotonin, a strong neural activation in this area of the brain is our most powerful weapon against the ravages of stress.
Clearly Shakespeare was ahead of his time when he penned the line: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. (Hamlet)
2. KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT THE EVENT AND THE EVENT IS NOT YOUR LIFE
I’m no Pollyanna, I’ve been around the block too many times, but putting setbacks into perspective and not allowing a small set of bad things to influence how I feel about the rest of my life, or even my day, is working well as part of my resilience training. But only if I actively remind myself. I have to say: This thing (insert; traffic fine, losing account to competitor after working on it for six months, bad presentation, losing someone I love) is not my whole life, only a part of it.
There’s even a ‘scientific’ ratio for this. Apparently if we have a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative experiences on a daily basis we’re set to thrive. I’d hesitate to quantify life in such a narrow frame but I do know that our beliefs about the setbacks that we face affect our overall wellbeing.
3. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
As a coach I spend most of my time helping clients think differently about the issues that vex them. It’s no secret that believing that the bad stuff is fixed and unchangeable results in learned helplessness. If we can adjust our frame, even slightly, to find those areas where we have some influence, we can move from feeling powerless to proving that we are not.
Susan had been asked to speak at a conference but she’s terrified of the spotlight, knee-shaking, sweaty-palms terrified. A voice coach was duly called in to ‘help’ her. He correctly pointed out everything that was wrong with her ability to present and left her with instructions to present morenaturally.
But Susan has no ‘natural’ way of presenting. I began working with her two days before the conference. She had learnt her presentation by heart and was not prepared to veer from her carefully crafted sentences and accompanying slides. She was also not prepared to distract herself by thinking about body language. She wanted to present better but had already resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t. Even a small change would throw her off. We stared at each other for quite a while as her words settled on the conference room like dust.
How could I help Susan?
Rhythm! The one thing that she could change without throwing her off were the words that she emphasised and the position and timing of pauses. This lead to the realisation that she could present more naturally with just a very small change. It put her in control and changed her entire outlook on the forthcoming conference.
Of course (without knowing if it was true) I had Susan believe that she would be just fine on the day – and she was!
Resilience is a huge and powerful topic, which I’ve only just touched on here. I’ve had several requests to spend a bit more time on it and so I’m delighted that our Coaching Club© Club Lunch for February will explore this topic in more detail. International coach, graduate of the School of Positive Psychology, expert in resilience and all-round superwoman, Maria Kassova, will join us and share her tools for increasing your resilience quotient.
Check out our Members’ Lounge Page on 15 February 2016 for the full interview.
Tremaine du Preez is an executive coach, Huffington Post Blogger, Bayt.com blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from Amazon. Her next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon.