Developing resilience in the face of adversity

Adaptability to ever-changing circumstances and the ability to recover quickly from adversity are two characteristics that define resilience, which happens to be one of the most transferable and desirable skills you can foster. As a leader, helping your team members develop resilience doesn’t just increase your chances of success, it can also play an impactful part in their personal and professional development. But of course, we have to start with ourselves and continue to train our resilience muscle, because there’ll always be adversity and unexpected challenges that we need to be able to handle in a much more productive way. Here are some ideas:

Focus on your locus of control

When faced with adversity, our knee-jerk reaction might be to freeze, vent, or capitulate, even though we know perfectly well that none of these behaviors are going to improve the situation. Cy Wakeman, in her reality-based leadership lessons and her No Ego podcast, frequently reminds us “Don’t outsource your happiness and well-being to external circumstances”. It’s a great framework on which to build resilience. Start with separating what happened from you as a human being, as difficult as it may be. Next, try not to go down a rabbit hole of speculating about other people’s intentions (“They only did this to me because they don’t respect me”). Then, focus on what’s in your control. What can you do to work within the parameters of the changed reality? What can you do to take on this challenge and mold it into new opportunities for yourself or your team? 

Keep a log of lessons learned

One of the positives of adversity is that it might teach you valuable lessons. As Winston Churchill once stated, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. How about keeping a log of your lessons learned from situations big and small? What has the adverse situation taught you about your industry, your company, your profession, and about yourself? Were there signs that you ignored? Was the situation avoidable? If so, what are you going to do differently? If not, what are the best strategies for embracing the change? Are your team members struggling with the adverse situation? How can you help them? Whose behavior is worth emulating? 

Build a supportive network

Depending on the nature and severity of the adversity you’re facing, you need to pick the size and make-up of your support network. Be sure to surround yourself with people who can lift you up and help you figure out a game plan. Consider keeping a safe distance from anyone who seems to offer a sympathetic ear, but actually stokes negativity. Your network may consist of colleagues, peers in your professional circle, your family, friends, mentors, or even experts in the area in which your adversity occurred. Just  don’t isolate yourself.

Practice gratitude

Adversity might cause you to hit the snooze button in the morning and/or to say out loud that you’re “just not feeling it”. We’ve all been there, and we all know that this approach rarely works. How about making yourself start your day by thinking about (and writing down) something that you’re looking forward to and that you’re thankful for? Maybe schedule something that you’d be looking forward to, whether it’s a massage, date night, or a hike. Keeping a gratitude journal and a lessons learned journal can also get you out of a slump when you read it back to yourself.    

Train yourself in adaptability 

As creatures of habit, change is hard, even if it’s a positive one. Facing adversity, it’s even more challenging. As we’re building up our ability to adapt quickly, even little experiments in breaking our attachment to routines can be useful, such as taking a different route to work or parking in a different spot. In fact, attachment to tangible and intangible things and our vision of the future often impairs our ability to be as resilient as we could be. 

There’s no such thing as being “too resilient”. It’s a quality and a skill that can greatly reduce suffering, make you more successful, and even enable you to help others be more resilient in the face of adversity. 

What about you? What are your thoughts on developing resilience? 

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