Recently, I've seen the term "resilience" applied to everything from real estate to the economy, sports, current events, business, and more. Resilience is a popular buzzword, but what really is resilience? Most people are able to define it as the ability to bounce back from adversity, but few realize that resilience is made up of a number of different skills and abilities. Self-awareness, creating meaning from life lessons, self-efficacy, having an optimistic thinking style, and building strong relationships are a few foundational ingredients that make up resilience.
The following seven strategies will build your resilience by enhancing goal achievement, optimal performance, mental toughness, and strong leadership:
People spend over a third of their waking life at work, but levels of work satisfaction vary widely from person to person. Amy Wrzesniewski's research shows that those who consider their work to be a job are generally interested only in the material benefits from their work and do not seek or receive any other type of reward from it; those who consider their work to be a career have a deeper personal investment in their work and generally seek to advance not only monetarily but also within the occupational structure; and those who consider their work to be a calling usually find that their work is inseparable from their life. Those with a calling work not for financial gain or for career advancement, but for the fulfillment that the work brings. Wrzesniewski explains that those who consider their work to be a calling generally have a stronger and more rewarding relationship to their work. To determine whether your work is a job, career, or a calling, visit Authentic Happiness to take Wrzesniewski's short assessment, entitled "Work-Life Questionnaire."
Use this four-step process when you're curious about a reaction you had, don't like a reaction you had, or simply want to find a new way of looking at a problem. This technique is based on the work of Drs. Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, and can help you better understand why your react the way you do to certain situations. First, describe factually what pushed your buttons (who, what, where, when); second, write down your reaction -- both what you did and how you felt (I felt angry and yelled); third, write down exactly what you were thinking in-the-moment during the challenge; and fourth, ask yourself whether your reaction helped or hurt your ability to find a solution. If you find that your reactions are harming your leadership ability, relationships, or other aspects of your life, target your thinking, which is where we have the most control.
Kids have zest in abundance, but as we age, societal and organizational pressures quietly tell us that having fun and being serious don't go together. Not surprisingly, zest is a strong predictor of work and life satisfaction. In addition, fun helps you socialize, provides an outlet for learning and creativity, and has great health benefits. The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor posts numerous resources, including research, about the benefits of fun.
Research by Dr. Christopher Peterson and his team shows that using your strengths in new ways every day for a week increases happiness and decreases depression. In addition, Harter et al. found that those who get to do what they do best at work on a daily basis have increased loyalty, retention, and productivity. Two strengths tests are the StrengthsFinder by Gallup and the VIA Inventory of Strengths.
When you hear the word "optimism," do you think of a big smiley face, Pollyana, or an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand? That is not the kind of optimism that builds resilience. Optimism as a resilience ability is about a thinking style and not about a personality trait. Optimistic thinkers are able to identify what's in their control during a setback. Second, optimistic thinkers know "this too shall pass." They know that a stressor might be around for awhile, but it likely won't be around forever. Finally, optimistic thinkers know how to compartmentalize. For example, if they have a setback at work, the fallout does not bleed into other areas of their life. Conversely, pessimistic thinkers think the cause of a problem will be around for a very long period of time, affect many different areas of their life, and they fail to see where they have any control.
Remember the children's book The Little Engine that Could? The phrase the engine kept uttering was, "I think I can, I think I can." That is self-efficacy -- your ability to believe you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. The tendency to remember and dwell on only the times when you've failed or done less than your best often thwarts your ability to remember what you've accomplished. To build your self-efficacy, keep a journal of "wins." Write down all of the times in your life when you have exceeded expectations, accomplished tough goals, and were in control of your life. Review this list often and keep adding to it. Encourage your kids to start building their list now. In addition, don't be afraid to start small. Small victories create momentum, which is a great foundation from which to succeed at more complicated tasks.
Shelly Gable's research shows that how you respond to a person's good news actually does more for building a relationship than how you respond to bad news. This applies across the board, from personal relationships to business interactions. Responding in an active and constructive way -- that is, helping the bearer of good news savor it -- is the only response that builds good relationships. Killing the conversation by offering a terse response or hijacking the conversation by making it about you are quick ways to weaken a relationship.
Resilience is all about developing the staying power you need to handle all that life throws your way. Increasing your resilience will help you cope with stress, improve your ability to solve problems, remain task-focused, and increase your confidence.
Paula Davis-Laack is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert specializing in stress, work, and lifestyle issues for high-achieving women. Connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com
 Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning in work. In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, &
R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 296-308). San Francisco,
CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
 Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., & Hayes, T.L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between
employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis,
Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 268-279.
 Gable, S.L., Gonzaga, G.C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go
right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 91(5), 904-917.
Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength
and overcoming life's hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Random House.
Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress:
empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
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