THE BLOG

3 Ways to Be More Resilient at Work

03/04/2015 04:05 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2015
Ezra Bailey via Getty Images

2015-02-24-Resiliencephoto.jpg

The eight feet of snow out my window are a reminder of the difficult winter Bostonians have endured since late January. Events out of our control test our resilience. Some react with frustration or even rage, others with optimism. Why do some barely survive while others thrive and how can we apply the knowledge of how to become more resilient to our work?

Just like unpredictable weather, industry shifts, and corporate business decisions impact our career in ways we can't always anticipate. The days of working for one company for an entire career don't exist anymore. Loyalty on the part of the employer and employee have changed, and it's more important than ever to manage your career.

The need to do your job well while looking ahead at the skills and relationships you need to build is stressful. Add to the mix, 24x7 communication, corporate reorganizations and acquisitions and you have a recipe for overload. The ability to bounce back from today's stressors on the job requires a different set of strategies and skills than in the past, which is why resilience is so important.

"More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person's level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That's true in the cancer ward, it's true in the Olympics, and it's true in the boardroom," asserts Dean Becker, in an article in Harvard Business Review.

Scientists have been studying resilience for approximately forty years, and a Google search on resilience research yields more than 130,000 studies. Research in the science of resilience has shown that people who are most able to bounce back from challenges share specific behaviors in common. Here are three suggestions based on that research:

1. Limit multi-tasking. Ask a neuroscientist their top recommendation for becoming more resilient and their answer is likely to be to limit multi-tasking. Our brains are not designed to move frequently between tasks. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing one thing at a time. In fact, it takes approximately 50 percent longer to get back on track after being interrupted. If you are in the habit of checking emails throughout the day, try reading them at specific intervals and don't check email when you are working on a task that requires intense concentration.

2. Reframe difficult situations. Let's imagine that your 30-minute commute took an hour and a half, and when you arrived at work your boss was in your office with critical comments about the report you submitted the day before. This stress causes your brain to go into fight or flight mode. In their book, You Are Not Your Brain, authors Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D. offer powerful evidence that we can break free of negative thought patterns. By asking yourself the following questions, you can reframe the negativity and anxiety you're experiencing.
• Is there another way to look at the situation?
• How will I feel about it a year from now?
• What advice would I give my best friend?

3. Notice what went well. Our brains remember negative events more than positive ones.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, says, "the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things."

If you tend to perseverate on obstacles and setbacks, you can rewire your brain neurology by paying attention to things that go well during the day. Thinking about what is working can help problems seem smaller and empower you to act. For example, ask yourself:

  • • When have you had success coping with a problem in the past?
  • • What did you do that made it successful?
  • • Can you use any of those strategies to solve the current issue?
  • Paying attention to when you've succeeded can help increase your confidence and help you feel empowered.


    Consciously making the effort to invest in building and sustaining your resilience will enable you to not fall victim to life's challenges and offer the opportunity to recover more quickly from difficulties. Instead of reacting, you will have the choice of how to respond. Much like exercising your muscles, you need to devote time and energy until your new behaviors become a habit. The payoff in terms of your ability to find meaning in failure, improvise solutions and roll with the punches will make you the type of employee everyone wants on their team.