In life there are a few things that are inevitable – we get older, we pay tax, we have childhood pictures we are embarrassed about and we will all face challenges. Whether it’s at work, at home, in our social circles or in our love lives – most (and by most I mean all) people experience times of difficulty and stress. While that can be expected, the difference lies in how we respond to these challenges – why do some people seem to be able to get back on the horse while others accept defeat? At REDgum, we believe that an individual’s resilience is one of the key distinguishing factors. This article aims to explain what resilience is and how it impacts us.
So, what is resilience?
Let’s start with a few definitions – Connor & Davidson (2003) defined resilience as ‘the personal qualities that enables one to thrive in the face of adversity’ and similarly Leipold & Greve (2009) defined it as ‘an individual’s stability or quick recovery (or even growth) under significant adverse conditions.’
What these definitions are telling us is that resilience is, essentially, an individual’s ability to respond positively to adversity – irrespective of the severity of the situation and its consequences. That just means that whether it is a catastrophe or something that merely disrupts your day to day activities, you need to be able to draw on resilience to face it and overcome whatever ‘it’ is.
The definition we like to use at REDgum is ‘the ability to withstand, adapt to, or rebound from challenges or adversity. More than just coping’.
While resilience can be innate, we argue that it is also something that can be learnt and applied when necessary. At REDgum we believe that through awareness, knowledge and adaptation techniques you can equip and prepare yourself for those moments of difficulty – more about that a little further down.
Resilience? What’s the big deal?
If you think about the world we currently live and work in – change seems to be around every corner, information is thrown at us at hyper speed, we are constantly being expected to adapt to and adopt new ways of doing things, thinking and just being. This is not always easy and can often lead to a spike in our stress levels. McKinley (2013) believed that resilience is one of those critical factors that are needed to help embrace these changes and ensure those changes leave a lasting impression. Therefore, we argue that resilience plays a vital role in being able to successfully navigate this increasingly complex and stressful environment. That seems like a pretty big deal to me.
While it is evident that resilience is a desirable trait to possess for your own individual gain and sanity, it is also extremely beneficial at a broader level. Organisations need resilient employees and economies need resilient citizens.
Do the words work-life balance, flexible work practices, employee assistance program, employee development sound familiar? Have you noticed a push for some of those initiatives in your organisation? I hope you have because those are some strategies that organisations are employing to build ‘coping skills’ amongst their employees – skills that will help employees manage the stressors of work and life – also known as an employee’s resilience. The reason these are at the forefront of a lot of organisations is because they are recognising the value of having resilient employees who are not merely coping with the constant change and increasing stress but thriving.
A survey conducted in 2014 found that organisation lose roughly $300 billion a year as a result of low employee health and wellbeing – this included stress and health care costs, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, decreased performance and high turnover (Health Advocate, 2009). Therefore, even if you were to take away the personal and emotional benefits of building an individual’s resilience, the impact on the bottom line (and in turn the economy) warrants investing into understanding and developing resilience.
Qualities for resilience
McKinley (2013) identified 3 qualities for resilience:
- Grit: he is referring to the passion and determination with which people operate. Even with limited resources and in less than desirable conditions, being able to continue doing what you need to is an extension of your resilience.
- Courage: resilience often means facing your fears and being able to move forward despite the future/situation being unclear.
- Commitment: the ability to keep long term goals in sight and fulfil them despite the challenges or inconvenient nature of the goal is an indication of your resilience.
In addition, we believe that there are two more qualities that impact resilience.
- Objectivity: by this we mean a person’s ability to regulate and manage emotion in the face of trying situations.
- Adaptability: this refers to an individual’s ability to embrace and learn from challenges – being able to bounce back from setbacks stronger and wiser. This is in line with most definitions of resilience in which the two most consistent concepts are the ability to recover from setbacks and adapt well to change (Ovans, 2015).
Resilience & Mindful Practice
Mindfulness has recently become a ‘buzz word’ in corporate Australia – organisations seem to believe that almost anything can be ‘fixed’ with a bit of mindfulness. So, what is mindfulness? Contrary to popular opinion, mindfulness is not necessarily meditation. Mindfulness is an open, aware and focused state of mind (Harris, 2013). Russ Harris (2009) describes it as basically ‘paying attention with flexibility, openness and curiosity’.
The widely used Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) identifies four psychological skills that make up mindfulness (Harris, 2009):
- Defusion is the process of letting go of negative thought processes.
- Acceptance of the challenging situation at hand and the emotions that accompany it.
- Engaging with the present.
- Awareness of yourself – the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing.
Being mindful, utilising those psychological skills and engaging in mindfulness activities has been scientifically proven to effectively address a wide range of conditions and to increase an individual’s psychological resilience (Harris, 2009). So when we go through those moments of trial and difficulty and we need to tap into our resilience, applying the underlying principles of mindfulness can have a powerful impact – being ‘open and curious’ about your challenging situation at hand instead of hiding from it or fighting against it can help overcome that situation; living consciously can assist in fine tuning how you respond to life’s challenges – by living consciously I mean being in sync with who you are, how you are perceiving the challenge (in both thought and feeling)and how you are responding to your challenge (Harris, 2009).
My Own Story of Resilience
Anyone who knows me will know how important my family and friends are to me. I prioritise them above everything and they play a significant role in my life on a daily basis. If someone ever wanted to mess with me or upset me I would probably recommend they do or say something about someone I love. They are my greatest strengths but I have learnt that your greatest strengths can also be your greatest weakness.
In 2010, that weakness was put to the test. I got a phone call late one night telling me that my best friend, my closest person had just passed away. She was the person who knew me the best (the good and the not so good), the person I confided in, the person who comforted me (or depending on the situation, told me when I was being unreasonable), the person I shared my best memories with. She was gone forever and in that split second my whole world changed. She died of a cardiac arrest – she was 18 years old, she was one of the healthiest people I knew, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t take drugs – how could this be right?
I said challenges were inevitable but having that knowledge does not help when they actually hit.
‘the ability to withstand, adapt to, or rebound from challenges or adversity. More than just coping’
Needless to say, that was the biggest challenge I had faced and initially I was barely coping (actually, I was definitely NOT coping). It was such a sudden and drastic change to my life that I did not understand how to effectively deal with it, while being forced to deal with the grief I was feeling. I felt helpless – I couldn’t do anything to ‘fix’ the situation, I couldn’t help myself deal with it and I certainly was not in a position to help anyone else come to terms with it.
It took a while, but I had to make a decision to keep moving forward – to move away from the guilt, disbelief, pain, anger and sadness that had consumed me; and to really accept the situation and choose to just keep moving.
Through that adversity I had to draw on my ‘reservoir’ of resilience to get me through. Some of it came naturally (almost an innate trait) and others required me to be a bit more deliberate in my efforts. Without me even realising it, all my life experiences – every little hiccup I had experienced till that point – actually helped prepare me for this. My resilience had developed over the years and I was able to use different techniques to help me overcome this challenge. For instance, I knew that music was an escape for me; I knew that spirituality encouraged and centred me; I knew that being positive with my mindset was critical. Being aware of the techniques that work for me and being able to actively use them when I needed to made an immense difference to my outcome.
I eventually got to a stage where I could say I was thriving despite having faced that challenge. I can also attest and say that it definitely took a lot of grit, courage, commitment, objectivity and adaptability to get there but that resilience made a world of difference – it meant that I didn’t allow the situation to defeat me. Instead, I used it as an opportunity to grow in strength and character.
If you would like more information or to discuss how REDgum Communications can help you develop your own reservoir of resilience please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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