How to maintain your resilience (particularly during times of change)

Resilience to change has been a hot topic at HALO Psychology for the past month. Amidst writing a piece on it for a national newspaper, I’ve been discussing it with clients and Twitterati alike. I also came across some interesting research about coaching for resilience – which I’ll come to later.

So, what is resilience and how can we increase it to help us during times of change?

A simple definition is given in Psychology Today,

Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on”.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, one of the leading lights on the subject of resilience, states, “The challenge is to create good places to work, where people are managed by praise and reward and not fault-finding and word overload, where they are trusted to work more flexibly and where they have better balance in their lives”.

This point becomes even more pertinent when many organisations, particularly those in the public sector, are facing even more cuts to jobs but not necessarily a reduction in the work.

In a 2014 survey, HR magazine found that resilience was to become a “key attribute of future employees”. More than 90% of the HR directors surveyed said they believe an employee’s ability to cope with change and uncertainty will determine their likelihood of being hired by the end of this decade.

HR and organisational development teams ahead of the game will already have implemented interventions such as coaching. In the International Coaching Psychology Review (March 2017), Carmelina Lawton Smith suggests that leadership coaching for resilience should focus on both capacity and capability. She also suggests that, to be effective, coaching for resilience needed to be part of a wider programme of development and support.

Other than coaching, how else can you build your resilience? Here are some tips:

1. Focus on the foundation stone of health: That means getting enough quality sleep (6-8 hours), eating healthily and exercising. There is nothing more important than your health. I’ve seen too many executives burn out (and become ineffective) because they think by working later coupled with getting up earlier, they’ll be able to keep on top of things.

This also means trying as hard as you can not to drink alcohol or eat bad food to excess. A hangover or sugar dip can have a massive impact on your performance and mental well-being.

Remember the in-flight demonstration where the flight assistant reminds you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others? It’s the same during organisational change. If you aren’t looking after yourself, then you’ve little hope of effectively helping your team.

2. Manage your time: When you have a lot on at work and at home, when more organisational change happens it can set everything off-kilter. This comes back to the old (but still relevant) approaches to managing your priorities. Take some time either at the end or beginning of the week to list everything you need to do. Then assign a priority to each item. It can be as simple as 1 being low priority through to 4 High priority.

A key tip is then to take no more than five items off this master list per day, and then work through each item sequentially. This really does give a sense of accomplishment – essential for boosting your resilience.

If you know you have a big item to work on, find an appropriate space. Put your out of office on, mark it in your calendar. Fail to do this and you’re more likely to be distracted by other people’s needs, not get things done and then feel more stressed.

3. Have fun and make time for recreation: During times of stress, such as another restructure or other major change, it is more important than ever to take some time out. Make it a date in your diary and you’ll be more likely to stick to it.

It can be as simple as going to the cinema, or going for a picnic in the local park.

Having a hobby can also be helpful. Drawing, music, train spotting, stamp collecting – whatever it is, your hobby will help your wellbeing and subsequently, help build your reserves of resilience. As well as putting you in a state of flow, a hobby can be a ‘safe space’ for you to retreat and get some balance back.

4. Have boundaries: Some of the most resilient people I know have a self-enforced rule whereby they work incredibly hard (and some very long hours) during the week and then from 5pm on Friday to 5pm on Sunday they are out of bounds. I know others who choose to start work early (7am) so that they can leave on time (5pm) and spend time with their loved ones in the evening.

You don’t have to use those particular patterns. The point is to find what works for you. Marking your ‘you’ time as sacrosanct is key for building and maintaining your resilience.

The other boundary issue is technology. The constant bombardment via social media can be overwhelming and really impact resilience. You could try switching devices off at least an hour before you go to bed. If you’re in a role where you have to keep your phone on, you can do what some others do which is to delete all social media apps at a certain point in the evening. They then reinstall them the next morning.

5. Take time out: Which, whilst fun, is slightly different from the ‘have fun’ tip. This is about thinking ahead and booking time out in your diary. You don’t even have to do anything (although planning a treat can also help boost your wellbeing and resilience).

This is an approach I adopted when I was a busy senior manager, putting out fires left, right and centre. I knew that I could work flat out for around six weeks but at that point I’d need a break. With this in mind, I’d book a combination of long weekends and week long breaks (the latter being my holiday). By doing this at least a few months in advance really helped me mentally. It gave me a clear goal to work towards and kept me motivated during some really tough times.

Many of my leadership clients that have adopted this approach have reported feeling more in control and a greater sense of wellbeing.

6. Talk to someone you trust: In lieu of a coach, find a friend or colleague who you trust enough to talk about how you’re feeling if you’re feeling overwhelmed. More than anything, just putting it ‘out there’ can help. It can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation – something that executives report feeling the higher up they go.

These tips are just some of the things that I and my clients have tried out and which have worked for us. Have other tips? Then why not share them in the comments section so that others can benefit from your experience?

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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