Our daily lives are stressful. We constantly juggle the competing demands of work and home, family and personal time. And sometimes we fail to keep one of the balls in the air. When that happens, we have choices – drop them all and walk away, pick up the ball and start juggling again, or learn to juggle better.
Resilience is an underrated ability. A pioneer of championing the power of resilience, the late US psychologist Al Siebert says that, in the face of stress, we need to respond with a survivor mentality – and that’s not something we’re necessarily born with. In his book The Survivor Personality, Siebert says: ‘Just as some people are born musicians or artists, some people have a natural talent for coping well. The rest of us need to work consciously to develop our abilities… we have to work at learning how to handle pressure, difficult people, negative situations and disruptive change.’
What is resilience?
Australian leadership psychologist Ryk Bliszczyk says you are resilient if you can deal with adverse outcomes without suffering any significant negative effect. ‘It means you can deal with failures, disappointments or challenges and continue to forge ahead to, ultimately, achieve success,’ he says.
‘When I first interact with clients, it’s usually because they’re underperforming and are highly stressed. The first thing is to deal with that – give them stress-reduction techniques, reassure them that things will get better and build their problem solving skills and relationship development skills.
‘Then, you can start to show them what success looks like.’
Bliszczyk says the concept of resilience training is relatively new, coming out of the ‘positive psychology’ movement. ‘It’s been around for the last 10 to 20 years and was created by a US psychologist, Martin Seligman.
‘Up until that point, he worked mainly with people who had depression and other disorders, and basically said if he could help those people, the same techniques could also be applied to people who weren’t ill to help them perform better.
‘It’s all part of an ongoing tradition in psychology and medicine, whereby techniques and tools that are developed for remediation purposes are applied elsewhere. Sports science is a great example of this which has moved from treating injury to improving athletic performance.’
The resilience equation
Bliszcyzk believes anyone can learn to be more resilient. ‘Resilience has been studied for a long time and, by gauging the qualities of people who are naturally more resilient, other people can be taught,’ he says.’ Teaching people to be more successful in life also results in them being more successful at work.’
The equation for developing one’s sense of resilience is simple – efficacy, plus optimism, plus hope, equals resilience.
Being able to mobilise action to succeed – strongly linked to work-related performance
Leniency for the past, appreciation for the present and opportunity seeking for the future
Willpower and ‘waypower’ – challenge the perception of challenges versus hindrances
Being able to bounce back – the combination of positive emotions.
‘You need to believe what you do will make a difference – that’s efficacy,’ Bliszcyzk says. Optimism is the view that you are heading for a positive future and what you do will lead to success.
‘The third aspect is hope – and that has two components, willpower and ‘waypower’. Willpower is having the right attitude that will keep you committed to getting back on track. Waypower is the plan you put in place to get there.
‘Put all of those things together and you get resilience.’
10 ways to become more resilient
Bliszcyzk says looking forward is an essential quality for resilience. He says resilient people are characterised by a staunch sense of reality and can draw on good coping strategies.
‘There are two key elements – one is that you need to build on your own skills, but the other is also to have a strong network you can rely on to assist you when you get into trouble.’
Here are his top 10 tips to become more resilient:
1. Build your self-esteem/confidence
2. Create purpose in your life
3. Develop strong social connections
4. Develop flexibility around change
5. Be optimistic
6. Nurture yourself
7. Develop your problem-solving skills
8. Establish achievable goals
9. Actively take steps to solve problems
10. Keep working on your skills – life long learning
What about a resilience program?
Bliszczyk says it’s not the responsibility of companies or schools to build resilience through designated programs, but rather to provide the right environment in which people can develop the skills themselves. ‘Or, at the very least, an environment that does not stand in their way,’ he says. ‘The right environment includes appropriate feedback, coaching and mentoring.
‘But most importantly, in the work I’ve done coaching Australian executives, it’s all about building better, well-rounded leaders who help their teams develop a range of capabilities, such as initiative and self-motivation, as well as resilience.’
It comes down to the changing relationships companies have with their employees, Bliszcyzk believes. ‘Compared to 30 years ago, corporations now outsource a lot of what they used to do internally – functions such as IT and HR.
‘Companies are fundamentally focused on a core group of employees who are critical to revenue generation. They need to be the most capable the company can find – or they need to be trained and developed through different mechanisms.
‘Well-founded approaches to improve people’s capability at work, such as resilience, are very attractive to companies because the payoff is straightforward – if an employee can improve their performance and productivity, it’s good for the firm. It’s the ultimate win/win.’