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  1. Resilience: not just bouncing back, but bouncing forward

    November 15, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Nothing could be more important than education, experience and training in determining who succeeds, right? Wrong. It turns out that the quality of resilience – the ability to rise above and bounce forward from adversity – is the biggest factor determining success and failure. 

    Josie Thomson, coach, presenter and change leadership expert, explains that when we are faced with adversity, some of us adapt and transform while others do not. If we are able to bounce forward when we have been challenged, we will grow our resilience and increase our chances of success. We can learn to build resilience by using adverse experiences as stepping stones for the future.

    ‘We determine whether an  experience makes us bitter or better’, says Thomson.

    So how can we build the resilience that will make us successful in work and in life? Thomson drew on her own experience as a two-time cancer survivor and on her masters degree in neuroscience to create a strategy involving two things not to do and five things to do to build resilience.

    HOW TO BOUNCE FORWARD: What not to do

    DON’T immediately express your feelings or react just because you feel something. Allowing ourselves to experience the emotion, but not to ‘vent’, builds resilience. We are unlikely to learn a positive lesson if we react in the moment; in fact, we are likely to make the situation worse.  If a colleague is dragging their heels on completing part of a project or your manager is not explaining a vital part of a piece of work clearly, it’s tempting to express your irritation – but that doesn’t mean you should.

    DON’T suppress the feeling either. Doing so elicits the ‘fight or flight’ response in the brain. If you walk into a meeting feeling angry, and a colleague says, ‘how are you?’, instead of answering ‘fine’ when clearly you are not, and this becomes obvious to everybody in the meeting, it is better to say, ‘not too good thanks, but I’m not going to talk about it now’.  Suppressing feelings can cause us to ‘argue with reality’, explains Thomson, and that leads us to suffer rather than to bounce back.

    HOW TO BOUNCE FORWARD: Five things you should do

    You didn’t get the promotion you really wanted, and you want to crawl under your desk in despair. You were depending on a colleague to give you this month’s figures, and they’re not ready for your meeting in 10 minutes time. What would a resilient person do? How can you learn from these apparent disasters?  Here are Thomson’s five tips for what you should do in a situation that threatens to derail you.

    1. Name the feeling. Thomson explains that the brain finds certainty when you label the feeling: ‘I’m frustrated’, for example. This allows you to move on. She warns against rumination, however, stressing that you should name the feeling and then move on.

    2. Reappraise the threatening situation. How we assess a negative event depends a lot on our ‘hard wiring’, which in turn is based on our experience. But, says Thomson, this is not the complete picture; it is only a version of reality based on what you know. ‘Step back and see the whole picture’, she suggests, ‘and ask how you can see this as an opportunity and not a threat.’ For example, if you didn’t get a position you applied for; rather than seeing this as a failure, reappraise it and see it as a step in the right direction that allowed you to practice your interview skills.

    3. Distance yourself. Take a break and put some distance between you and the trigger, and do something to distract yourself, such as going for a short walk. ‘Do something that is both good to you and good for you’, advises Thomson. ‘If it’s a big trigger, observe the 24-hour rule – sleep on it’, she counsels. This gives the ‘threat response’ in your brain and nervous system time to damp down.

    4. Practice calming techniques and mindfulness. Once the preserve of hemp-clad hippies with a penchant for chanting, mindfulness and meditation are becoming more and more mainstream. With good reason – they are scientifically proven to work in reducing stress and anxiety. There are many apps and websites that offer mindfulness meditation instructions and exercises, including Josie Thomson’s own site and Headspace, which offers a free 10-day trial of its app.

    5. Show gratitude and appreciation. Appreciating what we have trains our brain to look for positive messages in everything, a fundamental ingredient for resilience. This can be hard, as it seem our brains are inherently biased towards the negative and being grateful means we are working against our hard-wiring. When we learn to acknowledge this and move on, Thomson says, we can begin to be grateful. ‘ Happy people are not necessarily grateful’, she explains, ‘but grateful people are certainly happier.’

    Josie Thomson’s final message about resilience is this: ‘Pain in life is inevitable. It’s how we learn and grow. Suffering is optional, while growth is intentional.’

     




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