Resilience: Thriving in a Challenging Work Life

06.02.2011
HR & Safety

Three keys to staying strong, positive, and successful

By Jim Hornickel

Resilience is a combination of skills and character traits that allow you to bounce back, cope with change, and function above the norm despite significant stress or adversity.

We all have resilience. The question is, to what degree? You’ve chosen a professional life in business, and every day business is challenging. Now that can and should be a positive thing. At Bold New Directions, we have a motto that keeps us challenged on a personal level: “If you’re not living at the edge of your life, you’re taking up too much space!” But living at the edge, whatever that means for you, demands ever more resilience.

Here are three keys for constantly growing your resilience: your ability to bounce back day after day.

1. Grow Your Self-Awareness

That sounds so basic: and it is. But most of us haven’t been trained to constantly look inside ourselves, so we do it somewhat haphazardly. In order to meet all of the external challenges you encounter daily, your internal state needs to be strong. You have to stay tuned in to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.

No one ever told me I was in charge of my thoughts. I thought I just had them passively. But think about times when you “put your mind to something.” That’s what I’m talking about: only doing it all the time.

For example, notice when your thoughts are negative. Is that getting you what you want? Probably not. And notice how you feel when you have negative thoughts. Angry, frustrated, blaming: none of which can possibly produce positive results. When you have negative thoughts and feelings, your body will also be affected, with headaches, sour stomach, lower back discomfort, and a host of other stress-related disorders.

So put a brake on negativity and shift your thoughts to the positive. I can handle this! or That’s possible! are sayings you can use to turn negative thoughts, feelings, and body sensations around in your favor.

2. Engage Your Purpose

Did you ever go to an ATM, take out $100, spend it here and there, and then wonder, Where did I spend all that money? Do your days ever seem like that? Where the heck did the time go?

Work life is full of things to do, and we can get quite caught up in endless activities. The problem is that we often get off track. Being off track leads to stress, and stress lowers your resilience.

Periodically reminding yourself of your small and large goals will keep you on track. Start your day with a clear purpose, or agenda. Written goals are much more powerful than those you try to keep in your head. Keep your self-awareness alive so that you notice, for example, when you are lingering in the break boom, surfing the ‘Net just a little past your business reason, or procrastinating on a project that doesn’t excite you.

Take the “helicopter view.” Take a moment to rise above the details of your busy day to see if your activities are in line with your stated purpose. If not, shift your thoughts and actions back on track. The more successful you are at doing this, the better your accomplishments feel and the more resilience you have.

3. Boost Your Creativity

I have asked thousands of people in our training programs to raise their hand if they think of themselves as creative. Only about 10% of professionals do. I attribute that to either poor self-perception or the need to get better at thinking outside the box. Problems come your way every day, and the better you are at finding multiple options for solving them, the stronger and more successful you are.

Here is a fun but practical exercise you can do to help move your brain from I can’t think of anything else to What else can I think of to do? We call it, “There Are 18 Ways to Do Anything!”

Round one: When faced with a problem, ask yourself to find different ways of solving it. Here’s how it works.

Ask yourself, for example, How do I get to San Francisco? By plane, of course! Ah, but the pilots are on strike. So, how else can I get there? By train! But all seats are sold. How else can I get to San Francisco? By car! The car is in the shop”_See where this is going? You can get to San Francisco by bike, walking, swimming, hot air balloon, donkey, Roller Blades, riding lawn mower: far more than 18 ways, in fact. If you open up your mind to being creative, you will find many ways of solving your problems.

Round two: Do this by yourself, or better yet, with your team. Ask team members, How many ways can you think of to use a paper clip? (By the way, the record is 44.)

Grow your self-awareness, engage your purpose, boost your creativity: these are just three ways of becoming more resilient. In today’s constantly challenging work life, you need every tool and trick to remain strong, positive, and successful.

Jim Hornickel is cofounder of Bold New Directions, a consulting firm specializing in corporate training and employee development. He can be reached at jim@boldnewdirections.com. Learn more from Jim about increasing your resilience at CBIA’s Annual Supervisors Conference, June 24, in Cromwell.

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