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Posted by on Aug 7, 2015

Building Resilience

Imagine you are in the water at the beach on a stormy day. The surf is high, and each time a wave comes it knocks you over. You stand back up, and another wave comes and knocks you down again. You may sustain this for a little while, even get a thrill from the waves crashing and getting back up, but eventually you will start to lose your ability to face the oncoming breakers. Even the strongest physique can’t withstand being hit by those waves time after time. At some point, we all get fatigued by trying to withstand the impact of wave after wave crashing on us without the time and effort needed to regain our balance and prepare for the next impact.

The Impact of Prolonged Stress

Stress is a constant in our busy, complex lives. To a degree, stress can be good for our brains and bodies. When we experience stress, hormones are released that create a burst of energy to help us deal with challenges effectively. Yet when we experience consistently high levels of stress over long periods of time, these same hormones can be incredibly damaging to us physically and mentally.

The good news is that our brains and bodies are adaptable, and we can develop practices to reduce stress levels and find ways to maintain our ability to bounce back from the waves crashing over us again and again.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to effectively recover and thrive in the face of stress, challenges, or adversity. Resilient leaders take the time to rebuild their balance even in the midst of wave after wave of issues hitting them. The more balanced you are, the more capable your brain and body are to handle the intense stress levels that come with chronic or mounting adversity or crises.

The Glass is…the Glass

One might assume that those who are endlessly optimistic and positive will naturally be more resilient. This isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who fail to acknowledge the reality of their situation may end up losing their ability to endure chronically stressful or difficult conditions. On the other hand, those individuals who fall into the trap of viewing the situation as hopelessly or endlessly negative are equally unfit to sustain resilience in the face of challenging times. They lose the ability to attach a sense of ownership or meaning over their situations, which can lead to burn out.

Resilient leaders are able to simultaneously acknowledge harsh realities and maintain a positive mental perspective where they focus on what they have the power to do in any given situation. They maintain a focus (for themselves and others) on making meaning of their actions. They inspire and help others to see how their work has purpose.

Creating Balance

Resilient leaders attain balance in four core dimensions of their being – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

  • Physical: To be able to perform effectively, we must ensure that our bodies are cared for and that we allow for physical rest and recuperation. Over time, not eating or sleeping well or exercising regularly will take a toll on any leader’s ability to function at their highest level.
  • Emotional: Not surprisingly, positive emotions increase energy and inspire productivity and higher level thinking. Resilient leaders are aware of their emotional reactions and manage them effectively. They inject humor into situations, and provide hope and a sense of stability in the midst of turmoil.
  • Mental: Resilient leaders build in time to step away from work and focus their minds on other interests. When they return their focus on work challenges, they’re more capable of engaging in high level strategic thinking.
  • Spiritual: The spiritual dimension of our selves is the energy we tap into when we connect with our core values and find meaning in even the most challenging situations.   Resilient leaders take time to reconnect with the “soul” of their work and life. This dimension is especially important for maintaining resilience in the face of great adversity. Leaders who anchor themselves and their team to collective values and purpose will be able to sustain great shocks and not only survive, but come out stronger than before.

Next time you’re feeling battered by the constant onslaught of waves crashing on your shore, ask yourself the following:

  • What can I appreciate about this experience? How can I grow from it?
  • What do I have the power to do in this situation?
  • What can I do to renew myself and others?

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