There’s a lot being spoken about the need for greater resilience to help us navigate the increasing complexity and demands of life and work today.
But is resilience the answer, and what does it actually mean?
Is it the level of mental toughness required to protect you from those nasty challenges of adversity and disappointment? Like a Teflon® coated suit of armour, this image of resilience creates the sense that this is warfare, it’s life or death, kill or be killed.
It also sounds like hard work, requiring much effort, sweat and tears to overcome the ravages incurred by enduring too much stress, overwhelm and exhaustion.
Perhaps it’s time for a new perspective on what can help us to thrive.
Choose to Work With Empowerment
What if you were to choose empowerment instead, starting with acknowledging where you are now, recognising what’s been happening and determining what and how you would like things to be different?
This automatically puts you back in the drivers seat, in control of your thoughts and reconnects you to your values and beliefs, making it easier to stay focused on finding the best solution.
Being exposed to chronic stress is wearying. We’re designed to respond to our challenges by activating the fight, flight or freeze response. It’s an on-off switch that operates best when left switched off except in case of emergencies. The problem for many of us today is that we’re faced with a constant barrage of distraction, interruption and demands, meaning there’s no opportunity to switch the stress response off, so we remain in a hyper-alert state anticipating and trigger sensitive to possible danger at every turn.
But just as guards need to take turns for guard duty, our brains need time off as well. When exhaustion kicks in, the first insight that disappears is just how tired you really are. It becomes harder to stay focused, your speed of processing information slows down, your thinking processes are hijacked by fear and uncertainty and you lose access to logic and reason. This increases the risk of dangerous kneejerk responses, as the ability to make rational decisions or show sound judgement is lost.
Empowerment provides you the tools of acceptance, alternatives and positive actions.
Accept the reality.
Sure, it would be great if all our prayers were answered, that we achieved every goal, and our outcomes always exceeded our expectations.
Except life doesn’t work that way. What’s normal is to experience a series of road blocks and obstacles to our success, that while seemingly a nuisance is important to contribute to a greater sense of achievement and a job well done because of what you learn along the way.
So, what’s happening now?
Pressing pause to look around helps you to stay grounded, to know where you are and where you’re headed.
If your reality doesn’t match your expectations that’s OK because every stopping point is, just like our feelings, temporary.
Acceptance is liberating because it frees you from all that guilt, wishful thinking and self-limiting beliefs.
It can also help reduce the risk of anxiety and depression. Studies examining the neuroscience of resilience have confirmed how our genetic make-up and mindset determine the impact that stress will have on us operating at the molecular level.
What this means? It is your choice of mindset and environment that influences your coping mechanisms and mental reserve.
Kelly McGonigal talks about this in her TED talk Make Stress Your Friend. She highlights the research that has shown how accepting stress as normal and to be expected, results in far less adverse effects on our health and wellbeing, down to the level of living longer!
What would greater acceptance look like to you?
Seek the alternatives.
When typing in your destination on Google maps, you’re often conveniently offered up to three alternative routes. You can choose which one suits you the best; the quickest route along the freeway with a toll, the windy back route that avoids the usual snarl up on the highway and the standard highway option.
Choice is empowering beause it enables you to select which option is most appropriate for this situation, knowing you might choose differently another time.
Choice is the autonomy that assists you to keep access to the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain needed for higher order thinking and is linked to hope or realistic optimism.
When Peter Greste the Australian journalist found himself imprisoned in an Egyptian jail for 400 days on trumped up charges, he faced a big choice. He could be swallowed up by despair and the horror of his situation or remain curious to what the alternatives might be.
While he didn’t know how long his ordeal* would last, he decided to keep himself in as best shape as possible initiating a daily routine of mediation, exercise and study.
“I have seen quite a few people in prison that were broken by prison. I felt I had to make a conscious decision to stay fit, physically fit, psychologically fit. The biggest danger is your own mind.”
When faced by a challenge how do you remain curious to the options available to you?
What questions have you found helpful to help keep you open to different perspectives and options?
Taking Positive Action.
For many of us, the biggest issue is knowing what to do next and then taking action.
When coping levels are low, it’s appealing to latch onto the nearest life- buoy. The problem is, is it may not be the right solution for you and you may need to switch to a different form of buoyancy vest along the way.
While it may feel counter-intuitive because we’re afraid of drowning, taking a moment while treading water to check out your options, to remember what worked well for you in the past can provide greater peace of mind and confidence in your choice.
However, it is by taking action, even with the wrong solution that builds the momentum of doing, and is always preferable to remaining stuck in the status quo.
Stepping forward into your own bravery, acknowledging your imperfections and vulnerability to making mistakes empowers you to move forward.
This is a far more gentle process, something Yamini Naidu would describe as soft power, that invites you to reconnect with what motivates, inspires and leads you towards your version of success.
Which would you rather have? A bucket-load of mental toughness or a cupful of gentle empowerment?
* He had been sentenced to a seven-year jail term.