More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.
Dean Becker, Harvard Business Review, May 2002.
Ten years on from this article, the world seems more turbulent than ever. We look around us and see some people who seem to thrive under such testing conditions, while others crumble; some become focused and tough, while others find it difficult to maintain a sense of perspective. At extremes, I have worked with people who have cracked at both ends of the continuum as neither those who tough things out nor those who crumble have found sustainable solutions.
As a coach, at times of change and challenge, I encourage clients to think about the choices that they do have rather than focusing on the areas of their lives that appear to be out of their control. By doing that they begin to build up their personal resilience and becoming a little more objective about their experiences and options.
So what is resilience?
Resilience is: Resilience is not:
Realistic thinking Tough thinking
Calmness under pressure Ignoring emotions
Being open to new options Fantasising about the future
Reaching out Acting independently
We develop our resilience from childhood but learn and develop our mastery as adults. Research (Reivich and Shatte, 2002) has shown that thinking style has a huge part to play in developing resilience. A study in USA (Maddi and Khoshaba, 2005) conducted over 12 years tracked a large group of people working in a telecommunications company, which was de-regulated, had to compete in an open market, and 50% of the participants lost their jobs whilst 2/3 suffered major life events. However, 1/3 appeared not only to survive but thrive in such turbulence. The researchers found that those with the resilience to respond to the difficulties they encountered had three attributes in common:
Commitment: stay involved with the people and environment around you
Control: keep trying to influence those outcomes where you have can
Challenge: try to find out how to grow through the stress rather than staying stuck in the moment when the change struck.
It is easier to write this-and read it!-than to put it into practice, and I think that one of the most important things that we can do is stay open and involved with the people around us so that we can maintain a sense of perspective and personal control. Who knows what possibilities may open up to us as a result?