How to develop psychological resilience

Why is this important?

When we look around (or at least when we look at our Instagram feeds), it’s easy to think that everyone is happy. Could it be that we are the only common mortals struggling with hurdles to our happiness (e.g. work issues, relationship difficulties, issues of self-worth, the list goes on…)?
What if we let go of the expectation of being “happy” all the time? After all, happiness is relative, so would it mean anything to be “happy” all the time? Would we even be able to appreciate good things if we were so focused on being “happy”?

In fact, studies show that the desperate quest for happiness can leave us emotionally stunted and unable to deal with the highs and lows of life. It’s OK – and healthy – to be sad, frustrated or worried when we are struck with adversity. If, however, we are constantly striving to be happy, we avoid dealing with these feelings and they catch up with us at some point or another.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t make decisions and pursue a life that will make us genuinely happy – we definitely should. However, we should focus more on building our psychological resilience – happiness will be a wonderful byproduct. Psychological resilience not only equips us with the ability to bounce back from crisis when is hits (and it does!), but also allows us to regulate our emotions and to see failure as a form of feedback. Over time, it allows us to maintain a positive mindset and find fulfilment which – you guessed it – leads to feeling more content and at ease with life.

When it comes to the workplace, the best thing companies can do is to foster psychological resilience in employees. By definition, most companies breed insecurity. Employees are constantly held against targets and deadlines and have to deal with difficult clients or stakeholders. All this is likely to take a toll on anyone and the result is often heightened stress and anxiety and a resulting lack of motivation and engagement. But it doesn’t have to be that way, while companies are unlikely able to remove all external stressors, they can empower their employees to deal with them with more agility.

The good news is that we can all be psychologically resilient. It isn’t an innate trait, but rather a series of behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be acquired. These traits allow us to develop a positive outlook and the clarity we need to make decisions that are right for us.

What can you do about it?

Whether you are looking to build psychological resilience in yourself or your teams, it’s easy to get started. Below are a few small steps that make a big difference.

Prove the negative chatter wrong

We can get so caught up in a spiral of negativity and talking ourselves down that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between facts and beliefs about ourselves. Over time, negative thoughts and words about ourselves can really take a toll, and they can make situations or events appear more stressful than they are.

By re-framing our thoughts, we not only provide an instant boost of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) by giving ourselves a pat on the back, but we also train our brain to focus on the positives – a core element of psychological resilience.

Gratitude journalling (writing down five things you are grateful for) or celebrating wins (writing down five things you have done well) are really powerful tools to changing this mindset if you do them consistently and often. Your gratitude nuggets or wins don’t have to be big, they can be small and simple.

How to do this within your team at work

Encouraging people to share their wins publicly during a weekly meeting (e.g. Friday wins) is an incredibly powerful way of boosting your employees’ morale by making them feel seen and recognised. Not only that, but you are helping them to reframe their mindset into looking at the positives.

 

Turn failure into constructive feedback

When something bad happens (e.g. a bad review at work, an altercation with a friend), try to identify what went wrong, what you learnt from the situation and what you will do differently next time. This allows you to focus on the positives and trains your mind to identify learnings from every situation.

How to do this within your team at work

When something happens, encourage your employees to go through the above process. This not only reassures them that you trust that they can learn from the process – so it isn’t all bad – but it also cultivates in them the ability to turn adversity into growth.

 

Set realistic goals

If you are working towards a big goal, set smaller, achievable goals and do something regularly to move towards them. If a task seems insurmountable, ask yourself “What is the one thing I can do today to move me towards my goal?”.

How to do this within your team at work

If employees are working towards KPIs, make sure they are realistic and that they have the tools to achieve them. Next, encourage them to break the KPIs down into smaller, goals and to to the process above. This will not only show your employees that you are providing them with tools to help them succeed (rather than setting them up to fail), but will train them to do this by themselves over time.

 

Identify your values

What are your values? Do you know what you really want from life? Write down ten things that are really important to you (e.g. family, personal growth, authenticity) and narrow it down to five things.

When you make decisions, make sure that they are in line with your values. By continuously living in line with your real priorities, you are more likely to feel content and fulfilled. This will increase the chances of you feeling good when you conduct related tasks and, in general, will help you maintain a positive outlook on life.

How to do this within your team at work

While is is not your responsibility to ensure that people are living life in line with their values, you can implement this idea in a work setting by reframing it within the context of your employees’ career journey.

Encourage your employees to consider where they want their career to go within the business, and urge them to see how the choices they make and the way they work will influence that trajectory. By doing this, you will show employees that you are invested in their long-term goals within the company but will also provide them with the ability to make conscious choices on the basis of what they really want.

Take your focus away from your thoughts with mindfulness

Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness, and with good reason! By taking your attention away from your thoughts and into the present, you are training your mind to focus on the here and now, rather than the past and the future. Doing this enough trains your mind to assess situations within the adequate scale rather than getting carried away with catastrophic thoughts.

How to do this within your team at work

There are several ways to introduce mindfulness beyond just guiding a mindfulness session in the office which might not feasible for all companies (but if it is, go for it!). Most apps like Headspace have a corporate subscription package through which you can encourage employees to try mindfulness. Another great way to encourage employees to stay in the present is to give them the opportunity to take an hour at lunchtime (or at some point in the day) to go for a walk or to a sports class. While this is not mindfulness in its purest form, it is a great way to take focus away from negative thoughts.

Build strong relationships

Adversity, unfortunately, is inevitable. When it does strike, one of the most powerful ways to overcome it is by confiding in our close friends and family. They can not only provide a much-needed ear and cup of tea, but can also provide some perspective and encouragement. By nurturing strong and meaningful relationships, you are creating a support network around you which will be instrumental when you need it, and will enable you to bounce back more easily.

How to do this within your team at work

While it is unlikely that you will create a close relationship with each of their team members, you can ensure that you foster supportive and empathic relationship. This will sometimes require training other managers in these skills, but it will go a long way in helping employees to feel supported and thrive at work.

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