A time for resilience

by Steven Crimando

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It allows us to recovery from change or hardship, as individuals, families, communities and organizations. Resilience encompasses both strength and flexibility. It is associated with elasticity, buoyancy and adaptation. All of the attributes of resilience would seem essential in the current climate given market volatility and the unpredictability of global economic conditions. This issue of the Behavioral Risk Bulletin will focus resilience, its importance and strategies for building and enhancing resilience in times of crisis.

Aristotle, once said; “You are what you repeatedly do.” What you do repeatedly through thoughts and actions eventually become your habits. Some theorists feel that resilience is a trait, inborn, hardwired into our being, that it is an innate aspect of our personality. Others suggest that resilience can be developed. Advances in brain science tell us that what you think and how you think can influence the actual anatomical structure of the brain, as well as neurocircuitry and neurochemistry.

This concept, known as “neuroplasticity” suggests that despite earlier ideas that our habits, thoughts and beliefs are set in stone, that in fact you can teach old dogs new tricks. The brain continues to grow, change and adapt to challenges across our entire lifespan. Our thoughts shape our brains as much as our brains shape our thoughts. This relationship is now known to be a two-way street. We can use this knowledge to promote resilience in ourselves and in our organizations.

What Does Resilience Look Like?

Resilience is defined by several cognitive, emotional and behavioral markers. How an individual acts when confronted with sudden change or adversity helps us see resilience in action, it is observable. Resilient people demonstrate flexibility, durability, and the ability to organize and manage ambiguity. These individuals tend to be proactive rather than reactive, to have an attitude of optimism and a mindset that is open to learning. The resilient person is positive and views life as challenging but full of opportunities.

These may sound like personality traits and some may be, but that does not mean that individuals cannot develop resilience. By identifying and practicing these behaviors individuals can build or bolster resilience in themselves and support resilience in others around them.

Ten tips for building resilience

Becoming more resilient is a process and requires conscious effort and a degree of patience. Fostering resilience as an element of an organization’s culture requires even greater patience and consistent positive reinforcement from leaders. These efforts can pay off in meaningful ways but you are not likely to be able to reap the rewards of resilience without some significant effort. These tips can help you move to a higher degree of resilience in the face of current and future challenges:

1. Accept Change: Change is constant and inevitable. Some even say it is cyclical and foreseeable to a degree. Successful people accept change rather than resist it. Actively seek ways to become more comfortable with change.

2. Become a Continuous Learner: Many people resist learning new ways, cling to old behaviors and skills even when it becomes obvious that they don’t work anymore. Focus on learning new skills, gaining new understanding and applying them during times of change.

3. Take Charge: Don’t wait for someone else to lead the way, it may not happen. Instead embrace self-empowerment and take charge of your career and your own personal development.

4. Find Your Sense of Purpose: A clear sense of purpose helps you assess setbacks within the framework of a larger perspective. Develop a “Personal Why” that gives your work meaning or helps you put it into a larger context.

5. Pay Attention to Self-Identity: Form your personal identity apart from your job. A job is just one facet of your identity, and a career just one aspect of your life. To achieve some degree of resilience be sure to separate who you are as a person from what you do for a living.

6. Cultivate Relationships: Personal relationships can be a strong base of support and a critical element in achieving goals, dealing with hardships and developing perspective. Develop and nurture a broad network of personal and professional relationships as a component of your resilience-building strategy.

7. Reflect: Whether you are riding a wave of success or riding out hard times, make time for reflection. Reflection fosters learning, new perspectives and a degree of self-awareness that can enhance your resilience.

8. Skill Shift: Reframe how you see your existing skill set, consider transferable skills and develop new skills when possible. Questioning and perhaps even changing your definition of yourself or your career can lead to higher levels of resilience.

9. Develop Emotional Intelligence: Think creatively and flexibly when under stress. Focus on the future and gain strength from new opportunities that may present themselves. Expand rather than shut down when faced with a challenge.

10. Take Care of Yourself: It can be difficult to find the time, energy, enthusiasm or even the money to take care of yourself during tough times. Letting yourself become run down contributes to the problem rather than the solution. It is more important than ever to eat well, exercise and practice relaxation during times of high stress. Spend time with family and friends and regularly plan and enjoy fun activities.

Pulling It All Together

Resilience allows us to bend rather than break during stormy conditions. Being or becoming more resilient is a necessary survival strategy in unpredictable times. Working slowly but consistently toward greater resilience can help fortify you and your organization and help you weather this and other crises on the horizon.

Steven M. Crimando, MA, BCETS, is a noted author, consultant and trainer to governmental agencies, NGOs and multinational corporations. He is the Managing Director of Extreme Behavioral Risk Management (“XBRM”), a consultancy focused on the human factor in disaster recovery, business continuity and homeland security. XBRM is a division of ALLSector Technology Group, Inc., a New York based full service technology consulting company offering systems integration, managed services and applications development and implementation. ALLSector Technology Group, Inc. is a subsidiary of the F∙E∙G∙S Health and Human Services System, one of the nation’s largest and most diversified not for profit organizations.

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