Coaching originated in the world of sport and it’s easy to see how building resilience applies here. Let’s use spinning as a metaphor. You have a few minutes of turning up the resistance and peddling as fast as you can. Crank it up, go, race, sweat and just when you think you’re about to collapse you get recovery time. Just enough time to recover and then off you go again. Repeat for 45 − 60 minutes and you have a work out that builds your resilience to add more resistance, speed and duration for the next time.
So, is building resilience in the workplace any different? Mental resilience is an important attribute when developing leadership capabilities. In today’s ever challenging environment it is crucial to be able to go to the edge of stress and bounce back after a short recovery time. The difficulty here is that our minds get in the way of this and tend to be more reluctant than our bodies to let go of trauma and drop into the recovery mode.
The mind loves a story. The only way it can make sense of the millions of bits of information it receives per second is to delete, generalise, distort and create a story. It repeats these stories to you as it continues to distort, generalise and delete with reference to past experience. The mind does not know the difference between fantasy and reality and so the stress levels are maintained or increased long after the initial shock or trauma has passed.
Yet stress is as necessary a part of building mental resilience at work as it is in building physical resilience in sport. In sport the technique is to take the stress to the edge and let it go. However, with stress in work or personal situations often we don’t let it go, we don’t factor in recovery time and as the glucose is consumed by our muscles preparing for the fight or flight mode we treat ourselves with sugar, alcohol or anything else that can temporarily boost our energy.
We need to acknowledge that small amounts of stress are necessary to achieve our daily goals. The secret in building mental resilience can be found in sport. Pace it. Plan your day and build in the recovery time.
How to factor in recovery time to build mental resilience.
Practise mindfulness. Take a breath in and feel the air as it travels up your nostrils, feel your lungs expand, experience this without story, without judgement. Notice how your skin feels, how your mouth tastes, listen to your heart beat, hear the sounds outside of your body, notice your environment and return to your breath and the beating of your heart. Remain in this mindful state for as long as you can. This can be practised anywhere and as often as you remember to. Soon this state of mindfulness will become your default state and enable you to deal with trauma, challenges and shocks and return to a state of mindfulness. The more you practise this the calmer and more resilient you will become.
Practice meditation. There are many ways to meditate. Sit still and focus on an external object like a candle flame and when the thoughts arise observe them without judgement and let them float away as you return again to the flame of the candle. The object of focus does not have to be external you can imagine a shape and hold this object in your mind’s eye, focus on this and let any thoughts float away. Sometimes a simple sound like shshsh.. said aloud or in your mind can gently quieten the chatter. You don’t have to sit still to meditate. Any activity that needs complete attention will bring you to a state of meditation and silence the chatter. Popular meditative activities are yoga, tai chi, painting, walking, running, dancing, reading, singing, drumming or any other activity that acts as a recovery time for you.
Become aware of your emotions. An emotion is a feeling and will be felt in the body. Be curious about the emotion. Where is it in the body, how is it moving? What happens if you move it somewhere else? For instance if you feel it in the stomach move it to the chest or vice a versa. How does the emotion change? Emotions are a message. Foe example it may be that something is out of line with your core values or beliefs. Listen to the message. An emotion is triggered by a thought and it will last for 90 seconds unless fed with another thought. So observe your thoughts and change them by becoming mindful of the moment. When the message is heard the emotion will dissipate.
Helicopter up or disassociate. Imagine that you are in a helicopter or have grown wings and can float up above the situation. Observe what is happening. You are the observer completely detached from the situation. Without judgment notice what is happening. Look at the situation from many different perspectives. Be curious and wonder how the situation is being perceived by others. Remain detached and gather up any new information learned from this.
Be kind to yourself and give yourself only the best. Like the athlete what you put into your body is as important as what you do with it. Drink lots of water, eat fresh healthy food and get plenty of rest.
Practise all or any of the above techniques that resonate with you to build your mental resilience. Very soon you will notice that you achieve more and stress less. Resilience is a powerful leadership characteristic and you will find that more people begin to trust in your leadership abilities and want to follow you. Mental resilience will enable you to think clearly when faced with adversity, be more decisive and waste less time worrying.
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