Introduction

The year 2022 has been a transitionary year. We’ve emerged from the isolation of a global pandemic and moved forward, courageously, to design a new normal. We have felt and expressed fear and gratitude, sorrow and laughter, and the full spectrum of human emotion. We have, at times, been energized and then equally exhausted. But we keep moving forward because we are resilient. 

As we approach the close of this transitionary year, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of resilience and how we can harness it in an uncertain world. This three-part series will focus on Building Momentum, Ways to Activate Resilience in Ourselves, and thoughts on Fostering Resilience in Others.

Part II. Activating Resilience Within Ourselves

There are countless ways to activate our own resilience. Like forming a habit, cultivating resilience takes time and intention. These four components are generally accepted as areas of focus to support your resilience journey: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning. 

Connection

The desire to share our experiences and how we feel about them can be a powerful pull even when things are going well. During stressful times it is even more important to establish and maintain trustworthy connections. Even when our trigger-response may be to isolate, the value of connecting in positive ways may offer a potent boost to our resilience

If you are new to the workplace, new in your community, or if connecting feels stressful to you for any other reason, here are a few tips for making new connections.

  • Become a joiner – join an employee resource group or wellness group at work. Take a class, join a book club, or a community organization outside of work. Become a volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to you.
  • Play a role – as you join affinity groups, look for opportunities to let your skills and talents shine. That includes offering to lead a project, team, or event. Doing so will provide continuity with a group of people with whom you may form trusted relationships.
  • Anticipate being accepted – during stressful times, we may fear rejection; this can show up as avoiding or apologizing for intruding or taking others’ time. Such rejection impulses can thwart your efforts to make meaningful connections. Instead, prepare for new connections by adopting a growth mindset. 

Take a mental inventory of your strengths and the value you have brought to similar circumstances in the past. Use this to bolster your confidence as you meet new people. If you are still uncomfortable, start by listening before jumping into conversations. Then engage by adding your own perspectives, as you feel more confident.

Wellness

Wellness is a practice unto itself that can be a powerful tool in cultivating resilience. That includes the basics like nutrition, sleep, hydration, and exercise, as well as mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling, and yoga. 

These wellness strategies have been shown to actively stem negative emotions and promote positive emotions. Sigal Barsade, writing for Harvard Business Review1, offers these tips:

  • “Try to stay calm using whatever method works for you. People will mimic that emotion, too. That can lead to positive emotional contagion…” 
  • “Exercising, volunteering, and showing kindness, mindfulness meditation, and positive high-quality connections with others…can positively increase your mood…”
  • “Feelings of hope have been shown to be more important than feelings of fear…and purposefully expressing optimism and gratitude, with the explicit goal and understanding of feeling better, also relate to long-term well-being.”

Promoting resilience through wellness also includes an awareness of what to avoid, such as harmful substances and negative news threads. Beyond these more obvious elements, avoiding negative connections can also boost wellness. In the workplace, people or conversations that undermine your organization’s culture or any individual’s sense of worth might also undermine wellness and become a form of negative emotional contagion.

If you should encounter this and find that it impacts your own wellbeing, it would be important to address it and not let it linger. You may seek assistance from a colleague to formulate and frame one-on-one feedback to another individual; or you may want to discuss whether and how to report your concerns formally. An empathic manager, an ombuds, a coach, or an employee relations professional are also good candidates to assist you. 

Advocating for your wellness in this way doesn’t mean that your experiences of another person’s behaviors are right or wrong. It simply means that, by discussing your experiences objectively, with someone who can help, you may learn about yourself and others, you may see things differently and gain greater insight, and most importantly, you will be taking steps to cultivate your own resilience.

Healthy Thinking

Healthy thinking involves the ability to take stock of your own thought patterns and to focus or refocus them in ways that support resilience.

Under stress our emotions may cloud our thoughts and influence a highly rational person to think irrationally. During such times, it is important to take perspective as a pathway to tapping into your resilience. Try telling your story and listening to yourself. What do you hear? Are you making assumptions? Seeing a small setback as a major catastrophe? Glossing over a problem altogether?

If you employ healthy thinking you will be able to acknowledge your circumstances for what they are. You will see that you can’t change what is, or what happened in the past; but you have great agency and control over how you respond in the present. If you step back, calm your mind, and work toward seeing things clearly and without judgment – of the situation, yourself, or others – you will be better positioned to carve out a productive way forward.

For example, we’ve all heard the term “failing fast”. Doing so means acknowledging a mistake or setback, raising it in appropriate channels, and committing to a positive change of course. This is a form of healthy thinking.

In stressful times, healthy thinking requires acceptance of what is.  From a place of acceptance, you can employ gratitude and hope – both of which support resilience. When you are able to think clearly, accept your circumstances, identify the right thing to do, set a goal, and make a plan, you will be more likely to achieve a realistic and better outcome. 

Meaning

During the pandemic, dramatic shifts in the way we approached work often led to people feeling disconnected from their purpose and drive. However, finding meaning at work is a lynchpin in being fully engaged and feeling satisfied and fulfilled. Understanding your personal values and how they align with your job and organization can be a great source of resilience. Rebecca Knight, writing for Harvard Business Review, offers these tips for realigning yourself with meaning in your work:2 

  • “Reflect on your values…Ask yourself: What drives me? What are my values? What am I good at doing? And what contributions do I wish to make?”
  • “Remind yourself how the work you do affects others.”
  • “Reflect on the projects that invigorate you and consider the interesting problems your organization is tackling.”
  • “Look, too, for ways that your purpose can be personal. You might, for instance, coach a younger employee or help a member of your team who’s struggling. Putting yourself forward, even in small ways can be replenishing.”

These four components of resilience – connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning – can work individually and synergistically. They overlap in many ways. However research on burnout offers even more insight into how and when to employ specific types of interventions.3 For example:

  • If you are feeling exhausted or depleted, the classic wellness strategies, or acts of self-care, are the most effective tools. Research shows that a nap, yoga, meditation and similar strategies, are not self-indulgent. They play a vital role in fighting a particular type of burnout and thereby boosting resilience.
  • Conversely, try extending yourself to others, through acts of kindness, if you are feeling detached or lacking in social connection. Research shows that focusing on others versus yourself may be the best way to restore a feeling of connectedness. Even small acts like taking the time to really listen to a colleague or encourage them when they need a boost, can go a long way toward activating your own resilience and sense of connection to your work and team. 
  • Finally, if your sense of worth at work, or your self-efficacy, has taken a downturn, the key is to do something that will bolster your own sense of self-value. This can be accomplished by employing either self-care strategies, or other-focused strategies, or both.

The key is to feel empowered—to know you have agency in cultivating your own resilience – for any of these strategies to work. However, it is often easier to identify and understand what you are experiencing by working with a trusted thought partner. Depending upon your circumstances and needs, this might be a licensed mental health professional, or one of your organization’s internal resources (who do not provide therapy), such as an empathic manager, a coach, an employee relations professional, and of course, an ombuds – we are always there to help.

By: Carolyn Esposito, Corporate Ombuds at AllianceBernstein and Certified Executive Coach 

Footnotes:

  1. The Contagion We Can Control, Sigal Barsade, Harvard Business Review, March 26, 2020
  2. How to Find Meaning When Your Job Feels Meaningless, Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review, February 3, 2021
  3. Your Burnout is Unique, Your Recovery Will Be, Too, Yu Tse Heng and Kira Schabram, Harvard Business Review, April 12, 2021

Harnessing Resilience in an Uncertain World: Building Momentum (Part 1 of 3) is available HERE