How to Become More Resilient at Work
The World Health Organisation has described stress as the global health epidemic of the twenty-first century. Further to that, the Australian Psychological Society found that one in four workers felt moderately to severely distressed in the past year alone.
With employers expecting more from their staff, and the workplace environment as competitive as ever, a resilient mindset is an important asset for today’s workers to have. Resilient people are better able to cope with change, challenges and stressful periods in their professional life. Luckily, resilience is a muscle and it can be strengthened over time.
The benefits of a more resilient mindset in our careers are abundant, so building resilience is key. We explore some practices that can help build your resilience muscle below.
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness has been found to enhance cognitive flexibility, decrease stress and boost creativity. In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness of the present moment, and it enables us to refocus on our work and its purpose. When change, challenges and stress are upon us, mindfulness will provide emotional regulation, decreased reactivity and increased response flexibility.
So, how can you become more mindful? Try one or two of these simple mindfulness exercises today!
2. Maintain a strong support network
Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of resilience. Having a support network, both in and out of the workplace, can help to improve resilience. Good relationships encourage positive emotions and increase our sense of belonging and self-worth, which are particularly important when we’re faced with adversity.
In the workplace, maintaining trusting relationships with your coworkers, managers and HR representatives are all valuable. When you feel supported in your work environment, you’re more likely to perform at your best and bounce back from hardship. So, invest in building these relationships and be particularly mindful of when others may need some support from you.
In your personal life, your support network is just as important for working through and moving on from stressful periods. Sometimes just telling the people close to you how you’re feeling can make a big difference. While you may not feel you can be 100% honest with your peers and managers at work, you can be with your personal support network.
People are notoriously bad at multi-tasking, and almost as notorious for thinking that we’re good at it. According to recent research published by the American Psychological Association, switching from one task to another invites in distractions and reduces productivity by as much as 40%.
When we divide up the day’s tasks into blocks and take short breaks between each, our brains can refresh for the next task ahead. This boosts our productivity and reduces the anxiety that comes with feeling that we have a million things to get done. Our brains can build resilience by enforcing these internal rules to stop us from worrying about multiple priorities at once.
It’s also important to leave work at work. People who enjoy regular leisure time are more likely to demonstrate resilient thinking as they allow their brain to refresh. Exercise also helps at a biological level to reduce stress and improve resilience. Try a brisk lunch time walk to blow away the morning’s worries and approach the afternoon with a new outlook. If you’re in a management position, consider introducing incentives for your employees to do the same.
4. Develop mental agility
Resilience is all about being able to step out of a situation and look at it objectively, rather than becoming mired in it. Resilient people can see beyond a current patch of adversity and draw on wider knowledge to put it into context. In other words, they demonstrate mental agility.
Being mentally agile and decentering stress when it occurs enables the core resilience skill of “response flexibility.” You create a gap between a stressor and your response which prevents your amygdala (the part of your brain that processes emotions) from kicking in and making panicked decisions. This is a skill you can train yourself to perfect. When you stop and put a situation into perspective, you not only enable a clearer response, but you strengthen your belief that adversity can be overcome.
Just like regular physical exercise strengthens your muscles, regular mental exercise will strengthen your cognitive agility. When things seem hard, stop and think about what else is going well. Remind yourself of times in the past when you’ve triumphed over a difficult situation. It can also be effective to break issues down into smaller goals so that they seem surmountable. Avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking and be prepared for mistakes or setbacks to happen – they’re completely normal.
5. Avoid the 3 Ps
Personalisation, pervasiveness and permanence are the 3 P’s – the common emotional reactions when something goes wrong in our professional and personal lives. Each are detrimental to our ability to move on.
Personalisation: to instantly blame yourself when a negative event occurs
Pervasiveness: to laser-focus on the event and associated feeling to the exclusion of all else
Permanence: to allow yourself to believe that the feeling will not pass
Familiarise yourself with the 3 P’s. Write them out on a piece of paper. Next time you feel yourself falling into one or more of these traps, recognise it and amend your thought process. This will help to build your self-awareness and resilience.
Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is widely considered the founding father of this positive psychology movement which is just as applicable to adversity in the workplace as it is in our personal lives. Facebook COO and resilience advocate Sheryl Sandberg referenced Seligman’s 3 P’s in the book on resilience she co-wrote after her husband unexpectedly passed away. She explains the role resilience played in the aftermath of that tragic event in this video:
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: World Health Organisation, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and ABC News.