Microsteps to Resilience
We may be stronger in our levels of personal resilience at certain points in our lives more than others. This is dependent on a whole range of factors but there are certain behaviours which contribute to our resilience levels and, as we are always reiterating, resilience can be learned!
In this blog post we wanted to guide you though some small steps which can be taken to build your own personal resilience and offer some practical suggestions to enable you to learn the behaviours and habits which can help us to bounce back from adversity. Small steps do not necessarily mean small benefits, small changes taken over time can deliver dramatic results. Getting started is the key.
First it might be worth spending a few moments thinking about a time when you have been resilient in the past, perhaps a difficult situation where you have been pleased at your ability to stay involved and deal with it. This could be something where you felt you didn’t have a choice, but being resilient is always a choice. Think about what you did which helped you to be resilient in a specific situation.
The headings in this blogpost are alphabetical rather than any other order. You might choose to pick one or two to start with to suit the areas you feel you wish to improve on first – There are plenty to choose from!
Most difficult situations benefit from an attitude of acceptance. Once we reach acceptance we are then more able to move on to what we need to do to resolve the situation or make changes to improve the future. To move forward we really need to accept the situation as it is, knowing that there is nothing to be gained by wishing it was different. If we accept things as they are at any given moment, we can then focus on what we need to do to resolve the issue or make it different: meet the deadline, ask for help, etc. This helps us to focus on the solutions not the problems. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed means that you don’t waste time on trying to do the impossible.
Small microstep: One skill to practise is to try noticing when we wish something was different, recognising this is irrational as nothing can ever be already different! Let that thought go and focus on what we can do to improve the future.
Know where you stop and others begin – at work, with friends and with family. This can help with many aspects of life including: maintaining work-life balance, being assertive and it also aids the journey towards self-awareness. A sense of values to work against can make maintaining boundaries easier as we then have guidelines to help us decide where our boundaries lie.
Small microstep: Decide on a boundary to set for yourself – it could be to make sure you take a tea-break, have lunch outside, make sure you have an evening per week without emails, or say no to a request. Make it happen this week and then note down the challenges and more importantly the benefits of the exercise.
We all need to be challenged to grow. It may be that we are driving the challenge ourselves or the challenge is coming from an external source. Fulfillment and new ways of living can be an output of change, and when we stay in our comfort zone we quickly become aware of a lack of stimulation. Developing personal goals and taking appropriate action to achieve them is a big part of resilience. Although it is also important to recognise that glitches and setbacks are inevitable. Resilient people are able to see beyond the short term discomfort and keep the destination in mind.
Small microstep: Write down one challenge you would like to give yourself, something you wouldn’t ordinarily do – plan how you will make this happen in small steps.
If you can stay involved when things get difficult, there is a good chance that you will be part of the solution. Often in challenging times we see people behaving in unproductive ways (e.g. increased alcohol consumption, negativity and cynicism, becoming detached). Try to distance yourself from these types of behaviours and stay involved. Commitment is about being engaged rather than withdrawing. Withdrawing from difficult situations can leave you feeling isolated and powerless. Resilient people tend to be part of the solution because they are committed to and recognise the part they play in it.
Small microstep: Look out for signs that you are withdrawing from something – spend time considering if there is another way of increasing your commitment to the solution that could also work for you?
Can you control this situation or is it something you have no influence over? Could you find a way to get in to the driving seat? Look for the parts of the problem you can manage, that you can do something about. Keep positively trying to influence the outcomes of the changes going on around you. This is about quickly turning your attention to what can be done to help resolve a problem. Focusing on what you can pro-actively do to get a positive result rather than concentrating on how unfair or difficult it is.
Taking control is one of the best ways of boosting your self-confidence and optimism. Look at this as an opportunity to influence others and be a positive role model.
Small microstep: Make a list of what you can control and what you can’t. Focus on the list of things you can control. Pick something to take control of; self talk, fitness, work/life balance, etc and plan how you are going to achieve this.
Understand and accept that there are risks in not taking risks! In many situations there are times when making a decision that isn’t perfect is better than not acting at all. Resilient people tend to take control because they are confident and secure in what can be done to put things right. Their default expectation is that there will be a positive outcome. In any case if it really doesn’t feel right the occasional u-turn is another option.
Small microstep: If you have difficulty making certain decisions ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen here? Think about the decision as a small step in the right direction. Does it have to solve the problem 100% if you are generally moving in the desired direction?
This is the skill of being able to calm down and constructively express feelings so that we don’t feel overwhelmed. Losing control of our emotions can have a negative impact on our ability to bounce back. However it is healthier to have an occasional outburst rather then letting things get to boiling point and then ruminating over our behaviours afterwards.
People with strong emotional regulation can keep their feelings in check and stay focused on the goal in hand. Remember that there is a difference between your thoughts and your feelings. Thoughts are not facts and you can learn to stand back from them and give them less significance. It is a skill to understand fully that just because you feel something doesn’t make it true. Resilient people tend to take responsibility for their feelings. They know that whatever is happening, it is their interpretation of events that determines how they feel in the end. A resilient skill is knowing that how we perceive events, no matter how adverse, is something we have control over.
Small microstep: Name your feelings, try to develop a vocabulary for your emotions. Knowing your feelings is the first step towards regulating your emotions.
You can learn to be more empathic and putting yourself in another’s shoes is a resilient skill. Exploring another person’s perspective is a contributory factor in resilience as it helps individuals develop stronger more supportive relationships. Being curious and asking questions about how the other person is experiencing life increases empathy between people.
Small microstep: Think about a difference of opinion you might be having with a colleague at the moment. Make a big effort to put aside your own personal view and note down some reasons why the other person might be taking the view they have. Try to expand on the basic points and work this into a strong case for their view.
As has been touched on in other sections, resilient people don’t usually avoid things they are scared of. They know that facing fears makes them less frightening and gives them less power. Challenges are treated as opportunities to learn new skills – it’s our choice how we respond. Treat mistakes and failures at work and in life as a learning experience. The belief that fears can be overcome, makes them worth tackling.
Small microstep: If you have a fear of something that is so serious you avoid it. Create a list of steps building up to the situation/thing you most fear and use the above technique to tackle them one by one. Don’t move on to the next step until your score for the previous one is low enough.
Whatever the situation we face there will always be many possible ways round it if we look for them. Resilient people have the ability to tolerate and even thrive on ambiguous situations. To build tolerance for flexibility, build coping strategies that you can use and find ways to be flexible in the way you think about challenges. Try to accept things can, and do, change – embrace changes. You might be aware that you are more able to be flexible in some aspects of your life more than others, this demonstrates that flexibility is something that adapts.
Small microstep: Work on your flexible attitude, think about an area where you know you are struggling to be flexible. Brainstorm some ideas, try to look at it from different angles, perhaps chat to someone who isn’t involved and see what alternatives you can come up with.
Having a growth mindset means that we see the brain and our innate talent as a starting point for success, not something that is fixed. The growth mindset is as it sounds, a theory that our understanding is always changing, evolving and growing. We are learning throughout our lives from all experiences, other people and our own and other’s ‘failures’. To encourage this growth we have to seek opportunities to keep the brain fit.
Learning has the added benefit of increasing our optimism as it helps us to see that things can work out better in the future. Learning also increases the feeling of being in control of our own future. Resilience is not a passive quality but an active process and the growth mindset is part of that.
Small microstep: Ask yourself ‘What am I learning? What skills do I have that could be cultivated? What new ones could be learned?’
Keeping things in perspective, lightens the load. Humour is a form of active coping as it reduces tension and often attracts social support. It is usually a sign that there is a clear boundary between the person and the situation as it takes a bit of distance to see the humour in ourselves and our circumstances. It is a resilient skill to choose more positive emotions over negative. In groups, humour can help acknowledge and disperse negative emotions and strengthen social support. It is much harder to ruminate in negative emotions when you see the absurdity of the situation you are in.
Small microstep: If you could draw a cartoon of this situation what might it look like?
Resilient cartoon examples here
The ability to manage our impulses and consciously choose our next steps is learned by everyone. This is a skill we are not born with. Impulse control is the ability to take a moment to stop and decide what action to take. To delay gratification, finish what we set out to do and plan for the future.
Small microstep: Try to work out which impulses you find difficult to control, perhaps ask friends/family what they think. Plan ways to remove the temptation/make it seem less tempting, this might be physically moving things out of sight/counting to 10/practicing relaxation or mindfulness/taking deep breaths etc. Record how you feel, your thoughts and sensations, notice the positives of having controlled your impulses; take note of what was hard, what was easy – start the process of gradually bringing this in to your conscious awareness so that the next time you have a similar challenge you are more aware of the thoughts leading up to it.
Conflict can demonstrate differences in perspectives that the parties involved can learn from. Some conflict is helpful, a sign of differing ideas or creativity, however counterproductive conflict can leave people angry or ashamed; unable or unwilling to engage with their work enthusiastically; reluctant to solve problems; and, sometimes, get out of bed in the morning.
Small microstep: Think of a conflict you are currently experiencing and use the exercise described in the post above as a way to see other perspectives.
Meaning is your internal belief system which guides your values and ethics. It is the moral compass which gives you a purpose in life.
Beliefs can help you to push you forward when times are hard. People who have meaning in their lives tend to experience less stress, anxiety and depression because they have a reason, bigger than themselves as an individual, for doing what they do. It might be volunteering for a cause, joining a group, or creativity that provides this flow.
Small microstep: Write down the things that currently give your life meaning/or the things that you feel would give your life meaning if you weren’t doing the other stuff. Do something each day to move towards them. Remember microsteps can build up to massive change.
Mindfulness helps to ground us in the moment rather than getting caught up in a ‘story’. It also helps us to move towards, rather than away, from challenging situations. As previously mentioned, mindfulness can help us to improve our impulse control as well as many other resilience skills.
Perspective – seeing the big picture
When things don’t go well ask yourself how important will this be in a week, a month, a year? Realising that negative events don’t often have an impact in the long term can really help boost your resilience. Try to be realistic and see challenging events in the broader context of your ongoing personal development. When seen from a bird’s eye perspective, problems tend to become less important.
Small microstep: Look at the evidence. Ask yourself what is the evidence to support the way you are feeling and the evidence contrary to your feelings. Is the emotion you are experiencing valid? Is your reaction out of proportion to the situation? If you were looking back over your life would this still seem like a big deal?
A resilient skill is finding the parts of the problem that you can manage and responding to them proactively and creatively. The experience of problem solving can also strengthen self-esteem. If you have confidence in your ability to turn disaster into success, you are not put off by stressful situations in the same way. Mindfulness practice can contribute to clarity in problem solving too.
When we see the problem as temporary, rather than a permanent state of affairs, it becomes easier to tackle and resolve.
Small microstep: Can you think of a problem you are currently experiencing? Spend some time thinking about the elements you can manage, see yourself having solved the problem and let yourself to believe this is a problem you can overcome. Think about what you will feel like after the problem is solved, try to use this to strengthen your resolve for the problem solving process.
When we talk about realistic optimism we are not prescribing blind faith! The assumption that we are, is what puts many people off the concept of optimism. What we are talking about here is shifting the gauge along slightly towards the smiley face and away from the cross one. Much of our culture is based around news, and media outlets tell us to brace ourselves for the worst. The outcome of this is that negativity has become the default position and this isn’t particularly healthy or realistic.
To redress the balance, try to pat yourself on the back when things go well and reduce the attention you give to things not going well. Instead of fearing the worst, visualise success. Challenge your negative thoughts. Do you have a block about optimism? Are you focused on the perceived value of negative thoughts? Nothing is wholly good or bad. Try to maintain a positive outlook without denying reality. Note: It is no more realistic to be negative and pessimistic than to expect the best.
Resilient people tend to see stressful events or crises as temporary, or even as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as unbearable problems. This is a thought process which takes practice.
Small microstep: Take time each day to think about what went well. Train the mind to look for success rather than dwelling on negativity. Try these gratitude apps to get started.
A recent study showed that those who believed a little stress was a good thing had a boost in immunity and greater sense of wellbeing. See this Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal A thread running through this entire post is the idea of changing the way we view events and situations so we can experience them more positively. Things like trying to ask ourselves what the opportunities are in a situation, looking for those solutions rather than ruminating on the negatives. What can we learn from these challenges? What can we do to achieve the best outcome? The mind is powerful and it ‘instant messages’ our body telling it how to react to powerful situations.
Small microstep: What can you re-interpret as an opportunity for growth and learning. Something difficult and challenging which could also enhance your ability to be resilient?
Many of the resilient skills mentioned in this blog post have an end result of increasing our self-awareness. Knowing and understanding why we do the things we do, is the first part of changing any behaviour. There are many exercises which can help us to become more self-aware….
Small microstep: Keep a diary and write down your emotions each day, your interpretation of events etc. Ask yourself questions like; ‘what makes me tired?’ ‘What makes me happy?’ ‘How did I feel about myself today?’ It doesn’t have to be long – a few notes each day will get you into the habit of becoming more self-aware and give you material to reflect on when the moment has passed.
This is about keeping your body and mind strong, looking after yourself emotionally and physically. If you feel good, it is logical that you are in a stronger position to face obstacles. We are talking about getting enough sleep, eating healthily, laughing, exercising and practising mindfulness to name a few examples.
Accept the importance of rest and downtime. Showing others that you prioritise for self-care helps them to value it. Be a leader in taking the risk of self-care.
Small microstep: Can you be the first to leave the office tonight?
This is the narrative that you tell yourself and it either helps or undermines resilience. We may not even be aware of our self-talk – perhaps just the way we feel most of the time.
Small microstep: Would your self-talk be ok to say out loud to a friend? Is it kind and thoughtful enough for you to use the same tone when talking to someone you care about? If you are not sure, try to become aware of your self-talk first – it can be quite automatic. Then try to challenge any cruel or unfounded comments and messages you are giving yourself. Move the dial along to the more positive, encouraging responses if you can.
This is about believing in your own competence. Are you able to nurture a positive view of yourself so that you believe in your ability to solve problems, handle stress and influence situations. Can you trust your instincts?
Resilient people tend to think well of themselves and see themselves in a positive way.
Small microstep: Start with a small thing that you feel confident about and think about why this is so? What other things could you add to the list? Start to notice when you have faith in your ability to do something.
Having a strong support network is a big part of being resilient and studies back this up. Asking for help, or reaching out, is being realistic about what we can do and acknowledging that we all need to accept support from friends or colleagues when we need it. Valuing support and interaction means that we are not micromanaging and are able to get the job done in the most efficient way. These support networks are also very important when crises occur. No-one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn.
Small microstep: Try to be open to social support, know how to get it, be open to giving and receiving help. Practice and increase your ability to connect at work and in your personal life. Try to see problems as opportunities to strengthen relationships.
Please get in touch if you think there is something to add to this post – we welcome your feedback!