Resilience Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Our personal resilience is being tested on a level that many people haven’t experienced before. The world we live in today is complex and the future seems more uncertain, creating higher levels of stress for many of us.

Whether it’s the pressure of the ‘always-on’ culture, social media images that paint an unrealistic picture of a perfect life or caring for elderly relatives while trying to hold down a job and look after children, stress is created by many different things. Although we may not always be able to influence or change what’s going on around us, we do have control over how we respond.

Read on to find out how your thinking can help you become more resilient whatever you’re dealing with in life.

The silk in a spider’s web is one of the strongest materials in the world. In fact, it can even tolerate winds of up to almost hurricane strength before it will break. Just as a spider’s web is able to withstand changes in its environment, it’s important that we too are resilient enough to recover from setbacks, adapt to change and keep going in the face of adversity. After all, life is full of storms, big and small, so we need to be able to weather them.

In the face of adversity, people respond in very different ways. When working with businesses who have gone through significant change, we have seen a variety of responses from people. Some have a deep-set fear of the prospect of doing something new while others show extreme excitement. Those who are able to adjust to new circumstances more quickly and more positively have developed their personal resilience. This is mainly down to how they think and respond. For example, they are more likely to see possibility where others see futility, opportunity where others see threat and hope where others see despair.

To develop your personal resilience, it is important to be aware of any ‘thinking traps’ you may be falling into as this will have a significant impact on how effective you are.

Here are some of the most common ‘thinking traps’:

1. Overgeneralisation

“This always happens to me”. This is symptomatic of those who play the victim card. Challenge whether this is really the case. Look for examples of when things have been different. It’s unlikely that anything always happens.

2. Statements of necessity

This involves overuse of words like, “I should”, “I have to”, “I could never” etc. It is important to question these. For example, “This needs to be perfect.” Ask yourself why? Are you over-stretching yourself unnecessarily? What would happen if you gave yourself a bit of slack and accepted a degree of imperfection in the interests of time? Does everything need to be perfect anyway?

3. Catastrophising

“They’ll sack me if I don’t get this report done on time”. At a recent development session, one of the participants shared her mantra for life, which was, “what you worry about, rarely comes about”. This belief ensures she doesn’t get caught up worrying about things that may never happen. Think about what you could do to minimise or mitigate any problems. Gain a sense of perspective by asking yourself how big an issue this is. Is it something you’re likely to worry about a year from now?

4. Jumping to conclusions

This can involve mindreading, where we assume we know what others are thinking. For example, “during my presentation my boss was making comments to her colleague and I just know she didn’t like it”.

It can also involve fortune-telling, where we believe we can predict the future, e.g. “I just know this presentation is going to go badly”. Trying to second guess what people think, or will do, can get us into hot water. It can lead to self-doubt and, over the long term, that chips away at our confidence. The more we tell ourselves that we’re no good at something the more likely we are to believe it, until it becomes a false truth.

5. All-or-nothing thinking

This involves thinking in extremes, i.e. “I’m in the right and they’re in the wrong”, which discounts the possibility that there may be an element of truth on both sides. Could you change your thinking so it isn’t so black or white? Being curious would be more helpful, “I wonder how they have come to that conclusion?” For most situations, there are likely to be shades of grey; ask yourself what else could be true about the situation. What assumptions might you be making?

6. Disqualifying the positive

This is where someone fails to see the upside in a situation. For instance, if you’ve secured some new business for your firm, you’d be more likely to say it was a fluke and the competition must have been poor rather than accepting it for the brilliant achievement it was.

Begin to tune into what you tell yourself and others. Are you falling into any of these thinking traps? If you are, start to notice and challenge your thinking. This can feel like an uphill battle in the beginning. Your mind has to first of all notice what it’s doing, unlearn any bad habits and then relearn more positive ways of thinking. Like a path well-trodden, it becomes easier to follow with more practice. Eventually you will notice that old thoughts have been replaced with new ones.


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