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Our resilience is suffering due to the fact that the days are getting shorter, it's getting colder and colder, the summer vacation feels like it's been far too long, and the world situation isn't helping many people shine with joy at the moment. At the same time, we don't want to mope around all day or sink into a spiral of negative thoughts. So what do we do? We roll up our sleeves, grit our teeth, and then we'll be fine. The words that certainly come up most often in working life are "...but, everything's fine".
This "everything's fine" trap or the inwardly positive encouragement are symptoms of our performance-oriented society, in which we are always moving forward, the moment counts too little, and there is not enough room for stopping or even pausing.
In a resilience training course that I recently led, the participants admitted that in their busy working lives, virtual coffee dates with colleagues, which are already rare in the digital world, have to give way to deadline pressure as the first appointments in stressful phases.
Social contacts in particular, i.e. a stable network and environment with good quality relationships, are an effective factor for our mental health. They support our resilience.
But what actually is this resilience, and how can I approach it with simple tools?
Everyone has heard something on the subject in the last two years. To make sure we are talking about the same thing, let's refresh the definition at the beginning. Adapted from the Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research, resilience is the psychological resistance that keeps us from breaking down or getting sick from stressful situations during or after them. Resilience also helps us to maintain our strength, to recover quickly and also to mobilize new strength. It can be learned and trained, so it is not a rigid personality trait, but a dynamic and active process. In addition, there are significant differences between stress management and resilience, especially in the approach, training, consulting and coaching. In general, this is still used synonymously far too often and lumped together.
To put it in a nutshell, resilience is often compared to bamboo, which is characterized by properties such as flexibility, mobility, and at the same time deep roots, making it stable and resilient. In contrast, stress management often uses the metaphor of a rock on the shore. The rock stands for strength, unshakability, and of course stability, but in this case in the sense of bouncing off all external forces. In contrast to the perfect stress manager, the resilient person is not the rigid rock in the surf against which everything from the outside bounces off. Rather, the person is, to stay with the image, the water that flexibly and agilely seeks its way along the rock, adapts and sometimes changes direction. Good individual stress management helps us, especially in acute situations, to cope with them and still stay on task.
The promotion of resilience goes hand in hand with the long-term development of inner stability, based on a solid foundation of lived values. This is complemented by flexibility, for example through regular questioning of routines or the search for creative solutions. These are only small examples, which in the best case accompany us every day. They are transformed from individual incoherent measures into a firmly anchored inner attitude. Like many things in life, this is a process that we may follow step by step. There are just as many starting points, whether you try it via the "4 big S" in life (cf. Wolfgang Roth) or the 7 (cf. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté), 8 (cf. Ella G. Amann) or 10 (cf. American Psychological Association, APA) resilience factors. We would like to present here a few selected tools that help us to become more resilient and at the same time to gain serenity.
Many tools are based on ways of communication or on our thought framework for the foundation, because in these two fields the levers are particularly large also for the everyday work life. Each and every individual is in the driver's seat here. At the same time, as a manager, I can support each of the following points for individual employees or the entire team through my own behavior or impulses.
Now don't imagine a pink elephant. How well did that work? Negations already work poorly with children, and this changes only to a limited extent in adulthood. With negations, we usually put the focus on the behavior or point we actually want to stop, instead of focusing on what we actually want to accomplish with our statement. In our day-to-day communication, negations have become natural. It is worthwhile to turn this small screw and think about positive alternatives for more resilience.
Especially under stress, generalizations slip out even faster. However, we often present the situation in a very one-sided or extreme way. Always, all, every, every time are just a few examples. By addressing the situation specifically, both you and your interlocutor can respond better to the situation at hand. In many cases, generalizations cause the other person to immediately put up a wall of resistance or blocking. If you make it specific, for example, to the exact situation regarding the colleague, you reduce this reaction and both sides can talk about the specific incident.
In the hope that not everything always goes wrong in your professional life, we have nevertheless adopted the "optimization view". We assume the worst or tell about the things that just didn't go well. Achieving a shift here and focusing on the specific positive exceptions not only helps our own state of mind, but also the atmosphere in the team. However, the same also applies vice versa for "toxic positivity". Always seeing and describing everything in a rose-tinted light denies reality and prevents important learning processes. From both points of view, we are allowed to broaden our perspective to the exceptions and learn from them
Our brains are tuned to reduce complexity and the stream of information crashing into us as quickly as possible. In earlier times, it saved our ancestors' lives if they could evaluate a situation as threatening in a matter of seconds. Today, overly quick assessments or interpretations tend to fall on our feet, especially when they affect our counterpart.
Similar to constructive feedback, the best way to get started with perception is through I-messages. In addition, a perception describes observable behavior or changes that others can also notice. Many people find it helpful to take on a kind of referee position or to look at what has happened from the outside and describe it from there. On the one hand, this approach allows you to first take a breath yourself in challenging situations; on the other hand, it prevents reflexive reactions. This form of pausing thus also serves self-regulation, because it is in your own hands how much your own red button is pushed. This method increases your resilience, as you use it to control the degree of escalation in heated situations and thus to a large extent promote your own well-being and also that of all involved.
From mindfulness practice we know the words "accept what is". Especially in the current very dynamic times, it helps us if we become aware more often that, as much as we would like to, we are not always in control or able to change everything. If the child suddenly has to stay home with a cold, we can use the strength to be there rather than give in to anger about it. The same is true at work. A previously quiet day without meetings is abruptly interrupted by an IT problem or incessant phone ringing. If we give in to stress or anger here, problem solving becomes all the more difficult. The stress hormones we release prevent us from thinking clearly, and we only delay improving the situation. We may accept for ourselves that conflicts, failures and unplanned events are a normal part of life. At the same time, it is also true that there is no light without shadow.
In both our private and professional lives, we tend to make comparisons. The perspective we adopt is often to the detriment of ourselves, which in turn weakens our own resilience. This is because we compare our bad sides with the good sides of others. Who wins in the process is obvious. It is much more important to look at the things we can rely on in ourselves. Questions such as:
In this way, we strengthen our self-awareness in two ways. We are aware of ourselves and thus become more self-confident. If you find it difficult to answer, sit down with a trusted colleague or a good friend to work out the answers to these three questions.
With all the strategies and handouts, it's always important to stop. Putting yourself under pressure will at best increase your own stress level. As described at the beginning, it may feel appropriate with all the things you take for yourself. It should empower you. Especially as a leader, you can support yourself as well as others with the previous approaches. In doing so, you will promote both individual resilience and team resilience. Meaningful for a long-term promotion of resilience is a deep dive into the pillars and factors that lead to a more resilient attitude.
In the future, the ability to emerge healthy from challenging times will become increasingly important. Preventive engagement can work in very different ways. For one person, working through a workbook on their own may be enough, a colleague may need individual coaching or counseling, and still others may appreciate coming up with their own answers through sharing in a resilience training. No matter which path you choose for yourself, you will work on your own serenity and will be able to enjoy it more in all areas of life.