Personal resilience – simply expressed as our ability to deal with everyday challenges and maintain a positive state of resourcefulness – is influenced by two factors: how we feel physically and how we feel mentally.
The issue for many people is that their approach to maintaining a resilient state is reactive rather than proactive. We’re happy to bowl along quite happily from day to day under ‘normal’ working conditions – normal usually implying busy for most people these days – but when the pressure ramps up, we begin to feel the strain.
Not only do we find ourselves underprepared for our periods of peak challenge, when we experience extra pressure, we resort to ‘emergency measures’ that often make the situation worse and actually make performing to the best of our abilities more difficult.
We steal time from sleep to pack more into our schedule, load up on caffeine to get us through each busy day, grab sugary snacks to keep our energy levels up and dedicate more hours to the job to wade through our ‘to do’ list at the cost of our family, hobbies, exercise time and social life.
While these coping strategies might see us through challenging periods, there’s a danger that we may need to take time to recover from pushing ourselves in this way, but most workers don’t have the luxury of quiet periods during which they can recharge their batteries. Add up all these ‘recovery’ periods where we might end up operating at half pace or less, and that's a lot of potentially productive time wasted over the course of a working year.
An additional danger lies in the fact that the coping strategies we adopt to see us through busy periods often turn into our everyday behavior patterns. Before you know it, people find they’re working a 12-hour day fuelled by caffeine, skipping meals and exercise and sleeping poorly as the norm rather than as the response to a ‘one off’ period of peak demand.
The key to developing personal resilience, mental and physical, for the short, medium and long-term, lies with planning and routine. A little bit of time spent designing strategies for success in this area will pay dividends every single day. You’ll breeze through the demands of everyday working life and rise to the challenge of even the most overwhelming of circumstances.
The Resilient Body
1) Why exercise is your friend
When work gets busy, time gets squeezed and all too often exercise slots disappear. But when the pressure is on, physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with the stress that can build up within us. Not only does it help to keep you calm, it provides you with valuable time to clear the head, organize your thoughts, deliver oxygen to the brain and come up with creative solutions. Make sure you always:
- Focus on short, regular bursts of activity
- Plan your time for exercise and protect these slots
- Associate exercise with success, not as something that takes time away from you being successful. Knowing you make better decisions when your mind and body are alert will ensure you get active and get the best possible results at work
2) Eat for energy, not for comfort
The link is clear between how we fuel ourselves and how we are able to perform. Priority issues for most people are energy levels and mood management, so the simplest way to achieve a healthy eating routine that boosts resilience is to ask yourself – and answer honestly – ‘is what I’m about to eat or drink going to provide me with positive energy and good mood for the day, or rob me of energy and good mood for the day?’
- If you’re unsure about what works for you and what doesn’t, keep a diary for a few days
- Experiment with a variety of meal and snack options so you can establish the food routine that leads you towards your best performance state
- Stick with your successful food routine when things get really busy. If you begin veering towards increasing amounts of caffeine, sugar, fat and alcohol you’ll dramatically impair your ability to perform, just when you need to be at your most resourceful
3) Sleep well, perform well
A good night’s sleep is directly linked to the two points above. If you manage your energy levels with good food choices, and offset any stress with exercise, you’ll be far more likely to rest and recover well through the night. Beyond this you need to:
- Establish your optimum quantity of sleep and set your bed time and waking time accordingly
- Endeavour to disrupt your sleep routine as little as possible through the week and weekend
- Design a pre-sleep routine that will lead you gently towards the moment when you fall asleep quickly and experience a guaranteed night of quality sleep
Sleep is vital for efficient performance and effective recovery so should always be a priority in your quest for resilience, never an afterthought.
The Resilient Mind
When it comes to achieving the most resilient state of mind, the rules are pretty similar as those for managing your energy levels – you need to think of all your daily activities in terms of whether or not tasks drain your energy, or provide you with energy and motivation. The bottom line is usually that the tasks that help us feel as though we’re making progress will energise us, while those that are repetitive or seemingly pointless will drain our energy.
Some examples are obvious – making sales, winning business, making successful decisions are all motivating and fuel our resilient state. Admin, expenses and jobs we’ve done a thousand times before can slowly but surely suck the life out of your resilient state. But what about some of the elements of day-to-day office life that could go either way? How to we approach these?
4) Make meetings count
One of the elements of office life that people say drains their energy is meetings, however, this needn’t be the case.
- Have a clear agenda for every meeting, a schedule, and someone in charge of sticking to the agenda and the schedule
- Establish in advance what each meeting needs to achieve. People need to bring ideas and opinions to meetings rather than simply trying to organise their thoughts during the meeting
- Summarise clear action points and deadlines for these actions to be completed. Too many people spend their time running from meeting to meeting collecting a list of things to do that they never get around to actioning. Add some accountability and urgency. You’re looking for results, not more meetings to discuss what didn’t get done
5) Take charge of your email
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier but there’s nothing like an ever-growing inbox to steadily grind down your resilience. There are some simple strategies that help in this situation:
- Set specific times to check and respond to email. Turn it off in between these times
- Assess each block of email time for efficiency and continually refine your plan for how you can manage your email most effectively
- Lead by example. Consider everyone who will receive the messages you send out and how they might respond. Avoid unnecessary clogging up of others’ inboxes and ask yourself how you would respond to the emails you’re sending
- For some email traffic, ask yourself if there’s an alternative, particularly if the person you’re emailing sits not far away from you. Although effective at times, email can be limiting. Sometimes you’ll progress things far quicker by talking than emailing. Which brings us to our last point…
6) Communication: it’s not what you know, but who you know
A major challenge for many people is…other people. Like them or not though, we have to work with them. Some of the most resilience-testing moments occur in business when the pressure is on and we’re relying on teamwork, but there’s a lack of understanding between colleagues. This is generally due to relationships being built on weak foundations meaning the team isn’t as solid as it needs to be when things get squeezed.
- Invest in relationships. It pays to be proactive. People will be there for you when you need them if you were there for them in the past
- Get to know people, not job titles. A faceless colleague might help you out of a tight spot if you’re lucky. A friend in the office who you know well and spend time with definitely will, without question
- Be honest, authentic and congruent, and others will be too
Resilience is a vital skill: practice every day
Ultimately many people know what they should be doing to maintain a resilient state, but they often think they don’t have time. So while it is true to say that you probably don’t have time to think about all of the above in great detail every single day, you do have time to spend a few moments each day reviewing your approach and making changes where necessary. This takes no time at all and before you know it you’ll be equipped with the habits you need to be effective, successful and resilient all day, every day.