I recently came across this very interesting article by Carole Pemberton, who is an executive coach at Career Savvy Women. Carole has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.
Building resilience into your career isn’t just about strength, keeping going in the face of difficulty or refusing to give up when confronted with adversity. Holding on to a career goal that’s not deliverable, or going above and beyond in a job that isn’t giving anything back, will do nothing but sap your confidence. Sometimes it makes sense just to let go and move on.
Even the most resilient people have the ability to be flexible in their actions, thoughts and emotions, and adapt in the face of difficulty. Resilience involves knowing when to change direction; knowing when staying angry, defiant or resentful isn’t helping; and knowing that there are always other possibilities, and recognising when they appear.
Resilience is often seen as an innate quality – you either have it or you don’t. We can all think of people who seem to deal with whatever life throws at them, and others who seem to collapse when faced by difficulty. Does DNA make the difference?
The answer seems to be that your genetic makeup plays only a small part: what really makes a difference is the experience of facing adversity. A life without challenge, as attractive as it may seem, doesn’t prepare you for the bad times. If you are able to identify and access resources that will help, you’ll spend less time under stress.
Steven Southwick, professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, and Dennis Charney, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, have recently published the results of 15 years of work on resilience, which identified factors that allow people to lead successful lives even when experiencing life or work stress.
Their work compared people who had developed depression under stress with those that did not, to try and discover what differentiated them. The answer lay not in their genetic makeup, but in behaviours which one group used, and the other did not.
- Be optimistic, but accept reality. It’s sometimes difficult, but being able to acknowledge rather than deny your situation will help you to deal with it. Denying, blaming, avoiding or unrealistic hoping is wasted energy.
- Recognise what you have control over, and what you don’t. People stress themselves by wanting to exert control in a situation where it is not possible to do so. By choosing how to act based on what you can change and what you cannot, you can regain a sense of agency.
- Seek support. The Yale research found a strong relationship between the size of an individual’s social network and their ability to cope with stress. Talking with friends, or seeking out others who are in the same situation and can empathise, is important to recovery. Feeling supported triggers the release of oxytocin, a compound connected with social bonding, which counters the harmful effect of stress chemicals on the body.
- Exercise. You usually don’t want to when you’re feeling stressed, but it acts to counter the effects of harmful stressor chemicals such as cortisol.
- Sleep. A good night’s sleep can put the world into a different perspective. If you’re finding it hard to sleep, try exercise: it’s a natural way of inducing tiredness.
- Eat well. When stressed, it’s easy to neglect your diet, or to turn to junk food as comfort. Eating well helps to boost the immune system, and can be a way of reminding yourself that you’re worth taking care of.
- Learn about simple meditation techniques. Mindfulness is commonly used to help people deal with difficulty. It focuses on helping you to focus on the present moment – not what catastrophe may happen tomorrow, or what terrible thing happened yesterday, but what is happening right now. In the process, thoughts become less powerful and the body responds. Try an introductory class, or get books by Jon Kabat Zin, Mark Williams and Michael Chaskalson, which have simple mindfulness exercises that can be built into everyday life.
- Take yourself away from the issue. There’s real value in staying connected to the parts of your life that you enjoy – the you that can enjoy dancing, having a laugh, being creative or watching a sport. It’s important to experience the pleasure that those other yous can offer, even while you are living with difficulty.
- Create meaning. Getting through difficulty will be easier if you can create meaning from the experience.
- Write about it. No one else needs to see it, but the act of writing down how you are feeling, thinking and behaving will help you change those thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Putting it out there allows you to look at it in a different way than when it is in your head, and to access new thoughts and feelings.
Carole Pemberton is an executive coach and member of the Career Savvy Women team (http://www.careersavvywomen.com). She has a particular interest in coaching to help rebuild resilience. You can also find her at http://www.carolepemberton.co.uk