by Frieda K. Edgette, certified executive coach and organizational strategist
How do you respond to the unpredictable? How about when obstacles emerge?
At its core, resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity and the unexpected. In today’s world, there is no shortage of unpredictable ingredients: a global pandemic, a delayed hearing, mischaracterization in the press, changes in intragovernmental budgets and decisions, technological innovations, and even weather changes can throw plans off course by shifting priorities.
For some, this is an equation for burnout or withdrawal. For the resilient, these factors ignite motivation, optimism, and creativity. To stay focused and adaptive to our changing surroundings, resilient leaders develop “strong backs” of mental determination, grit, and hardiness. They also cultivate “soft fronts” composed of emotional intelligence and agility.
If these qualities do not describe you right now, there is good news. Resiliency can be cultivated and strengthened. Below are five steps and corresponding resiliency resets that build both mindset and tactical skill to bounce back while retaining your personal beliefs – and fast.
1) Identify your baseline.
Resiliency begins with awareness of your mental, emotional, and physical states. What is your natural response when things don’t go your way? Uncertainty triggers the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores old memories and triggers a “fight or flight” stress response. “Fight or flight” releases cortisol (the stress hormone), which impedes our ability to see, hear, and think clearly and rationally. Important to note, you likely assume different leadership styles for different situations and people.
Resiliency tip: Set a timer for one minute. Make a list of unpredictable occurrences and other triggers. Next, name your immediate response. List the indicators, such as body temperature, breathing patterns, tension, heart rate, sweaty palms, and swirling thoughts. Take note.
2) Balance out with a counter response.
Equipped with your baseline stress typography, take a counter action to balance out your nervous system and regain control of your mind. Healthy release significantly reduces cortisol levels from uncertainty. Release angst, rumination, anxiety, depression or rage.
Resiliency tip: If you ramp up, take a mindful minute. Set a timer for 60 seconds. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count your breaths on the exhale. Try to focus only on your breath. If you ramp down, take a lap or do a power pose for two minutes to boost adrenaline and energy.
3) Shift perspective.
Where we focus attention gets bigger. Shift perspective from debilitative ("Oh no!") to generative ("I can and I will...") Connect with your own power. Ask yourself two powerful questions: What can I control? What can't I control?
Resiliency tip: Take one minute to capture thoughts for each question. What do you notice? Identify one factor within your “can control” column that resonates with the challenge at hand.
4) Leverage personal and collective strength.
Our minds are predisposed to focus on the negative instead of the positive. Uncertainty and unpredictability can trigger what are called “negativity spirals” that diffuse motivation, confidence, and cognitive functioning. Additionally, life can be incredibly isolating, further enabling the negative. Positive psychologist Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill equates a 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts to balance out our thinking.
Resiliency tip: Boost oxytocin (the trust and feel good hormone). Visualize five people you respect and care deeply for sitting around a table. Each of them compliments one of your strengths. What do they say? Bring their recognitions and support into your day.
5). Take purposeful action.
Change is an ongoing journey. Connect with the reason you pursued a career in public service. What are you trying to achieve? What is your long-game vision? Anchoring in the bigger picture helps put disruptions into perspective. This also instills a sense of awe, wonderment, and feeling connected to something greater.
Resiliency tip: Refer back to your “can control” list. What is one specific action you will take – and by when? How come it is important? How does it support the bigger objective? Make the action specific, meaningful, achievable, relevant, and time-specific. For an added resiliency boost, select a structure or image that represents this bigger goal. Make it the screensaver on your smartphone or computer, or keep on your desk so accessible. Look at multiple times daily – especially when the unpredictable occurs.
The more you practice these resiliency resets, the stronger your reserves. This means you rebound more quickly and with greater ease.
Frieda K. Edgette is a certified executive coach and organizational strategist with a political consulting background. She has facilitated more than 150 cross-sector change initiatives on five continents, and helped more than 1,000 emerging and high-level leaders navigate through unpredictable environments, including corporate, nonprofit and political campaign C-Suite executives, US secretaries, and parliamentary ministers. She has been published in the Harvard Business Review, The Hill, GOVERNING, Campaigns & Elections, US News & World Report, and Mindful, and appeared on C-SPAN on leadership, resiliency, and strategy. She instructs a course on resilient leadership at Stanford University Continuing Studies.