If resilience is about how we respond when unexpected and disruptive things happen in our work or personal lives, how do we go about building it? I believe that there are really two levels of resilience-building that are important. The first is making sure we have the skills and capabilities to respond to adversity when it happens. The resilience characteristics we describe in our model address these “change muscles”. For instance, Positive: The World and Positive: Yourself involve skills such as those described in Dr. Martin Seligman’s work, including developing an optimistic (rather than a pessimistic) explanatory style. The Flexible: Thoughts characteristic involves skills such as generating multiple creative options and tolerating ambiguity.
It’s important to practice and build these skills before you need them. I use the analogy of “change muscles” in my classes and presentations. Just as with physical muscles, it doesn’t work to try to develop strength all at once, or in the midst of major stress–you need to build your physical and psychological muscles up over time and voluntarily increase the level of challenges you take on. With physical muscles, exercises include things like running on the treadmill, lifting weights, stretching, and playing sports. With resilience muscles, exercises include things like deliberately pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, taking steps to build a network of social support, clarifying your own priorities, and a range of other things.
The second level is about living so that you are less likely to encounter major disruptions. This can encompass quite a broad scope. For instance, to the extent that you have very entrenched or rigid expectations about how the world should be, you are more likely to experience disruption when you encounter the normal level of change that takes place in the world. To the extent that you do not take care of your physical health, you are more likely to encounter disruptions that are created by medical problems. Exercises to address these include meditation, mindfulness, regular exercise, healthy diet, etc. Over time I hope to give a lot more thought to this topic and write some more entries.
I’ve started to post daily resilience exercises on Twitter (if you’re not on Twitter, they also show up on the Resilience Alliance Facebook page). Each one provides a simple thing you can do that day–the equivalent of a biceps curl, a pushup, or a jog around the block. You are invited to pick the ones that resonate with you and make them a regular practice, challenge yourself to do a different one each day, share them with friends…whatever works best for you. Many of them are targeted toward specific resilience characteristics (Positive, Focused, Flexible, Organized, Proactive), while some are more general. Many are inspired by people around me and the things I see them doing that reflect various aspects of resilience.
I’d love to hear ideas about what you do to build your own change muscles.