Resilience: Recognising Our Thinking Traps
Resilience is a term you hear a lot at the moment in management speak, but what does it really mean and how can it help us be more effective?
The word itself comes from the Latin ‘resili’ meaning to spring back or rebound, and the dictionary definition also refers to the ability to recover from adversity. In psychology, we define it more as the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry. So resilience is all about coping in the face of adversity and recovering quickly.
We can see how this is useful from a personal perspective, and research shows that resilient people appreciate life more, are happier, more content and enjoy better relationships with other people. From a business perspective, this translates into lower absence from stress, improved team working, better customer service and ultimately higher revenues, among other things.
Research also shows resilience to be an important capability in leaders, bouncing back from setbacks, using them for learning and helping others along with them.
But why do we need resilience in the first place? In times of adversity – be it stress from a large workload, being shouted at by an angry client or just the disappointment of missing a key target – we go through an emotional reaction. This reaction is based on pre-determined beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world around us and are deeply ingrained in our personalities.
Here’s an example: you’re in the office working away at your desk when suddenly a colleague storms up to you and says angrily, “How dare you send that to the client without checking it with me, you knew how involved I’ve been with this project – you must have done this on purpose. My team warned me about you!” Woah. At this point there is an instant, emotional and fairly automatic response, and this typically falls into one of four categories.
Me, me, me. This is internalising the problem and assuming that it is all your fault. You may think things like “I must have done something wrong”, “It’s all my fault” or “They don’t like me”. This is taking the problem and making it all about you, even though there is no evidence at this stage (other than an angry colleague!) that you’ve done anything wrong.
Life’s not fair. The opposite of internalising, is externalising – assuming that the world is against you. You may think things like “This was bound to happen”, “It doesn’t matter what I do, they’d blame me anyway” or “Things like this happen to me all the time”. This is a sense of helplessness and reluctance to take responsibility and at least explore the facts.
Armageddon. This is where the problem is exaggerated to epic proportions, and not in a good way. There are always positives and negatives to any situation, but people who fall into this trap only see the negatives. They will think things like “This is a total disaster”, “I’ll never recover from this” or even “I’ll probably lose my job over this”. It is fearing the absolute worst and failing to see what the realistic outcome is likely to be, in a balanced rational way.
All or nothing. Some people have a very fixed mindset about themselves. In this category you may think “This is typical of me”, “I can’t change the way I am” or “I always make this mistake”. Your assumption is that you can’t change and will always be this way, that your abilities are fixed and can’t be developed and therefore don’t challenge yourself or try to improve. Moving to a growth mindset of gradual improvement would free you up and build your resilience.
Maybe you can recognise some thought patterns here in yourself? Maybe you fall into one of these traps in times of severe pressure or stress? The good news is you’re not alone, and there are ways of overcoming them. With the right tactics, some patience and a little time you can develop so that in times of stress you are able to think rationally and logically and bounce back much quicker.