Resilience: Now More Than Ever

A lot more attention is being given to Resilience these days. The impact of Covid-19 has largely been responsible for this surge in interest. Small business shutdowns, the greatly overworked numbers of healthcare workers, increases in unemployment, housing and food insecurity, students of all ages required to study remotely, and the worry of contracting Covid-19 have created stress in people and organizations at levels we haven’t experienced in recent history. Research shows nearly 67% of adults report higher stress levels since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The over-riding concern is how to effectively deal with all of this stress, hence the focus on Resilience as a way to respond to and lower the effect of Covid-19-related stress.

The root meaning of Resilience is to “bounce back.” Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. Demonstrating resilience during a very challenging times allows you to “bounce back” from that difficult experience, not only surviving but stronger and in better condition to deal with the next challenge. Actually, it’s more than bouncing back. It’s bouncing forward with greater resilience – like throwing a tennis ball down the sidewalk instead of against a wall.

Applying resilience to organizations, it’s the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.

Researchers have found that those employees with higher levels of resilience (compared to those with lower levels):

  • Experience less stress.
  • Are less likely to be absent from work.
  • Are less likely to quit their current job.
  • Are much more satisfied with their current job.
  • Are much healthier and less likely to require a hospital stay in the last year.

As a result, organizations with higher levels of resilience have employees who experience less stress, are more engaged, see an increase in production, and experience positive financial outcomes. 

And, the good news is that resilience is a learned ability and can be developed both individually and in your organization. So, what can we do to accomplish that important goal?

First, having a positive mindset is foundational to developing resilience. My dear friend, Frances Hesselbein, was once asked what made her such an effective servant leader. She responded, “My blood type–B-positive.” Having a positive, “the glass is half-full” mindset goes a long way in leading the way through serious life challenges.

Here are some suggestions you can try to develop a more positive outlook:

  1. Deal with negative emotions.  Don’t let them build up.  Find ways of relieving those negative vibes—take a walk, ride a bike, go to the gym, or hit a punching bag—whatever works for you, do it.
  2. Find positive people. Once you identify who they are, spend time with them.  Their influence can have a positive affect on you.  As for the negative nay-sayers, avoid them if you can.  Don’t let them drag you down.
  3. Adopt a “there something good here” in everyday situations, no matter how bad they may seem. Stop for a minute and “turn lemons into lemonade,” as the saying goes. Few days are without their challenges or barriers that stand in the way of what you want to accomplish.  You’ll be surprised what a difference this approach can make when your frame issues in this way.
  4. Focus on strengths. What are you good at and what do you really like to do? Too often, we tend to put too much emphasis and spend unnecessary energy on our weaknesses—thinking about how they hold us back and whether we can find ways to overcome them.  Instead, find ways of strengthening your strengths—the knowledge, skills, and abilities you have and want to get better at expressing and utilizing.  That’s a more positive approach.
  5. Be grateful for what you have. Say thank you to those who have been helpful.  Expressing gratitude on a regular basis is what many believe to be the most important attitude and action in developing a happy, positive mindset.
  6. Begin and end the day with a positive statement to yourself.  Frances Hesselbein told me when she awakens, she commits herself to having a positive effect on someone during the day. And then before going to sleep that night, she reflects on who she served in that way. What a great practice that is.  It sets a tone for the day, and then prepares her the next one. 
  7. Get rid of negative self-talk. If you can’t eradicate it, then at least limit it.  You know what that is: that inner voice that tells you, You’re not good at this or This is going to turn out badly. We all have a negative inner voice. We need to “call it out” and intentionally replace those thoughts with positive self-talk.  Yes, this did not turn out well, but I learned from it and the next time I will make it work. That’s replacing the negative with positive self-talk.  Know when the negative self-talk is there and don’t let it take over.  If it does, you cannot avoid acting negatively. 

As you work on the strategies to create a more positive mindset, begin practicing some of these behaviors and habits:

  • Accept change as part of your life-try to keep issues in perspective.
  • Develop a trusting, helpful social network that can support you.
  • Take care of yourself—physically and mentally.
  • Find your purpose in life—engage in activities that have real meaning for you.
  • Practice compassion, self-compassion, and forgiveness.

Next, author Rich Fernandez recommends five practices that can increase resilience among individuals and organizations. These include:

  • Practicing mindfulness—being aware of events and experiences as they occur.
  • Compartmentalizing work during the day—focusing on one particular task or assignment at a time, as opposed to multitasking.
  • Taking short breaks every hour and a half to two hours—stepping away from the task at hand to mentally refresh.
  • Developing the ability to respond not just react to difficult situations or people—the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options, and choose wisely.
  • Cultivating compassion—both self-compassion and compassion for others.

Throughout this process, take time to REFLECT on what is happening to you. What are you feeling? Are your assumptions changing about how you deal with the challenges you face? Are you beginning to own these new behaviors and activities as your default? Be sure to find those with those whom you can talk regarding what you are doing to develop resilience. Consider what can you do with that feedback. Then, repeat this cycle of reflection and feedback.

One final important point. All this mindset and resilience talk may seem like laundry lists of things to work on—like some type of formula or algorithm. Just walk out the action items in the bullet points and everything will work. I hope you don’t think that way. The practice of developing resilience is personal, very personal. Tough times are tough. They are tough to take, tough to endure and tough to get through.  We get bruised, hurt, and are changed forever in the process.  Resilience is not just “toughing it out,” or learning to “grin and bear it” or “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Neither is it just “going it alone.” Those kinds of attitudes and behaviors lead to surviving, hanging on, or gutting it out. That’s denial and it’s destructive. Doing it the right way–embodying the characteristics and behavior of resilience—is challenging and takes time, but you can do it. We all can do it and, what’s more, we must do it.

Take care. Happy New Year.

Jim Dittmar

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Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute, through which he creates and delivers training and development that is transformational.  Prior to this Jim founded the award-winning Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program and served as Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies and Director of the M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program until 2015. Should you have any questions, comments or feedback, please contact him at jimdittmar@jimdittmar.com. Click on the link below to see my LinkedIn profile.   Jim Dittmar, Ph.D.


3 thoughts on “Resilience: Now More Than Ever

  1. Stay with the process and development your mindset being open and flexible. Occasionally, ask yourself the tough questions. I remember the saying that “…leadership begins not when people trust you, but when you trust yourself. “

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  2. What a timely and helpful article, Dr. Dittmar! I especially agree with your wisdom around not blindly following the list of To-Do’s thinking that resilience will be the result of completing one more checklist. Resilience is not the same as resignation.

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