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Resilience research

Current research into how to enhance and build your resilience.

Is too much resilience bad?

Resilience is good, right? But is too much bad?

I was asked this when running a resilience training workshop for 30 Local Councillors. They were newly-elected and from three different political parties.

We were looking at how personal strengths influence resilience. I was blown away that 40% of them had Bravery in their top five strengths profile. Bravery is defined as speaking up for what is right and acting on one’s convictions, even if it’s unpopular. Usually it’s only about 15%.

Bravery is a wonderful strength. We need bravery to resist social or peer pressure to conform, to speak up and to keep on doing “the right thing”. You need a lot of that to be a whistle-blower and be resilient.

The Local Councillors told me they need bravery for … how did they put it? Oh yes, “robust” and “full and frank exchange of views” with each other.

Strengths can become weaknesses however, if they are used inappropriately. When bravery is used at an inappropriate time or used too much, it becomes overconfidence and foolishness. People stop listening. They ignore you. You end up being disrespected and labelled a troublemaker.

That’s when one of the delegates asked: “Is too much resilience bad? She explained that a senior leader boasted: “I don’t have stress. I give stress. I am stress carrier.”

Continue reading

Five strategies to build your resilience in a stressful job

Resilience orbTo survive in our rapidly changing economic environment, many organisations are making large-scale changes which ratchets up pressure on everyone. More output is required from people using fewer resources. Many people are working longer hours and complain that work is more stressful than ever before.

If this applies to you, you need to be resilient. Resilience is the ability to stay task focused and productive during difficult times, to recover well from sustained pressure and adversity. It also enables learning for the experience to become personally better rather than bitter; stronger rather than weaker.

While this might sound like magic, it is in fact ordinary magic that everyone possesses. The good news is that it’s made up of a set of skills and behaviours that can be learnt and improved.

In our research on personal resilience (more here), we found seven elements that make up resilience, as shown in the model. From these elements, there are five practical strategies that can immediately assist to build your internal coping resources to become more resilient. Continue reading

How to ask for help and enhance your reputation as a leader

ID-10046852Successful leaders get things done. They think big, drive for results, take risks and deliver on their plans. They also do something that is less known, and that is they ask for help. When facing difficulties, they ask for help in a way that builds cooperation and respect.

Some leaders don’t feel comfortable asking for help, when self-sufficiency is prized in our western work. They fear asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness or that they are not competent. Yet, the same leaders often struggle with an increased work load and lament the lack of cooperation in their organisation.

If leaders are reluctant to seek help themselves, it sends a signal to their team members that admitting vulnerability and not coping is unacceptable in the organisation. If this happens, feelings of isolation and alienation will increase with the rise of organisational uncertainty.

It’s only when leaders model that seeking help is not only acceptable but is actually desirable, that the team and ultimately the organisation will be able to proactively get the resources they need to support themselves and to transition the organisation through difficulties.

This was also borne out in my research on personal resilience (more here), which found that asking for help and also giving help was one of the seven components of resilience.

So how can you overcome an inherent reluctance to ask for help, and to ask for help in a way that enhances your reputation as a leader, rather than diminishes it? Here are some ideas: Continue reading

Leading with meaning during difficulties

leadership meaning makingWhen we experience really difficult times at work, the importance of the meaning of the work we do comes to the fore. It’s only when we feel the work is meaningful, that it makes sense to work long hours and persevere through difficulties. Otherwise, why not just give up?

The value of meaning does not stop there. Research has shown that employees who feel their work has meaning, work harder, longer and more creatively than those that don’t. This is reflected in the organisation by higher rates of customer commitment and investor interest, which enhances organisational competitiveness and the organisations sustainability (reference here).

This is where leading with meaning comes in. Effective leaders help their team members engage personally with the organisation’s challenges, by helping them find meaning in their work. When team members feel they are doing “good work” with like-minded colleagues, team and personal resilience is enhanced in the face of uncertainty, unwanted change and even adversity.

What can you do as a leader to lead with meaning to create engagement and resilience? Continue reading

Thinking errors that erode resilience

brain for newsletterWhen you experience difficult times, or when adversity strikes, you need to be able to recover and bounce back. That’s called being resilient or mentally strong. Being continually stressed or dealing with unrelenting difficulties however makes this difficult to achieve.

When we experience low points in our coping, our thinking and decision making can be most at risk. This is ironic, because it’s at these trying times that we need to be at our best in terms of thinking clearly and making good decisions.

There are five common thinking errors that you should be aware of that can substantially erode your mental strength and resilience: Continue reading

The Building Resilience Handbook is going free!

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Handbook is normally available as an e-book for Kindle at $13.65. To thank you for reading my newsletters about resilience, I am making it freely available to you for a limited period.

Have a look at some of the reviews of the book:

  • “Inspiring and applicable throughout one’s lifetime” Fred Irumba, science teacher, Jakindaba Senior Secondary School.
  • “Easy to implement at work and home. The results are remarkable!” Brent Beilinsohn, Manager, Old Mutual Investment Group South Africa.
  • “Mind blowing! Implementing these practical exercises has made me a better person” Fanuel Kakuiya, Senior Superintendent, South African Police Services.

Imagine having abundant inner strength and resourcefulness to withstand and recover quickly from whatever difficulties life may throw at you. With The Building Resilience Handbook you can. Continue reading

Are you over-stressed and over-worked?

drowningDo you feel really stressed and overworked?

Dinah did. Her work days were filled with back-to-back meetings which meant she frequently only got to her accumulated e-mails and voice-messages after supper. Tension caused pain in her shoulders, neck and stomach. She was not the senior manager, mother or partner she wanted to be.

She described herself as a fly trapped on sticky flypaper. No matter how much she tried, she could not break free. She felt dispirited and hopeless.

Our coaching focused on regaining her self-confidence and zest for life. We started with an exercise to help her reconnect with the important things in her life. It’s called the Best Possible Self exercise and has been proven to boost positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism and hope . Continue reading

Stress as an Issue for Women

Stress as an issue for women

Stress as an issue for women

Stress is a normal part of our lives, and while men and women stress differently (read more here), a recent study found that women in the workplace reported higher stress levels than men. These women felt more under-appreciated, tenser and regarded themselves as underpaid compared to their male colleagues.

In my coaching practice, I hear the term “burnout” more and more. Cathy (name changed) was criticised by her manager that she was not tough enough and just wasn’t “producing the goods”.

Cathy felt that she was being unfairly held to a different standard than her colleagues. She tried hard to meet other people’s expectations at work and at home, but no matter how hard she pushed herself, she felt she disappointed them.

Continue reading

Develop mental strength with five powerful exercises


Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? If so, you are not alone. I am often asked how to cope when you are feeling really vulnerable, but you have to be strong.

The answer, according to the highly regarded scientist Angela Duckworth, is to develop mental strength, which she calls “grit”. She has found that mental strength is what differentiates people who persist and achieve long-term excellence, as opposed to those who start off well, but lose enthusiasm and give up.

Also, she has found that mental strength is the best predictor of success in school, the military and corporate sales, rather than intelligence or even luck (more here).

Would you like to develop your mental strength? If so, there are five powerful exercises, based on Angela Duckworth’s research, which I have found to be very helpful. These exercises will help you persevere and keep motivated when dealing with big issues like unwelcome change and stress at work or home, or even sticking to a diet, a financial budget or a study plan (more here). Continue reading

Positive thinking can be dangerous!

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We have all heard stories of how visualising a positive outcome helps create it. Oprah Winfrey, for example, believes “if you can dream it, you can do it”. The wildly popular book “The Secret”, based on The Law of Attraction, asserts “like attracts like” and by thinking positive or negative thoughts, one brings about positive or negative results.

If you want to lose weight, get rich, find romance or get promoted, all you need to do is really focus on and visualise your wishes coming true and that’ll make your dreams come true.

Simply put, health, wealth, love and business success are all the rewards of positive visualisation and positive thinking. If you fail, its because you have not thought sufficiently positively about what you want.

But does this make sense?

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8 activities to enhance meaning in life

It’s perhaps obvious that having meaning in your life is important. Without meaning life is….well, just not worthwhile. But more than only making you feel good, meaning gives you the power to cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs.

When you have deep meaning in life, you are better able to keep perspective and still experience joy and happiness even when things are really tough.

I have found however, that people sometimes get confused between “purpose” and “meaning” in life. “Purpose” is complicated and often involves deep questions, such as is there a deity out there who cares about me and what am I supposed to do with my life? Some people have a life quest to find their purpose in life!

“Meaning” in life on the other hand, is fortunately much simpler. You seek your purpose in life, whereas you create meaning by what you do.

So what should you do to create and enhance meaning in your life?

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Why is it so difficult to implement strategy?

You have a visionary strategy that will deliver competitive advantage. The executives are ecstatic …. but over time the strategy fails to deliver the anticipated benefits.

Why is it so difficult to implement strategy?

It’s because the real problem is getting people to implement the strategy.

The role of strategy engagement

We know strategy involves change. So we create people engagement activities, but on their own, they are not sufficient to ensure that strategy is successfully implemented!

The missing element: resilience

Continue reading

5 things mentally strong people don’t do

We all want to be mentally strong to cope when bad things happen. But being mentally strong is not only for bad times, it’s for good times too. Being mentally strong is all about the way you interpret and explain to yourself the stuff that happens in your life. It’s an attitude you put into practice every day.

In previous Building Resilience Updates, I described what mental toughness is (here) and have also given the formula of how to be mentally strong (here). Now I am going to describe five things that mentally strong people don’t do and some give some alternatives. Continue reading

How to get out of a job you hate

When running Building Resilience workshops, I often hear: “I hate my job!” This is quickly followed by: “But I can’t leave!”

That’s a double whammy – really hating your job, but feeling powerless to do anything about it. The only option seems to be to grin and bear it, hoping for something to happen which will improve the situation.

If that’s you, it’s no surprise that you feel stuck and miserable. Continue reading

Which is more effective: “Stress Management” or “Building Resilience”?

“How do you keep trying to reach your goals in life, when there are so many obstacles?” The question came from a member of the Metropolitan Police Department of a large South African Metropolitan Municipality.

“You need to be resilient!” I replied. “Resilience is the ability to cope with setbacks, disappointments, unwanted change and even trauma. But more than that, it’s the human capacity we all have to incorporate the good and bad things that happen to us into our lives, and make sense of them.”

“With resilience we sometimes even become better not bitter; stronger not weaker. Fortunately it’s not some special magic that only a few people have, as it’s a human capacity that is available to all of us. You need resilience to overcome obstacles in life in order to achieve your goals.” Continue reading

Don’t tell me I am fantastic!

I recently addressed 70 organisational and industrial psychologists at a conference on the role of resilience in preventing burnout. I had prepared well, and judging by their participation in some exercises we did, the audience enjoyed it. At the conclusion the organiser formally thanked me, saying nice things, and I felt very good about myself.

I bumped into the conference organiser later on a couple of occasions during the conference:

“You were fantastic”, he said the first time.

“Your session was wonderful”, he said a few hours later.

“Magnificent session”, he commented that evening.

By now, something odd happened. You know that little voice at the back of your mind, the one that’s usually negative? Well, my little voice said that the organiser probably tells the same thing to all the presenters. Continue reading

Taming your emotional monsters

When I was a little boy, I shared a room with my brother. At one stage, we argued a lot and so I persuaded my parents to let me sleep in the outside shed. The shed was just big enough to fit my bed once they helped me move the gardening tools, wood-working machinery and planks to one side.

A curious thing happened on the first night. When I switched off the light, moonlight streamed in through the window creating deep shadows. The jumble of tools and equipment changed into scary shapes. I was sure there were monsters hiding in the darkness and even under my bed. The harder I looked, the clearer they became!

Even as an adult, monsters still sometimes terrify me.  These are the monsters of powerful negative emotions such as Fear, Envy, Anger and Grief.

Let me give you an example. A “hot button” for me is feeling bullied, which happens when I’m told I can’t be paid this month because the system is down, or if I have to take accountability for things that are not within my control. Then the monster of Anger morphs into a vampire that sucks happiness out of my life!

So how do you tame emotional monsters? Continue reading

How to Develop Grit

The previous Building Resilience blog was all about grit (click here). Grit helps children not to give up too quickly when encountering difficulty. Adults call on grit to sustain long-term relationships, pursue tertiary studies and stay task focussed in their work career. In this way, grit is an important component of resilience.

I received lots of comment from readers, most wanting to find out more about grit or asking if it can be developed. So here we go: Continue reading

Have you got grit?

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. This was supposed to have been said by Thomas Edison, the man who also said that invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

The implication is that success is due to hard work, rather than intelligence or even luck. But is that true?

Angela Duckworth may have the answer. She is a highly respected researcher on the subject of what she calls grit: “perseverance and patience for long-term goals”. She has found that grit is what differentiates people who persist and achieve long-term excellence, as opposed to those who start off well, but lose enthusiasm and give up.

She found that the amount of grit one has is the best predictor of success in school, in the military and in corporate sales, rather than intelligence or even luck. Continue reading

How to keep the stress of year-end activities positive!

Year-end! A time for family get-togethers, partying and celebrations! Every year I really look forward to year-end, to time-off from work, to celebrate and relax. Add to this the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, and even going away, and it’s the formula for a glorious time — right?

Well, unfortunately it doesn’t always work out like that for me. Coping with last minute demands at work, choosing gifts, the demands of a family get-together, and probably having unrealistic expectations of the season, can become a real burden. And then I feel guilty about not being happier around my loved ones. Yikes! If that happens, the year-end stress which should be positive becomes negative!

Fortunately, I have found six practical things that really work for me to keep the stress of this time of the year manageable. Have a look and see if they could also work for you: Continue reading