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Steps to resilience

The practical steps to develop resilience to cope with pressurized jobs, unwanted change and difficult life events.

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

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

Stop living your life on autopilot!


Stop living your life on autopilot!

Have you ever drunk a cup of coffee or eaten a chocolate bar and don’t remember how it tasted? Or had to turn back unnecessarily on a journey because you didn’t remember locking the front door? Or tuned-out while your loved-one was talking?

These are signs you are living your life on autopilot. It’s really sad if you are so stressed, distracted and unaware that you miss out on much of your life.

To check if you’re living your life on autopilot, ask yourself if any of the following applies to you: Continue reading

Stressful job? You need mental strength!


If you feel you have a stressful job you’re not alone. 83% of workers in the USA feel stressed out by their jobs (reference here) and in South Africa it’s estimated that 60% of lost working days each year are a result of stress (reference here).

Some working conditions make jobs particularly stressful:

  • dealing with the public (nurses, teachers, call-center staff)
  • dealing with dangerous situations (fire-fighters, police)
  • complex decision-making (executives, airline pilots, project managers, IT)
  • time pressure (medical workers)
  • repetitive work (factory staff)
  • persuading (sales)
What can you do if have a stressful job?

If you can’t change stressful working conditions, then you need to develop mental strength (more here). Here’s four things to do: Continue reading

How we undermine our children’s resilience

ID-100202101We all want our children to be happy and not suffer heartaches. So we are often overprotective and rush to fix problems for them. If the teacher was unfair, we will sort her out. If you are not picked for the team, we will take it up with the coach. If you have a fight, we will complain to their mother.

The problem is that when we are over-protective or over-intervene, no matter how well intended, we retard our child’s learning to cope with disappointments and failure. We hinder their development of resilience.

So what can you do when you really want the best for your child? Try the following to boost your child’s resilience:

Continue reading

Help! I am feeling overwhelmed!

Lost and Confused SignpostToo many people making demands on you, too much to do and too little time to do it do it in? Too many e-mails and too many meetings? Everyone wants a piece of you?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. People working in organisations today seem to be increasingly stressed, having to achieve more with fewer resources.  In a recent Knowledge Resources survey, 80% of the respondents said their workload had increased substantially and most felt overwhelmed. This is in line what I have also found (more here).

You know feeling constantly overwhelmed is an indication of a dangerously high level of stress. You also know that high levels of stress will have severe negative impacts on you, affecting your productivity, your colleagues and your loved ones.

But if you’re like so many others, understanding the negative consequences of feeling consistently overwhelmed doesn’t automatically translate into knowing what to do to change.

Fortunately there are things you can do to help. Here are seven things that have helped leaders and managers I coach and may help you too: Continue reading

5 ways to create deep and resilient friendships

Yet even really good friends, whether they are romantic partners or not, sometimes get irritated and disappointed with each other. It’s really sad if these little things fester and the relationship suffers.

So how can you deepen your really important relationships and make them resilient to the difficulties all relationships experience? Continue reading

Three powerful questions that can transform your life

A few nights ago, just when I had got into bed, the phone rang. It was our neighbour’s teenage son saying that he had seen a person jump over our common boundary wall. He said it happened earlier that day, and convinced it was a burglar, he called police. They found no evidence of a crime however and left. He was now on his own in the house and very scared.

We talked a little bit longer and agreed to leave all our house lights burning that night, and talk again the following day.

Nothing happened that night and the next day I spoke to him again. Rather than being reassured, he was in even more of a state. So I tried to help him find some perspective. 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

“Can building resilience help a person who has been hijacked five times?”

The question came from the HR Partner of a fast moving consumer goods company. Some of their staff distribute highly marketable consumer goods, and the threat of having their vehicle hijacked at gun point is real.

But hijacked five times — wow! I can’t imagine what that must be like.

I asked what the company was doing to assist these people.

“We use unbranded vehicles, change the delivery routes and also have installed vehicle tracking systems. We make sure that the people at risk know what to do in a hijacking situation. Also, we provide counselling for those who have been hijacked.”

And what’s not working, I asked? 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

The secrets of great sports coaches and three steps to be a star performer

If you were coaching a team playing a crucial match, what would you say to your players at half-time if the team was losing badly, with your team members despondent and frustrated?

Would it be more effective to yell at them, motivating them by shaming them? In other words, to point out the stupid mistakes and tell them not to make them again?

Or would it be better to be sympathetic, and gently encourage them to try to do better?

It turns out that none of these approaches are particularly effective.

Successful coaches have a way of looking at what has happened which is different to ordinary coaches. Continue reading

5 simple steps to stop a bad day in its tracks

Some days start off bad. Then everything that can go wrong does. People go out of their way to be difficult.  Small bumps in the road become hills and potholes. Your irritability rises as your patience decreases. You feel you will burst!

What causes bad days like this? Continue reading

Helping your child become resilient

As a loving parent, you want to give your child the best of everything, shield them from difficulties and give advice to help them through life’s inevitable challenges.

But is this best for your child?

Contrast this with child rearing in rural Africa, where children routinely help with collecting water, assisting with the care of siblings, help with the cultivation of crops and then walk to and from school.

Take for example William Kamkwamba, the Malawian boy who dropped out of school due to lack of funds, and built a windmill from scrap tractor parts. The windmill is used to water his family’s crops and generate electricity. Continue reading

How to be resilient, bounce back and bounce even higher

When I researched resilience, studying how people bounce back from tough times, I found something that really surprised me. I expected the key to recovery after really tough times, was to grit your teeth and cope tenaciously with the problem or adversity.

It turns out however, that there is more to recovery and resilience than that.

When something really bad happens, everyone falls in a heap. Everyone! Not just weak people, but strong people too. That really surprised me. I thought our heroes would be unaffected by adversity. People like Nelson Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment or Monique and Callie Strydom being kidnapped in Malaysia. But not so. Their resilience faulted, they despaired and wept.

Everyone’s resilience declines when really bad things happen. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human. In fact, putting off dealing with adversity and sorrow delays healing and recovery. That’s because falling in a heap gives us time to adjust to what has happened, and to come to terms with the changes that the adversity has brought about. Continue reading

Three steps to get past screw-ups, bounce back and be resilient

At University I trained to be a teacher using the “discovery method” whereby pupils find answers, rather than memorising the correct answer. When I started teaching using this method however, the other teachers and school administration soon complained bitterly about how disruptive it was. So much so, that I eventually had to change to their traditional way of teaching.

The underlying logic of traditional teaching is that being right is good and being wrong is bad. Taken further, being wrong is a failure and is shameful. Then pupils who struggle at school soon feel they are they are failures: “I can’t do maths!” or “I can’t spell!” or “I hate school and want stop attending!” Continue reading

Seven tips to build your resilience to beat holiday stress

It’s that time of the year again, when we all heave a huge sigh of relief and gratefully take a well-deserved break over the Easter holidays. We all need a real break!

So your holidays will be restful and rejuvenating, right?

Not so for many people! Their holidays are filled with tension and unhappiness. At the very time they should build up their buffering resources, in other words building their resilience, they can’t cope with the holiday stress.

Our coping and resilience is undermined if we create a magical picture in our minds of how perfect the holiday will be. Then, when our experience fails to match up to our dreams, we become unhappy and depressed.

Here are seven steps to build your ability to bounce back, to enhance your resilience and have great holiday:

1. Decide on the memories you want Continue reading