Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks and adjust to change. Many senior leaders note that their resilience depletes with age. The accelerated pace of change, uncertainty, and information overload further wears down resilience with emotional and physical repercussions. Take a moment to pause and reflect, working the way you are now, will you be as resilient ten years from now?
The good news is that resilience can be developed. According to the research by Kobasa, Maddi, and their students hardiness is a personality style, attitude, and more broadly a mindset that distinguishes executives who remained healthy under stress from those who succumb to stress. Hardiness, comprising commitment, control, and challenge, is believed to influence the way people view the world and themselves and how they interact with the world. As a Search Inside Yourself teacher (the mindfulness-based emotional intelligence program developed by the Google engineer, Chade Meng Tan, for Google employees and now taught world-wide), I have witnessed within a short period of time, participants developing key competencies that support hardiness.
How Search Inside Yourself Develops Resilience
The SIY program develops resilience in three stages – developing inner calm, emotional resilience and cognitive resilience. However, the entire program essentially prepares leaders to be resilient and embrace change as an opportunity to grow. The three specific ways in which SIY develops the three hardiness attitudes – commitment, control, and challenge – are highlighted below.
Alignment leads to commitmentCommitment as a hardiness attitude is defined as the disposition of genuine curiosity and interest in the work that people are doing and their surrounding world including activities, things, and people.
When people feel committed to the work they are doing, they are resilient in the face of obstacles. Yet, popular polls indicate that almost 70% of employees are disengaged (Gallup 2013) and earning the commitment of employees is a challenge many companies encounter.
One way to cultivate commitment in employees is to align the work they are doing with their personal values and purpose. In the SIY program, the motivation module focuses on aligning people’s work with their values and purpose. For example, financial advisers taking the Search Inside Yourself program discovered that when they articulated their work in terms of what deeply inspired them to be financial advisers in the first place, they felt naturally motivated and willing to engage with their clients with empathy and a genuine concern for their well being, even in the face of numerous rejections they experience on a daily basis. This they felt was more motivating than the weekly goals set for them. This is not to say that financial goals are not important. However, instead of seeing financial goals as the motivator, they are more useful as a yardstick to measure financial advisers’ success in accomplishing their purpose.
Cognitive resilience develops genuine sense of controlThe control disposition as an aspect of hardiness is defined as a tendency to act from a place of self-efficacy and the belief that one can influence the events in one’s life through one’s own effort.
This aspect of hardiness is consistent with the work that Martin Seligman, the father of learned optimism, has done in the realm of resilience. What distinguishes successful people is their attitude toward failure and how they explain their failure to themselves. Seligman calls this self-talk the “explanatory style.”
Within SIY, as part of the cognitive resilience training, participants discover their self-talk and identify patterns of self-talk that hold them back. By bringing compassionate curiosity to one’s self-talk, people gain awareness of the unconscious thoughts limiting their behavior and therefore results and can then actively choose to replace thoughts of helplessness and lack of control with recognition of personal power and actions that need to be taken to change the situation.
Emotional resilience cultivates ability to embrace change as challengeThe hardiness disposition comprising challenge refers to the belief that change, rather than stability, is the normal mode of life and is perceived as an opportunity for growth rather than threat to security.
Indeed, success and failures are emotional experiences and like everything in this world are subject to impermanence. Yet, we try to hold on to success and avoid failure in an attempt to create a permanent state of success. The fluctuating emotions related to success and failure, consciously or unconsciously, cause grasping (to success) and aversion (to failure), which hold us back and impede our ability to fully commit and show up to the challenges at hand.
In order to manage the emotions related to success and failure, we first need to develop the ability to recognize our emotions and where in our body do we hold emotions. Only then can we work with them in a skillful manner. SIY training cultivates awareness of emotions and related body sensations and to use this information to gain clarity about the situation and choices we have.
The emotional resilience training goes further to develop the ability to let go of the attachments and aversions associated with success and failure. In being with the situation with full awareness and equanimity, one develops clarity of skillful means to navigate the space of change and challenge. Reading about this may sound more difficult than it is in practice. In all the emotional resilience trainings I have offered, people have always walked away with some insight into their relationship with success and failure. This awareness is the opening to cultivate a healthier relationship with success and failure in your life. The heart of all work in mindfulness is to learn to be with what is and use change as an opportunity to grow.“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.”
~ Pema Chödrön
None of this work as leaders is possible without cultivating inner calm on a daily basis. Most of our lives our focus has been on external goals and responsibilities at the cost of ignoring our inner world. In order to cultivate resilience in turbulent times, it is not a luxury but an imperative to stop and Search Inside Yourself.