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How You Can Be More Resilient

How do you build your personal resilience, and why is it so important to do so? Well, you may have heard the term “VUCA world” — a volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world. Chances are you can see elements of all four playing out in your work life.

Not only do these four factors make our lives more difficult but they also impact our self-confidence, allowing a bit of doubt to wiggle in.

I’ve got five things to share with you that just might be useful. Watch below, or listen to the podcast.

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Full Transcript

So I want to talk to you about how to build your own personal resilience and why that’s so important. Now, you may have heard the term a VUCA world. VUCA, V-U-C-A. It stands for volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous, and I know as you think about your life and your working life, you can see elements of all four of those things playing out. Volatile, uncertainty, chaos, ambiguity. They all make our life more difficult. And not just the work that we’re doing and the tasks that we’re trying to complete, but it just throws our own sense of self into a bit of doubt as well. It’s like, “How do I manage the stress? How do I manage that ambiguity? How do I get the best version of myself to continue to show up when there are these things that I just don’t know?” And it’s truthfully just about living in a complex system and about trying to figure out how to manage your way through that. And a program, an insight about building self-resilience will really help with that.

So I’ve got five things to share with you that just might be useful. So the first thing to talk about is do you understand the difference between control and influence? And my guess is that many of you have. Some of you are probably nodding your head. You’ll know it comes from the Stephen Covey model. And it’s a really powerful way of looking at the world. “What do I control? What do I influence? And what do I neither control nor influence?

Now, we know that model but we forget to use it and we forget to bring it. And I’d like to put it back on the kind of the top of your list as a way of actually self-managing, because once you know what you can control and be really clear about that, you can really double-down on that. And what’s powerful about that is, typically, you can control very little other than yourself, your own reactions, your own behaviours, the way you react to the situation around you. So it’s a smaller field than you think but it’s actually the nexus of your power.

And then there’s the stuff that you influence, and what I found is that most people actually influence more than they think. So your capacity to go, “Okay, so what’s out there? I may not control it but how can I increase my level of influence? How can I pull that lever? How can I influence that person to make a difference?” And then of course the stuff you neither control nor influence and you can just let that go because you can neither control nor influence it.

So that’s the first of the five tactics I want to share with you, which is remember and bring back as a tool the difference between control and influence, and really kind of double-down on the tasks associated with each one.

The second tactic I want to share with you is about rapid prototyping, and what this means is I read about this in a book about resilience, is about, I think the term they use is “decoupling.” And by “decoupling” they mean don’t create one big, big, big thing that’s dependent on a thousand different things. Build lots of small prototypes, lots of small units that if one fails, the others survive. And as you are building the work, rather than going, “I’m just going to build this enormous thing. Do it for nine months and then go and test it out and hope that it works,” the sense of rapid prototyping, build something, test it out, get feedback, go back, build another prototype, test it out, get feedback, go back, build another thing, can be extremely powerful and drive resilience. And, you know, this happens at a personal level and it happens at a corporate level as well.

I remember interviewing Jeremy Gutsche about his book Better and Faster. He told the story of Zara. Now it takes Zara 14 days from coming up with a new piece of clothing to actually having it on the shelves, and they produce 10,000 SKUs, 10,000 items per year through this rapid prototyping piece. If it fails, it doesn’t matter that much. If it succeeds, they double-down on it and make the most of it. So the second way to kind of build resilience is figure out how to do lots of small things in rapid prototypes rather than over-investing in one big thing.

The third thing that I’d emphasize in terms of building your own personal resilience is building your own support system. This is really important. And there are two critical things that, from the research, tells me are most important. The first is your physicality. Stay active. It’s so easy when we’re feeling overwhelmed, when we’re feeling busy to go, “I’ll do the exercise later” as a kind of add-on, as a “Oh, I should be doing this.” But here’s what I know: If you can build in that physical activity into your everyday life it actually will allow you to be more efficient in the work you do and in the life that you live. So stay physical, stay active because not only does it just make you feel better but it actually increases your capacity and your resilience.

The second part of this personal support system is to worry about and invest in your relationships—your family and your friends. Those are the people who can cheer you on. Those are the people who can ground you in reality. Those are the people who can talk you down off the ledge. Those are the people who can reach down and pull you up out of the hole. So, sometimes it can feel like we sacrifice our friendships to the work that we feel needs to be done, and what I put to you is this: that it’s through your friendships, it’s through your family that you actually find an energy source, a resilient source, to allow you to do the great work that you want to do.

The fourth piece of resilience is to increase your capacity to learn. One of the things that I learned many years ago and I still admire is the U.S. military in particular do something called an “after-action review.” After every engagement, they pull the team together and they ask themselves some simple questions in a blame-free way. They say, “What happened? What did we expect to happen? What did we learn from this? What do we need to do now? What do we need to do next time?” And one of the tragedies that happens in our organizations is stuff happens all the time and nobody learns from it. So one of the things that you can do for yourself and for those around you is create more learning moments, for people to actually extract what’s happening and in learning, increase their capacity and their self-sufficiency and their resilience. You know, the simple question that I ask and I teach people to ask is “When you finish a conversation, when you sit down in a team meeting or in an individual meeting or just having done something yourself, and you say to yourself, ‘What was most useful here for me?’ or ‘What was most valuable here for you? What was most useful, what was most valuable? What was the—what do you want to remember from this?’” Three great questions to help you drive your learning, and in driving your learning, you increase your capacity; increasing your capacity, you drive your resilience.

And the fifth and final strategy I’d like to share with you in terms of driving your own personal resilience is to grow and develop your own mindfulness practice. Now I feel a bit of a hypocrite around this. I’ve been trying to do this for years myself. I had a really good run recently. I’ve fallen off the wagon at the moment. I think as a result of doing this podcast, I’ll probably get back on the wagon. But the truth is I’ve read much of the research about meditation and it is truly—if there is a silver bullet, it’s probably meditation. It makes you happier, calmer, smarter, more aware of how the system works, better able to show up as yourself, better able to drive, kind of, wisdom and awareness and resilience. It doesn’t have to be long. You don’t have to retreat to a monastery for five hours a day to do your meditation. Five minutes or ten minutes can make a huge difference. And there are some great apps that are available for your gadget, your phone, that you can just build into an everyday practice. If it was up to me, what I’d encourage you to do is go, “Look, I’m going to commit to three minutes mediation every morning.” After you get up, find a place to sit down, find an app that you like, and commit to three minutes meditation. Doesn’t sound much but there’s so much scientific research now that will tell you it will make a difference.

Personal resilience is so important. It’s the way that we get through this VUCA world, volatile, uncertainty, chaos, ambiguity. We need to have that kind of resilience, that flexibility, that strength that allows us to stay functional and to manage that uncertainty. And hopefully some of those five strategies that I’ve shared with you right now can be your pathway to being more resilient in a slightly chaotic time. This practice of developing your own personal resilience is so important. It is a VUCA world, volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous. And when it’s a VUCA world, it’s easy to kind of shut down and play small and play it safe, and it just doesn’t work. If you want to do more great work, if you want to have more impact, if you want to do work that has more meaning, you have to be able to meet the VUCA world and stay focused on what your great work is. Those five core strategies to develop personal resilience will give you the capacity and the ability to kind of stick to it that will allow you to do less good work and more great work.

3 Responses to How You Can Be More Resilient

  • Kathi C. Laughman

    Love these concise insights. Such an important topic and growing in its importance as a skill.

  • Jim Liang

    Five aspects of the strategy to become and remain resilient are great tips to keep up with and share with others!! Thanks, Michael!

  • Elinor Rush

    I am helping grade 8 students prepare for the transition to high school. This podcast on resilience will help them a lot! Thank you.

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