Last time we developed a more modern definition of resilience as “advancing despite adversity“, but what does this mean on a more detailed level? What groups of behaviours, skills and beliefs contribute to resilience? What can we actually measure resilience against? To answer these questions, we investigated many existing models of resilience and combined them with neurological models to better explain resilience.
We are complex beings. Therefore, it makes sense that there are a great many different factors that contribute to resilience including: beliefs we hold of the world, of ourselves and others; information we have access to; biases, skills, and education; mental processes and behaviours. To make sense of all of these, it’s useful to group related components into domains. Through our research we’ve grouped these components into six distinct domains that explain the specific factors that makes a person resilient.
These six domains have functions on their own, but they also influence each other. Just as strengths in some domains can compensate for weaker domains, so too can weakness in one drag down others. It is worthwhile for us to pursue personal development so that we are strong in all areas and effectively well-rounded. Let’s look at the six domains.
The most important of the domains, Vision is about your sense of purpose, goals, and personal vision for yourself. The reason this is the most important domain is that all other domains are guided by what it is you want to achieve. Having clarity in this domain allows you to be decisive when facing tough choices, and to maintain perspective when facing challenges. Whether your goals relate to family, to work, or a side project, what’s important is being specific and clear.
Clarity keeps you focused. It’s easy to get distracted by unimportant details and events if you don’t have anything specific you’re working towards. After all, it’s not like you had anything else planned, so why not binge on the new season of House of Cards? Vision is about having clarity so that when things get tough, you know what’s important and what isn’t in order to stay focused and achieve your goals.
Congruence is the name of the game. Congruence means all your actions are working together across your larger vision of yourself and sense of purpose, through medium and short terms goals. When you don’t have clarity on these, it’s likely that some of your goals may conflict with each other, resulting in frustration as moving towards one goal moves you further from the other. Instead, if your actions are aligned, everything you do slowly moves you towards your ultimate goals, helping you achieve feats that others deemed impossible.
It’s about regulating emotions. The fight-or-flight response of the brain loves to flare up when facing conflict or hearing about a sudden change at work. But being able to overcome that instinctive emotional response and maintain your composure often means being able to recognise hidden opportunities and solve problems in novel ways. This is because becoming emotional prevents you from properly accessing your ability to think critically.
It’s also the little things. Composure is not just the big crises that we face, but also the little everyday things. Getting emotional in a traffic jam is never useful, so why bother getting worked up? Maintaining composure means keeping calm so you can save your energy for what is important.
Interpretation bias is important. Your boss walks up to you and says, “I need to talk to you. Come see me later”. Do you panic? Do you worry about getting into trouble for something or getting fired? The statement from your boss in this example is actually neutral with no direct implied negativity. It could just as easily be good news! Research shows that a natural inclination to negatively interpret ambiguous situations makes people six times more likely to show symptoms of depression, while a positive interpretation bias results in higher resilience.
You also need to be proactive. Composure is not just about being able to return to a state of poise, but also about considering your own beliefs and expectations that produce emotions in the first place. For example, if you expect that nothing will ever go wrong with your project, then you’re likely in for a big shock. Compare that with a healthier belief that, most likely, something will go wrong, and when it does, you’ll manage it. It’s easy – just expect that everything will be harder than you expect!
Creativity and innovative problem solving is incredibly useful when facing challenges along the way. This is what the Reasoning domain is all about. This domain needs Composure for you to keep your cool, as well as Vision so you know what goals to direct your actions toward.
Anticipate and plan. Like Composure, it’s not just about applying critical thinking during a crisis, but also about taking action ahead of time to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. In fact, it’s mostly about proactive action. This is like going to the dentist regularly so you won’t need a root canal later. Think proactively through how things may go wrong and take action ahead of time to prevent or minimise impact, and think through how you’ll deal with different scenarios.
Be resourceful. Having the right information, tools, techniques and people available to you will help you solve problems more effectively and find more efficient ways to reach your goals. Resourcefulness is a skill we need to actively build, and the more resourceful we are, the easier it becomes to make unusual connections and find innovative ways forward.
See opportunity in change. A high Reasoning ability means that a changing environment is welcome since it always brings hidden opportunities. By maintaining your composure and knowing what you want to achieve, change is no longer a threat and you can look for things that others might have missed, helping you to succeed.
Persistence is the key. Einstein pointed out the importance of persistence for success when he said that “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”. In a globalised world, success is no longer a given. We need to be willing to work hard and smart and stay with a problem if we hope to achieve something, especially if you want to achieve something that no one else has.
Learn from mistakes. Rarely will we do things right the first time. And even when doing something we know well, eventually we will make mistakes. At home, with friends, at work. Mistakes creep in everywhere, so what is important is how we react to mistakes. Admonishing ourselves doesn’t help. Instead, it’s important to be able to objectively look at our mistakes, find lessons in them, and not define ourselves by them. The past is there learn from, not to dwell on.
Don’t be naïve, have realistic optimism. Research shows that people who are overly optimistic about succeeding are less likely to, since they tend to give up at the first sign of trouble. What is more useful for success is to have a sense of ‘realistic optimism’, meaning that you are hopeful about your ability to succeed, but you realise that the road will be tough and full of challenges. This realisation combined with the willingness to be persistent is what ultimately leads to success for individuals, teams and organisations.
We are social beings. The brain has a deep fundamental need for connection with others to be able to thrive. The brain has dedicated neural structures to recognise facial expressions, while mirror neurons fire within the brain to help us empathise with others. We are, after all, in this together, so what we do and focus on is not just for us, but to help our communities together and improve our world. This connection is what the Collaboration domain is about.
Support and be supported. In a complex world, few of us can achieve anything meaningful alone, so it’s crucial for us to build support networks so we can both have a safety net and also be that safety net for others. Interestingly, research shows that when it comes to peace of mind, it’s not actual available support that matters, but instead it is the perception of available support that’s important. So even if you have 100 people ready to support you, if you don’t realise this, you will not feel supported. Keep this in mind for others as well, and show the people you care for that you are there to support them whenever they need you.
Get the context right. A key part of Collaboration is understanding the context of your interaction with people. Having a meeting with people at work and spending time with friends on the weekend are two very different contexts. For example, at work it’s more important to focus on facts than on emotion, keep things professional and don’t take anything personally. At home, it’s not always about the facts, but very important to address emotions as it’s a vital part of maintaining healthy relationships. Scoring high in Collaboration means being able to know what behaviour is best in different contexts so you can keep things constructive and build positive relationships.
The foundational domain. Good health means looking after your body through what you eat, doing exercise, and getting quality sleep. A healthy body provides a strong foundation for your own resilience so you can focus on your sense of purpose and goals. Good health is not the ultimate goal itself, but instead is an enabler to achieve your larger personal vision.
Healthy nutrition. It’s not just about keeping lean, as nutrition also affects your brain health and mental performance. Regularly eating foods with a high combination of fats and sugars (like chocolate, ice cream, cookies, baked goods, burgers…) actually reduces the chemical in the brain that produces more brain cells. This makes the brain less plastic and reduces your mental adaptability.
Quality sleep. Lack of sleep results in more mistakes, reduced attention span, and a decreased ability to deal with stress. It also increases cortisol, the brain’s stress hormone. The affects add up over time, compounding the toll on your body, brain, and performance. Sleep makes a big difference, but it’s not just about quantity, it’s about getting enough quality sleep.
Regular exercise. Also not just about being fit, regular exercise is proven to increase mental performance and increasing your ability to learn. It also protects against neurodegenerative diseases in the long term. So even if you are happy with your body, exercise is still crucial!
What’s great about these domains is we absolutely have the capacity to build and improve every domain, and therefore develop our own resilience. Resilience is a life-long and ongoing journey for us and our effort here improves quality of life and directly contributes to the achievement of personal and organisational goals.