Resilience DefinedResilience, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is "[A]n ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Resilience refers to the capacity to withstand, adapt to, and recover from stress and adversity - not merely rebounding from challenges, but also deriving personal growth from challenging experiences. Key components of resilience include emotional regulation, optimism, cognitive flexibility, and social support. (Southwick, Bonanno, Masten, Panter-Brick, & Yehuda, 2014).
If this all sounds overly simplistic or rosy, you are not alone: Positive psychology has been critiqued for its emphasis on resilience, which can be seen to sidestep structural and systemic factors that can make resilience inaccessible. It is a mistake to idealize or oversimplify the complexity of human experience, and this important caveat should accompany any discussion of how to access resilience and its benefits.
Change: When Resilience Is Most NeededChanges – even long-anticipated ones – in our environment are stressors that test our capacity for resilience. Resilience is often associated with societal, organizational, or personal loss and trauma. But it is important to recognize that even commonplace, ordinary changes have the potential to push the boundaries of a person’s adaptability. As you think about when resilience could be most beneficial, don’t discount the importance of learning to encounter the strains of even everyday life with a view toward growth.
Post-Traumatic GrowthNot surprisingly, however, the greatest and most obvious benefits of resilience are associated with highly stressful life circumstances. Resilience goes beyond returning to baseline functioning after a setback. The concept of post-traumatic growth refers to the positive psychological change human beings can experience as a byproduct of extreme life challenges, including a greater appreciation of life, improved relationships, a sense of increased fortitude, and an appreciation for alternative pathways and possibilities. (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). This is not to imply that experiencing trauma is good or desirable, but rather that significant personal growth can occur in the aftermath of trauma.
Factors Contributing to ResilienceThe three primary factors that contribute to resilience are: positive emotions and optimism; cognitive flexibility; and having a sense of meaning and purpose.
Positive emotions and optimism (the expectation that good things will happen in the future) can undo the negative effects of stress and help replenish psychological resources.
Cognitive flexibility, the ability to adapt thinking in response to challenging situations, aids in reinterpreting negative events in a more positive light, allowing us to persevere through adversity rather than be defeated by it.
Maya Angelou famously said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” This beautifully encapsulates the roles of optimism and cognitive flexibility in generating a resilient state of mind.
Optimism and cognitive flexibility can both be cultivated through intentional practices such as: expressing gratitude; engaging positive future visualization; changing negative language patterns; embracing personal goals; and focusing good health. (Fredrickson, 2001; (Bonanno, 2004; Carver, Scheier, & Segerstrom, 2010).
A sense of meaning and purpose, the third primary factor most associated with resilience, is in my experience the most powerful. The ability find meaning and purpose not just in spite of – but within - the adversities of life provides a framework for understanding and organizing difficult experiences.
What’s more, based upon research conducted by the Taproot Foundation (a nonprofit focused on deploying skilled volunteers to pro bono projects) People who work with a sense of purpose are:
- 125% more productive at work;
- 64% more likely to find fulfillment at work;
- 50% more likely to become leaders; and
- 51% more likely to have stronger relationships with co-workers, customers and clients.
Cultivating Organizational and Career ResilienceAaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, has written extensively on what generates a sense of purpose at work: (1) relationships (in the form of strong social connections and support); (2) impact (a sense that your work matters to someone other than yourself); and (3) growth (learning, stretching, taking risks). In my experience, these are also the key ingredients of a resilient organization. In essence, creating a sense of purpose at work involves aligning individual talents and passions with meaningful, impactful work.
Cultivating organizational resilience begins with a shared sense of purpose and the strong relationships, exciting impact, and edifying growth this implies. At Silverchair, we cultivate organizational resilience through our supportive and inclusive culture; emphasis on the important work we do in the world (including our ability to “innovate with purpose and adaptability” – Silverchair’s newest core value); and strengths-based approach to performance management and development (focusing on amplifying the innate talents of our people and embracing the obligation of our leaders to make the most of those talents), a strong culture, and the ability to innovate with purpose and adaptability, which aligns perfectly with Silverchair's fifth core value.
Similarly, cultivating career resilience begins with knowing – and be faithful to – your strengths (your native talents) and your “why” (the passions that motivate you). The engine that powers career resilience is a commitment to lifelong learning, including embracing a growth mindset and interrupting the negative thought patters that can tell us we don’t belong. In all of this, personal experience has taught me it is essential to prioritize emotional and physical wellbeing, including meaningful relationships.
As we foster resilience within ourselves, we’re better able to support others and contribute to organizations that can not only overcome challenges, but also grow stronger and wiser from these experiences.