"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Resilience is often referred to as the ability to bounce back quickly from a difficult and adverse experience. It is often known as "hardiness" or "psychological muscle" and is now increasingly recognized as one of the most important factors in today's workplace. The "resilience factor" of both organizations and individuals is an important psychological process trait that creates capacity for thriving instead of just surviving in the increasingly and endless turbulent context of today's working world.
The good news is that the resilience factor (the personal ability to navigate life's difficult challenges) can be developed and enhanced through the lifespan. Resilient people can "roll with the punches" and have the capacity to "make lemonade out of the lemons" that life throws at them. They are able to handle life's challenges with greater ease, to grow from adversity and to turn potentially negative situations into a more positive framework. Resilience can be learned and improved through experience and training. A person's affective style and flexibility-adaptability potential to successfully handle adverse conditions is not fixed in cement by genetics or by early experience.
The first step is for an individual to take a personal inventory of inherent strength-based strategies. Pause and take a moment to reflect upon an event in the past when you felt you acted with resilience. As you reflect upon this event, make a note of the innate strength-based strategies you used to deal with this challenging life situation. These innate strength-based strategies are your inherent resilience-building capacities. Often a person in crisis is overwhelmed by stress and fatigue which exceeds their ability to cope, and they lose the ability to recognize and activate their inherent resilience and set realistic and healthy boundaries. By tapping into our unique individual creativity, a number of inherent resilience traits can be recognized and activated. Three key inherent resilience traits are discussed here.
By working toward your goals or on your inner coping strategies, you develop resilience by being action-oriented, communicating with authenticity, setting realistic boundaries and timelines, trusting in the process and not giving up in the face of disaster. "True Grit" does not mean doing the same dysfunctional thing over and over and expecting a different result. Rather, it means noticing what works and being flexible and adaptable to make the necessary changes.
For example, if one job or area of law does not work for you, recognize and value your transferable skills and move on. Thomas Edison not only invented the light bulb but also taught us about the importance of perseverance when he wrote the following advice: "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that creating the light bulb will not work. Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
As lawyers, we are trained to have a high level of skepticism and to discover the problems and issues existing in any situation. This is highly useful in legal practice, but it can turn one's personal life into a minefield of misunderstanding. By identifying automatic pessimistic thoughts and self-talk as barriers to a balanced perspective of the problem, you will not give in to pessimistic life strategies such as trying to control others and trying to control outcomes. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ("CBT") and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Meditation ("MBSR") are both very useful techniques to create a more balanced perspective in the face of a crisis.
By creating positive change in self-talk and more balanced thinking patterns, you will be able to integrate your inner resources and engage in useful and practical problem-solving strategies that align with common sense. How a person perceives and frames the present moment generates his or her reality. What we focus on grows. By cultivating optimism and focusing on what is realistically in their power to control, resilient people learn to eliminate distortions from their thinking. Through the elimination of cognitive distortions, one can engage in radical acceptance of the situation at hand: viz. accept that one cannot control the direction of the wind but recognize that one can adjust and readjust one's sails and arrive at an acceptable destination.
Resilient people tend to have good relationships both personally and professionally, and put time and energy into them. Isolating and withdrawing from others during a crisis can lead to depression, despair and discouragement and generate a self-critical world view. We all live in a social context and have a need to belong. In fact, recent scientific evidence shows that our human brain is literally hard-wired to connect with others. With the discovery of "mirror neurons" we also have evidence that suggests humans have a built-in capacity to intuit another person's inner psychological state. Having a strong personal, social and professional network is one of the major resilience protective factors that can serve you well in the times of crisis. The synergy of constructive group sharing about how to cope with difficult situations can be helpful, create new positive approach strategies and reduce stress, burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.