Life is full of surprises, any one of which can knock us off our feet. In business this can range from the printer going on strike in the middle of a huge collation job, to a key customer taking their business elsewhere.
It can be equally challenging to create a rapid adaption to unexpected good news, like a sudden big order, or a property that would suit your expansion becoming available just before you are really ready, but that you know you can’t pass over.
Resilience and adaptability have long been recognised as key attributes of successful entrepreneurs. So what is behind these great attributes and how can we enhance and maintain our resilience so we can adapt to whatever life throws at us?
Our resilience is related to our resourcefulness. Which is another way of saying our ability to find another way to make something happen. For example, when the printer breaks down during a key job it’s easy to get drawn into trying to fix the printer.
A more resilient response is to remind yourself what the key goal is, in this case to get the job printed, and then start to think how else you can achieve this. A local print shop? A mate nearby? Your printer at home? Maybe even negotiating with someone in the client organization to do the rest of the printing. Fixing the printer becomes secondary to the most important task of getting the printing completed.
Thinking this way is an expression of hopefulness. Hopefulness is made up of will power (what I want to happen) and way power (how I’m going to make it happen). By switching our focus between the two, we can adapt in a way that allows us to keep achieving our goals.
This example also illuminates another key source of resilience, our social network. By developing and nurturing our business or social network we increase the resource-fulness of ourselves. Think of it as the ‘I can’t, but I know someone who can,’ idea as in the above example where you may not have a working printer but someone else in your network does.
If you have nurtured this relationship, put the time in when you didn’t need something from them, built up good will, then they are likely to help you out when called upon. It doesn’t just have to be practical things. Perhaps one of your staff has a domestic crisis and you aren’t sure how to handle it.
Racking your brains you remember that an old colleague mate went off into HR, might they be able to help? And you know that you aren’t very good with all this emotional support stuff, so you ring someone who seems to find this effortless for a few pointers.
Which brings us to another key feature of resilience, knowing our strengths, and when they are helpful and when not. So your strength might be in managing data, structure and systems. In this example, realising that this staff member is not going to be able to work at full capacity right now, you can easily apply your strengths to restructuring and reallocating the work.
Maybe you also have a natural ability in negotiating, so have no trouble negotiating with the team how the slack can be picked up. But you have sleepless nights over inadvertently saying the wrong thing to this person in crisis. Hence you ask for help with that.
Knowing what we are innately good at, and what we struggle with, is key to staying motivated, enjoying life and work and to high performance. If you are unaware of your own strengths there are numerous online strengths measures, and also colourful strengths card packs to help you identify them.
Another source of our resilience is our own history of success and achievement. It’s true that success builds success, but a little failure adds steel to the recipe.
We say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger in recognition of the importance of setbacks in teaching us that we can fall down, get up, dust ourselves down and live to fight another day.
Sometimes faced with a current challenge it is helpful to remember other times we felt close to defeat and remember what we did that allowed us to turn things around and recover.
Did we stop insisting that someone ‘should’ have done something, and got on with accepting that they haven’t so we need to change our expectations and our plans? Did we decide to road-test our ideas with someone because we just had a nagging feeling we’d overlooked something? Did we, perhaps, accept that our tenacity was working against us and that this door had well and truly closed, and we would do better to switch our focus and energy elsewhere?
All these are tactics that may not be available to us as we are locked in the current challenge, hellbent on making it work. We can often only find them again if we allow ourselves to think back to similar situations in the past and how we found a way forward.
Resilience and adaptability are about sense-making rather than decision-making. By which I mean recognising that what makes sense now might not when the circumstances change. In that case we may need to re-prioritise what is most important. Being flexible like this takes mental energy, so it’s important we look after ourselves and don’t become too fatigued.
Similarly, it’s much easier to think flexibly when we are in a good mood. So it’s important to attend to our morale, to make sure we are doing things we enjoy that make us feel good, that we take time to re-energise.
We can enhance our resilience and adaptability ready for the next unexpected opportunity or challenge.
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level.
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