Businesses and jobs are becoming increasingly complex. Our work is demanding. We’re expected to be always on. And we must be quick to respond to or (better yet) anticipate change. These intense workplace cultures can lead to huge levels of stress. Your ability to smoothly overcome obstacles or adversity and adapt is a mindset—not a personality trait. Which means you can become more resilient with practice.
Over the course of our careers, we each encounter challenges, big and small. Resilience is your ability to bounce back, find a work-around, adapt to changing priorities and flexibly push on. Some of us adapt more quickly to change or challenges. We find new ways to solve problems, are more willing to take risks and cope well with ambiguity.
Persevering and being more resilient at work could mean many different things. It might involve adapting to a changing environment—showing a willingness to learn new techniques and take on new roles through your own initiative. In practical terms, flexibility could mean covering for colleagues when a project is floundering, occasionally putting in extra hours to get things done and being resourceful and staying positive even when things aren’t working well.
This kind of mental flexibility, much like physical flexibility, takes stretching. Here are six ideas for your resilience building workout:
- Take the opposite point of view. Consider if your usual thought patterns limit your ability to bend when you’re trying to creatively solve a problem. Then, consider the problem from another angle. For example, try coming up with a list of possible solutions you know won’t work.
- Identify places where you can compromise. Everyone is flexible about some things and inflexible about others. When you think about flexibility as “something I do” and not “who I am,” you will start to realize that you can make lasting, positive changes that may open up opportunities for some relaxation, laughter and joy amid the daily grind. If you feel as though you’ve become a bit of a stickler about strict schedules and perfect plans, it may be time to loosen up and become more flexible.
- Change your routine and stretch every day. The people who have the most trouble coping with ambiguity are those who have settled into a comfortable routine and haven’t changed much. Not stretching yourself regularly creates rigidity. Try something new. Learn to dance, pick up a new language or cook a new recipe. In a study led by Koutstaal, older adults who participated in a variety of novel and stimulating activities over a three-month period showed a significant gain in creativity, problem-solving abilities and other markers of “fluid intelligence” when compared to a control group. Mental flexibility is aided by novelty and that contributes to brain growth and development throughout a lifetime.
- Take a step back. When a work challenge is creating stress, try pausing to observe the stress, suggests Rich Fernandez for hbr.org. This ability to step back and consider what you’re feeling enables you to activate the thinking part of your brain rather than the emotional part.
- Practice being optimistic. Most things are neither all good or all bad, suggests barrywinbolt.com. Choose to make your thinking work to your advantage. Don’t let it paralyze you by seeing only the bad in a given situation.
- Learn from your mistakes. If you make a mistake, take time to understand why. Where did you go wrong? This stored information on what doesn’t work will help with future problem solving.
There will always be challenges and changes at work. Become more flexible with daily practice … so you’re less affected and less anxious.