This post was written by Rachel Setti from the May 2016 Vol 3 Issue 4 edition of Acuity Magazine, we are re-publishing it here for your benefit.

Positive self-care routines can help people build resilience and approach life with a positive outlook…

Resilience, also known as mental flexibility, is an individual’s ability to quickly adapt and recover from stressful situation.

More resilient people are better able to maintain poise and a healthy level of physical and psychological wellness. They tend to approach the world with a positive, flexible and adaptive outlook.

Less resilient people tend to dwell on problems, feel overwhelmed, and use unhealthy coping tactics. They can even feel anxious or depressed.

It’s hard to talk about resilience without referring to stress.

Psychologists Yerkes and Dodson suggest that moderately increased stress improves performance. For example, a mild adrenaline rush before an important meeting helps focus attention and drive outcomes.

However, excessive stress diminishes optimal performance, and different people display varying responses to the same scenario – often based on their interpretation of events. For example, an individual expecting poor outcomes from a meeting is more likely to feel stressed than one who anticipates positive results. Such expectations impact resilience and are a product of personality, previous experience and emotional make up.

Building resilience

One way of building resilience is to develop a stronger awareness of our sphere of influence. In other words focusing on solving issues we can influence rather than dwelling on matters we cannot.

A partner I recently coached was struggling to present to her board. Concerned that her opinions would be dismissed, this talented professional doubted her capacity to handle pushback. She would hold back valuable contributions for fear of entering conflict and risking credibility.

This avoidance behaviour significantly impacted her executive presence and status. In fact, her boardroom silence elicited the opposite outcome to the one she desired. Worse still, it was self perpetuating.

Via a process of reframing and practices she recognised that although she couldn’t control the board’s responses, there were factors that she could influence, such as her own responses to challenging questions.

Within a short space of time her executive presence rose. She had expanded her view of what she could influence and developed a stronger internal locus of control. Individuals with this type of thinking believe that they have control over what happens to them, and they proactively seek solutions to problems.

Conversely, reactive people often believe that life is controlled by factors outside their influence and don’t believe that their actions are likely to make a difference.

A good example of this is how individuals receive performance feedback. Some view their own actions as instrumental in achieving results (whether good or poor), whereas others place responsibility for outcomes on external forces. The former are more likely to accept praise and effectively address their areas of development. They present as self-directed, persistent, co-operative and willing to take considered risks to achieve results.

Avoid burnout

While it’s a truism that there are things we can’t change, we can develop a stronger internal locus of control.

One way is to invest in positive self-care routines in order to feel healthy, recharged, and effectual. Such habits are central avoiding symptoms of burnout, which is a gradual process associated with prolonged periods of stress resulting in overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, poor motivation, resentment and exhaustion. These pervading effects often permeate into all areas of life, and can lead to physical and mental illness.

The good news is that burnout can be avoided or even reversed. The first step is recognising the warning signs, such as changes to your:

  • physical health (appetite, sleep, lethargy)
  • behaviours (increased procrastination, impatience, forgetfulness, alcohol intake)
  • emotional wellbeing (sense of failure, feelings of helplessness, confusion).

Then take action to build your resilience by engaging in effective routines. I refer to them as routines because you must be willing to commit to regular action. There are no miracle shortcuts – doing something once will not elicit long-term change. Invest in at least one activity for each o the five areas below:

1. Workplace or professional development

This refers to maintaining a consistent level of professionalism. For example, engaging in regular consultation with a trusted colleague to gain new perspectives on vexing issues, reading professional literature and attending professional development programmes. It also refers to setting professional boundaries, such as working reasonable hours and switching off from work at the end of the day.

2. Relationships

Maintaining healthy, supportive, diverse relationships is hugely important. The key is to prioritise your important relationships. It’s all too easy to stay back at the office and miss yet another family event, and it’s arguable even worse to spend social events checking your emails. Engage, participate and nurture your relationships – they may be more important to your overall welfare than your realise.

3. Physical health

This is another crucial factor. It refers to the importance of staying fit and healthy enough to meet work and personal commitments. This includes, though is not limited to, regular medical check-ups, habitual sleep routines, a healthy diet, taking lunch breaks, exercising, and regularly using annual leave to relax and rejuvenate.

4. Psychological and emotional wellbeing

This refers to activities that help you feel clear-headed and intellectually engaged. For some this means keeping a reflective journal, others may prefer to engage in a hobby or recreational activity, and sometimes doing nothing in particular is a great option. The list is endless, though whatever you choose make sure to turn off the work calls first.

5. Spiritual

Tapping into your spiritual needs by developing a sense of perspective beyond the everyday humdrum can be hugely powerful. This could include practises such as meditation, yoga, walking, or linking in with an organisation that provides different perspectives on life such as a charity, church or community group.

Your self-care behaviours are entirely your choice. Schedule them in your diary, be strict and don’t double book. Think of them as recharging activities – after all if you never charged your favourite technological gadget, all its wonderful functionalities would amount to nothing.

Finally, don’t wait for the signs of burnout to jolt you into action – be proactive and start today.