“Do you want to be mentally stronger?” If you pose this question, I think the overwhelming majority will say “yes.” Your physical strength is easy: hit the gym, lift heavy weights, do interval training, repeat. But mental strength and resilience at work – that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
As a change manager, my working environments are often characterised with turmoil, fear, distrust and frustration. The odds are against me for a myriad of reasons: human nature’s aversion to change, stereotypes of overpriced external consultants, unconscious bias, organisational history of failed changes, lack of executive support, non-existent sponsors, the intensity and pace of change, overall change fatigue… I could wax lyrical for days.
Through these experiences, I have learned that mentally strong people realise change is inevitable. They welcome it with open arms and believe in their ability to roll with the punches and adapt.
Here are some insights I’ve gleaned about building resilience at work from my experience as a change manager, which others might find valuable.
Regular emotional scanning
Gone are the days when grit meant ‘suck it up’. Rather than suppressing emotions, resilience at work means regularly scanning your feelings throughout the day and being aware of how this influences your thought patterns and behaviour. To achieve an optimal outcome, we sometimes have to behave the opposite to how we feel. Going to dissolve into a puddle? Sure, it’s OK to feel like this, but don’t actually do it in the middle of a board meeting.
Practice realistic optimism
Want more resilience at work? Balance optimism with a good dose of reality, and always approach situations from an outlook of gratitude. Rose-coloured glasses will only lead to unmet expectations, and negative self-talk will result in abandoning any attempts at reaching lofty goals. Instead, reframe ‘failures’ as learning opportunities. Tackle that harsh inner critic, forgive yourself for your mistakes and be your own loudest cheerleader. Being pragmatically realistic will help achieve perspective and regain clarity on the step-by-step actions that are required to lead to the end goal.
Thou shalt not wallow
Stuff happens. You know that saying “no use crying over spilt milk?” It’s repeated to the Nth degree for a reason: it’s true. Bad things happen, often to good people. Wasting your energy agonising over past events (or people who have done you wrong) is not doing you, or anyone on the project, any favours. Scream into a pillow, go agro on a punching bag, power walk with a friend – whatever allows you to let off steam, cease the wallowing and stop the repetition of ‘if only’ conversations dead in its tracks. The key takeaway is to take responsibility for moving forward.
Consideration outweighs pleasing
No one wins if you try to please everyone. As a change manager, it’s my second nature to consider the (often opposing) needs, drivers and wants of different stakeholder groups. Trying to please them all? Don’t even bother. Practice saying no. No is one of my favourite words!
Internal locus of control
A locus of control can be internal or external. An internal locus of control means not accepting outside influences for any resulting outcomes. What does this mean? Create resilience at work by taking responsibility for your own situation. No cop outs here, my friends. Be explicit and non-negotiable on what is or isn’t acceptable to you, instead of letting others influence your behaviour and mood. Heck, if I decide I’m going to have a good day, I sure as heck will, regardless of what other people might do or say.
Eat humble pie
Ah, a personal area of improvement for me. No one knows it all. One must not only admit their weaknesses, but accept responsibility and be willing to learn from them. Humility means having the strength to realise your way might not be the best way (shock, horror). Step back, regroup, ask for assistance if required, and change your course to achieve the optimal outcome.
Complement the mental with the physical
Resilience at work and focus cannot be sustained for prolonged periods of time without physical health. To be able to work insane hours in the lead up to implementation and go-live, I find it essential to be in good physical shape. For me, this translates into yoga. Set small goals and deliver. Do a little bit more each time. The repetition of small wins will start to build your internal catalogue of success, which you can call upon when the going gets tough.
Recognise a rut
Burnout: It’s not pretty when it happens. Punishing workloads for months on end will lead you to hit a wall. To avoid this, I recharge by completely immersing myself in a foreign subject matter. This takes many shapes and forms and is different for everyone. Enrol in a life drawing class, meet different people, try outdoor rock climbing. After a particularly draining period, I pushed myself by enrolling in a 42km running tour of Chicago (NB: I did not train for this at all and am NOT a marathon runner!). It recalibrated my focus, refreshed my soul and – bonus – disintegrated any self-limiting beliefs I subconsciously held onto.
What are the avenues and tactics you use to strengthen your mental muscles?