It’s the ability to adapt in the face of difficulty. An increasingly critical skill when we’re faced with adversity, trauma and change. We take a look at what resilience is, why it’s important and how you can develop it.
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
An ‘intrinsic ability of a system to adjust its functioning prior to, during, or following changes and disturbances so that it can sustain required operations, even after a major mishap or in the presence of continuous stress’ (Nemeth et al, 2008)
‘A process whereby people bounce back from adversity and go on with their lives. It is a dynamic process highly influenced by protective factors’ (Dyer and McGuinness, 1996)
What is Resilience?
Resilience isn’t about mental toughness, grit or endurance. It’s more complex than that. In a landscape where the majority of doctors (80%) are at high/very high risk of burnout resilience is the ability to sustain your performance under what are often, difficult and stretched circumstances in healthcare. Whether it’s personal resilience or resilience at work, resilience is the ability to adapt, to change, to recover form failure and setbacks. Or, as Ann Masten describes it, ‘Ordinary Magic’. Think of resilience as a skill that you can learn, one that will enable you to navigate the burnout epidemic currently facing healthcare professionals.
Why is Resilience Important?
Resilience helps us to manage stressful life events effectively and to protect ourselves against what might potentially be overwhelming experiences. The good news is that resilience can be developed. It’s a skill, the same as any other.
Resilience psychology is a growing field and there is increasing empirical evidence to support the benefits of building resilience both personally and professionally. The ability to cope with the increasing pressures of healthcare, maintain a positive mindset and come up with effective strategies when faced with a barrage of stress are key skills in today’s turbulent world. It’s impossible to prevent the curve balls that life throws your way but you can give yourself the best chance to manage them by developing resilience.
Building Resilience in Healthcare
Physicians are working in a climate of increasing demands where they are asked to do less with more on a daily basis. Often this takes place in an atmosphere of incivility and blame. Dysfunctional cultures only add to the problem, reducing performance and increasing our error rate.
We work with organisations to embed growth mindset cultures, avoiding the trap of an unhealthy working environment. The reality is that change takes time. Sometimes trusts, teams and departments don’t recognise how damaging that culture can be (we’ve seen that too). Neither you (nor we) can enforce systemic change, but what we can do is focus on what we can control – our own personal resilience.
Here’s our top picks of resilience videos for you.
Sh*t Happens. 8 Lessons in Resilience. Dr Fiona Starr & Dr Mike Solomon.
Best TED TALK on Super- Resilience-How to FALL UP/ Dr. Gregg Steinberg/ TEDxRushU/
How to make stress your friend | Kelly McGonigal
The Power of Resilience – Harvard Medical School
Dr Brian Marian on building resilience and wellbeing
Super Resilience TedTalk from Dr Greg Steinberg
Angela Lee Duckworth, Grit TedTalks
How to be Resilient at Work
As the intensity and pace of work increases, coping with those stressors demands new skills and strategies. Ideally, resilient workplaces flex with change, embracing and learning from failure. Yes, we said ’embrace’ but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Blame cultures emerge and the cycle continues.
Resilience is recognised as a key skill in the workplace, for employees, teams and leaders. Learning how to thrive under pressure is critical in today’s fast paced, increasingly complex healthcare environment. Here are our suggestions for creating the foundations of resilience at work.
- Clarify your Values. Your values are your GPS for making decisions in life. Once you have clarified your values you have a firm basis from which to ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to when additional requests are made of your time. For example, if you identify your work life balance as a value, you’ll be less likely to say ‘Yes’ to a request from a colleague or friend that requires you to cancel a run or time with friends. This is one of the first tools that we use in resilience coaching for doctors.
- Identify your strengths. Sometimes in healthcare training we become preoccupied with our areas of weakness or things that we consider a deficit. Positive psychology offers a different paradigm. Character Strengths are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave. Identifying and working with your strengths Has been linked to stress reduction and building personal capacity. The VIA Strengths Assessment is one the most widely used psychometrics in the world and it’s free. Used in the field of positive psychology, identifying and leveraging your signature character strengths has been linked to stress management, happiness, resilience and positive relationships with others.
- Carve out time for yourself. It’s counterintuitive and we can almost hear your response – it’s impossible. Slowing down, taking breaks and building in time for yourself will improve your performance. The belief that you can plough through will only serve to slow you down. Downtime is the key to high performance. That’s why it’s always a mistake to work harder by attempting to ‘push through’. Seemingly implausible – taking a break and creating downtime will make you more effective, not less. The constant striving associated with sacrifice syndrome will only take you on a journey to depletion and eventually burnout. Skipping lunch, working late, using your weekend to play catch up are all corrosive practices that will only serve to slow you down. You’ll put more hours in and see fewer results for your efforts.Take a look at our blog on auditing your energy domains for more tips.
Building Your Resilience Skills
Physicians face a unique set of demands in the workplace. You want to do more than simply survive your professional life. Creating the space to build your resilience is an investment in yourself and your future. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of yet another thing to add your ‘To do’ list. We recommend that you start with small steps and build from there. Incremental changes will begin to make a huge difference to your wellbeing and resilience over time.
Connect. Forge relationships with colleagues, friends or family. Building and maintaining connections to others strengthens resilience. Research demonstrates that positive social relationships are linked to resilience, mental and physical health along with longevity.
Monotask. Try as we might to persuade ourselves, evidence from the world of neuroscience has shown that when we think we’re multi tasking, what we’re really doing is switch tasking. What does that mean? When you’re switch tasking you’re preventing flow, or optimum performance. Your brain is unable to focus fully on more than once task at a time without your error rate increasing. The cure? Switch to Monotasking instead. Try and reduce your cognitive load by compartmentalising tasks, for example, one high focus task for 40 minutes or placing emails together. Keep tasks in context and avoid switching to reduce your cognitive strain.
Perspective. Avoid seeing crises all consuming. Life might throw you a curveball, it happens but it’s up to you how you interpret and respond to those events. Maintain perspective and remember that nothing lasts forever.
Acceptance. Change is a part of life. Accepting what cannot be changed enables you to focus on circumstances that you can alter. Focus on what you can do or change rather than what you can’t.
Set Goals. we know from empirical research in positive psychology that people who set themselves goals and work towards them are more resilient. Set realistic goals and work towards them each day, recognising your accomplishments along the way. Ask yourself “What is the one thing that will make a difference?” that you can do every day.
Take Action. It sounds obvious but taking action is key. Rather than ruminating, take decisive action to improve your situation.
Recognise Imposter Syndrome.
Experienced by high achieving individuals, impostor syndrome hits you with the belief that you don’t deserve your success. Popularised by Dr Pauline Clance in the 1970s, imposter syndrome remains alive and kicking today, fuelled by the use of social media and constant connectivity.
It’s that feeling that everything you’ve ever achieved is down to dumb luck. You’ve blagged your way to where you are. How come nobody else has noticed except you? You’ve conned them all. Sound familiar? If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome you’re in good company. Research suggests 70% of us will experience the phenomena at some stage in our lives. Look around you, is it really true that everyone else is smarter than you?
In their research, Clances & Imes typically found four factors at play for those with impostor syndrome, these centre around new challenges, anxiety, frenzied activity and the belief that if you do master the challenge – it’s a fluke.
Manage Imposter Syndrome by letting Go of Perfectionism. Perfection can hold you back and prevent you from trying new things or developing existing skills all because of the fear that the results won’t be perfect the first time we attempt something different. Practice pushing aside perfectionism in favour of developing your skills and abilities.
Remind yourself of times when you persevered through previous challenges & had the same feelings yet succeeded. When you’re in the grip of self doubt and fear of exposure, recall past challenges and focus on how you used your strengths and abilities to overcome obstacles and develop new skills.
Monitor and Adjust your Inner Narrative Catch and correct negative inner dialogue and language that you use to describe yourself that reinforces the mindset of impostor syndrome.
Develop a Positive Self Image . Recognise what you have achieved and develop confidence in your ability to solve problems. You’ve got what it takes and if you haven’t you’re on the road to developing it. Cultivate a self image that believes you can and will cope when stressful events happen.
Develop a Growth Mindset. Growth mindset is one of the key differentiators between people who achieve their resilience goals and those who don’t. Developing a Growth mindset (and using it) dramatically impacts upon your performance whatever you do in life. Achieving your goals with a growth mindset is a lifelong habit worth investing your time in. Discover more about mindset here.
Self Care. Focus on what you need to maintain resilience. Engage in activities that will help you to be match ready. Take regular exercise, eat well, nourish your mind and your body. Surround yourself with positive people and recharge after stressful events.
“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” JK Rowling
“Someone I once loved gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” Mary Oliver
“Out of massive suffering emerged the strongest souls; the most massive character are seared with scars.” Khalil Gibran
We have a range of free resources at The Resilient Doctor in our Free Resources section including resilience materials, blogs and toolkits that will help you increase resilience at work (and home). We also provide resilience coaching for doctors, courses, coaching for healthcare leaders and resilience at work programmes. If you’d like more information drop us a line here we’d love to hear from you.