Developing Resilience to Adversity and Stress


It would not be overly dramatic to say that times like these make unprecedented demands on individuals. Read the Financial Times and every week there are tragic consequences reported e.g. "(former) multibillionaire has committed suicide".

Thousands more have joined the ranks of the unemployed from household named employers. Whilst many more, still in jobs, are struggling with motivation and living in quiet desperation wondering how they will weather the economic storm,
organisational demands and challenges they are facing.

Perhaps because we have all lived through an unusually long period of prosperity, and ‘normal life' is generally busier and more challenging than 30 or 40 years ago, many people appear to be struggling to find the attitudes and fortitude that sustained previous generations through world wars, depressions, rationing and the like. What was that quality which seems to be lacking at present in many people? It is resilience, which is an ability to bounce back after a setback, to maintain a constructive outlook in the face of adversity, to be creative and adapt to changing circumstances and to continue to function at or near to our best despite difficulties or indeed tragedies. From a leadership perspective resilience is also that essential ability to stay calm under pressure or in a crisis. This calm is required to motivate colleagues and assist them to maintain the clarity and creativity needed to identify and implement solutions for the problems which are presented. Resilience is an ability to recover from setbacks, or indeed to be immune from environmental difficulties - to rise above one's circumstances.

Human beings appear naturally resilient at certain times and to differing degrees. We have found that all human beings have a capacity of immense innate resilience that can be accessed, and that has led us to develop the ‘Essentials for Resilience Workshop' ©. This workshop provides the keys to access this natural resilience we all have. It utilises a simple, proven understanding which enables people to resist the lure of stress, rather than applying techniques to merely cope with stress, allowing them to remain undaunted by events and therefore use their energies in a positive way to meet challenges rather than undermining their own well-being. It does not involve complicated processes, and the understanding upon which it is based is deceptively simple, but no less effective for its simplicity. The workshop has been born out of our own results working with leaders, teams and businesses over the last 8 years developing their capacity to produce sustainable peak performance and improved results with less, time, effort and stress. However the approach has been applied in broader public sector environments to facilitate positive organic change for over 30 years.

Resilience is especially important in a redundancy climate

It is particularly important to be resilient when faced with redundancy or as one of the ‘lucky ones' left behind after a restructuring, (and often struggling with low morale and performance issues) to repel the ravages of stress and assist the shift to acceptance and full engagement with the new ‘reality'. Upon joining the ranks of the unemployed it takes energy and a good attitude to get out and begin the process of looking for a new job or deciding to start one's own business. This is a time when one has to be at one's best in order to "market" oneself to a prospective employer, and so it is crucial to feel confident and have access to one's inner calm when meeting other people. Otherwise, any negative attitude or anxiety that is felt will be communicated and ironically it is just that anxiety and low mood that can interfere with a new start.

Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you. - Aldous Huxley

Developed from personal experience...

The Workshop grew out of a potentially difficult personal experience, when I was made redundant from what I considered to be my dream job. Despite living through a difficult financial situation post redundancy, I noticed that I was reacting differently than I expected. I seemed to be almost impervious to the emotional rollercoaster ride that can often accompany the loss of a job, income and often, selfesteem. As I pondered this, it became clear to me that it had to do with the way I was thinking about these potentially upsetting situations. My state of mind allowed me to quickly accept the situation and focus on the present and moving forward, rather than dwell on the past. I did not have to ‘force' myself to ‘be positive' or ‘look on the bright side'; it's just that I was not dwelling on the negative, insecure thoughts that naturally came up from time to time. Previously such thoughts would have had me almost going into an anxiety attack worrying about not having any work on the horizon. So I wondered what had changed with how I was thinking?


I realised that my work with the company which had made me redundant exposed me in a limited way to a simple understanding of how our mind works and its link to explaining human experience, our behaviour and outcomes, based upon 3 principles. Although I had not had any formal training with the principles, I had heard others talk about them and had read a couple of related books. In fact, as I reflected upon this I realised that what limited knowledge I had of these principles seemed to have change  the way I dealt with what otherwise would have been "stressful situations" such as sudden changes of plans/schedules, long flight delays, unexpected, unfair and unwanted events in many arenas from work, home or even on the golf course. I also could see how previously on occasions I had ‘naturally' and unconsciously dealt with challenging circumstances with calm, unstressed resolve and these experiences dovetailed with what I now understood and knew how to do consciously. So this understanding provided the explanation and guidance of how to do something we occasionally are able to do spontaneously, only now more consistently and by choice.

I decided I wanted to know more about this understanding, and sought out the leading exponents around the world. The training I received from them led me in 2000 to do research into the approach for my MSc. dissertation research project. I shared these principles with people going through unwanted redundancy - with dramatically positive results in reduced stress and increased wellbeing and creativity.

Business benefits...

Over the years I have deepened my understanding and evolved a coaching and performance development practice assisting people in various situations to develop this same resilience and calmness which I experience. Typically, this is incorporated as the foundation of my corporate transformation work, developing insightful leaders, high performing teams and with executive coaching clients. One example of its application involved a General Counsel and her corporate legal team managing the changes and challenges of a HQ move from one country to another, losing more than half the HQ part of the team and rebuilding the new team while continuing to churn out the work required of a busy legal department. All through this protracted process they were able to maintain their focus and levels and quality of work, despite all the surrounding disruption and upset. With another client, the approach was the bedrock for enabling two new European leadership teams to learn how to understand and work together rapidly in order to triple their profit delivery objectives prior to an IPO. More generally, clients typically report they are able to handle more pressure or larger work loads or deliver results more quickly but in a sustainable way, that is, with less stress and less effort. Coaching clients find they are now more creative and focused, less pressured and leave work with more energy available to give at home to their families and friends.

So what are these Principles and what is it about this understanding that has helped me and subsequently others to navigate life's' ups and downs with relative equanimity? Why is it possible to say with confidence that ‘There is no such thing as a stressful situation" or at least inherently stressful, only how we think and react to things that happen around us? How can we stay healthy and grounded in the midst of "difficult times"?

The Three Principles...

Are a universal way of describing, guiding and providing a framework of how we as human beings create our own unique experience from the inside - out, whereas most people live in constant reaction to the outside world. The Principles are and describe the dynamic interplay between A, our Mind and the state of mind we are in, B, Thought and the ‘process of thought' as the power and moment to moment creator of our experience and C, our Consciousness or awareness and skill of navigating our state of mind and process of thought. The Principles provide an understanding and compass for navigating our experience through the interaction between our mind, thoughts, feelings and body. They provide us with our own personal ‘instrumentation dashboard and mirrors' for performing more consistently at our best and making the most appropriate adjustments, depending on the ‘conditions' we find ourselves in. They put us more in the driving seat of our own experience rather than living in reaction to what is happening around us. In 1-2-1 coaching sessions or workshops participants need to go beyond an intellectual understanding of the Principles, to actually experiencing the how their life feels different and their experience is more in their hands. Then, through developing their understanding, awareness and skills they bring these attributes to their daily lives, with the improved experience and results they get.

Many different schools of psychology and personal development point out that what makes a situation stressful is our thinking and recognise that people react differently to the same stimuli. But they are unable to provide a simple and dynamic framework of how and why this happens and how we can simply change our experience. Yes there are crises and genuinely distressing events. However, it is now possible to help anyone see that it is how we are thinking which determines our internal feelings, perception and reactions or experience of events, whether we are calm or anxious, stressed or focused for example. With clients we demonstrate how the quality of our experience is determined solely by the person experiencing it, moment by moment, rather than by some external situation or occurrence. People typically don't realise this because life doesn't look as if it works this way and believe that things are happening to us, rather than realising that our thoughts are what trigger our experience. I believe our speeded up life has contribute to our problems by speeding up the normal and idling speed of our minds. This has had the effect of getting people trapped and blind to their mental ‘high revs' and making it harder to disengage from intellectual and reactive thinking. This has the effect of making it more likely to experience life more stressfully and block access to our natural resilience.

Once we realise that we are creating our own reality each and every moment through our process of thought we start to be aware of more choices. We can learn to be more aware of negative or unhelpful (e.g. unproductive time wasteful) thoughts and how to clear our mind by bringing our attention back to what we can and need to do in the very next moment. We have choices about what we continue to think, and how these thoughts influence our emotions and our perception of ‘reality'. This in turn influences our behaviour and the consequences of our actions. Once a thought has been removed from our mind it has no influence on how we feel or how we are perceiving ‘reality'. In contrast to other approaches which tend to focus on the specific content of our ‘dysfunctional' thinking such as limiting beliefs, this approach addresses the ‘process of thought', or how we think and use our thinking. We don't need to dredge up these old and ineffective thinking patterns or experiences; the process is explored off-line (so it is less threatening, especially in the workplace). They then have their own insights into the workings of their experiences through the Principles in a way and timing that is relevant to them - so again the process does not ‘force' people to confront things they are not ready for or at a pace that is too quick for them.

The way most of us ‘learn' to think is to use only our intellect and be led by whatever thought comes into our heads at any time. Often our ineffective thinking habits are in control. Our intellect is a powerful tool but it can be a block to our creativity, connection with others and performing at our best. However, by gaining greater understanding and awareness of different types of thought and the process of our thinking we become more the masters of our thoughts and are liberated from their control. We learn to access our peak performance or flow state of mind when we need to find some new solutions and relief from stress.

By becoming more conscious and skilled in the way we think we learn to develop greater access to innate capacities we all have - resilience, calmness under pressure, performing at our best, creativity and contentment - which naturally surface when we quiet our mind. Similar results can sometimes be achieved by relaxation or meditation; however this is still only temporary relief of symptoms and still requires sustained effort and commitment of time, often difficult in this "attention deficit" driven world.

This recognition of the role that thought plays in our lives and greater on-going awareness naturally leads us to being more fully present in the moment which is a natural source of inner peace. We experience less stress, because we disconnect from the whirlwind of thinking going on in our heads. We are better able to notice unhelpful thinking even ‘thought attacks' and learn to ‘let them go' out of our mind and as such they cannot then have any effect on us. Furthermore, our natural wisdom and creativity also surface. We have fewer conflicts with people as we come to see the same process at work in their minds. As we learn to reduce our mental distractions, we learn to stay more focused on our work at hand or our relationships and we create more time and space in our lives for joy to enter. We have eliminated much of the "mental ‘spam' which previously cluttered up our mind without actually contributing anything and which may have kept us in a perpetual state of insecurity and anxiety.

So, let us remember where we started. Typically as we grow up we are taught how to think but not how to understand or use our mind. As we become more aware, skilled and disciplined with our process of thought and mind we can access a more effective and tranquil way of being in the world. With a quieter mind we are also no longer bombarding our physical selves with adrenaline and other stimuli from the bodies stress response and we are creating the conditions required for better physical, mental and emotional health as well. So our moderated reactions to adversity and pressure do less damage to our bodies. We can access greater creativity, be more consistently at our best and have more energy to pursue new opportunities.

‘The intellect is a wonderful servant and the intuitive, creative mind a divine gift. Unfortunately, we have created a society which has learned to honour the servant and has forgotten the gift.' - Albert Einstein

The truly exciting part is that all of this is within everyone's reach NOW. Anyone can learn to access this wisdom and serenity and it is not complicated. It doesn't take a huge amount of practice. It only takes openness to the ideas and a willingness to take responsibility for one's life experience from moment to moment. A responsibility which we have whether we are aware of it or not, and which we can choose to exercise for our own good or not. Join us for a short, but enjoyable journey to develop your natural resilience and improve your results and peace of mind.

Email: [email protected]


Copyright Xcell Dynamics Ltd.© 2010


Steve Sharpley is a high performance individual, team and leadership development specialist. He is also a professional speaker and author of "Success Is a Mind Game: how to improve consistency and results in golf and business".

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