How to be resilient in uncertain times?

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Resilience is the ability to recover and adjust easily to misfortune or change. Building this skill is crucial to helping you ‘bounce back’ and ‘get back on the horse’ after suffering from setbacks. Surviving the drastic changes that were brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic tested most of us to limit. However, the future requires us to do more than just survive, we need to be resilient and thrive to remain relevant. Therefore, building your resilience is an important skill to master in order to thrive. This blog takes a sneak peek into the future to understand why we need to be resilient and decodes what it means to be resilient.

What does the future hold?

The impact that the pandemic will have on jobs and careers in estimated to be 10 time worse than the global financial crisis of 2008. Reduced working hours and job losses are the most common consequences and the situation is not expected to improve by well into 2021. So, do not hope and wish for a much different 2021 but rather have a game plan for the kind of year that it is expected to be. That being said, some countries have been impacted worse than others. 

For example, in South Africa , by 29 September 2020, 2.2 million people had lost their jobs and as result, three out of ten people were unemployed. South Africa is not the only country facing such massive job losses, in India 27 million young people lost their jobs in the month of April 2020 alone. On the other hand, the average working hours of Canadians decreased by 22% since the start of the pandemic. That is a 22% decrease in income that most households cannot not afford. Especially if both of the income earners suffer the same fate or in single income earning households.

Who has been impacted the most?

Research shows that the most significant impact has been on the youth and women. More especially in industries such as aviation, tourism, and restaurants where they tend to have high representation. Many countries are attempting to contain the impact of the pandemic. This is achieved through a range of initiatives and investments in order to retain jobs and increase employment rates. However, it will require resilience at an individual level in order to cope and rebound from the given current challenges. Without resilience, we will not be able to find the opportunities and take advantage of them to do more than just survive.

Decoding resilience

Building resilience is achieved by three things, (1) self-knowledge, (2) attitude, and (3) adaptation.

1. Self-Knowledge

Knowing and understanding yourself is fundamental. Quite often, our lack of self-knowledge is usually the cause of problems we encounter in our relationships with others. These can be relationships of a professional, personal, or even romantic nature. It is important to know yourself first before you commit to relationships. With self-knowledge, you empower yourself to know which teams you best function in, what communication style suits you and what kind of leadership style brings out the best in. In addition, our knowledge of self is shaped by our upbringing, the schools we attended, the circle of friends we keep and the people we most admire. 

What is self-knowledge

Although we are influenced by these external things, they do not define who we are.  Also, they are not the only source to determine our self-knowledge. Understanding your own motives and what your character is what builds self-knowledge. Think of character as the mental and moral qualities that define you. Therefore, in decoding self-knowledge, it is identifying your source of the following:

  • motivation,
  • thinking patterns, and
  • standard of behavior when it comes right or wrong principles.
Source of self-knowledge

If your source of inspiration for the above is external,  you need to carefully screen who is speaking into your life.  What is their influence on your motivation, thoughts and behaviour? Is that influence good for where you are and where you want to be in the future. This is extremely important if you have not yet decided the purpose of your life. Else you will find yourself building someone else’s dream. This acceptable if you share in the same dream but a complete waste of time if you aspire for something different. Developing an internal source of motivation is a key discipline to work on. It is where you dig deep when the going gets tough or when you are going against the grain pursuing your passion.

Self-talk

The starting point of building an internal source of motivation is through self-talk. How you see yourself manifests in your self-talk and affects what you believe about yourself. We change and adapt who we are through repeated positive self-talk. Through self-talk you can unlearn bad habits or beliefs that you have formed that no longer serve you in a positive manner. What gets repeated over time becomes a habit and habits become beliefs. While self-talk is a necessary tool to revolutionize your life, it cannot just be empty words, it needs to be effective.

Making self-talk effective

Self-efficacy is the ability to increase your motivation and control your behavior and social environment. This requires you to act on your self-talk so that it is effective. If your self-talk is to one day be rich. Yet every day you wake up and do the same things that you’ve always done that have led to you being broke. It will take more than self-talk alone to get rich. Also, if your self-talk is about being at peace and finding happiness yet you have not let go of toxic relationships. Unfortunately peace and happiness is but an illusion. Self-efficacy is creating a plan and acting on it to help you achieve your self-talk. The more you act your plan the more confidence you gain.  Every time you push through past internally imposed barriers you redefine your new-found capabilities and increase your confidence.

Self-talk and Self-efficacy in practice

I was introduced to the concept of self-talk and self-efficacy by my mother. When I was growing up, probably aged between 8 and 10 years old, I used to stutter quite badly. Now the rules of engagement on the playground are brutal, and it is all about survival. Having a speech impediment made me the laughingstock and the butt of all jokes. I often came home crying after being teased and bullied. My mom would tell me that I must always finish what I have to say and never let the stuttering stop me because what I have to say is always important. She affectionately called me ‘makeketsa’ (one who stutters in Sesotho) joining in on the teasing banter. 

She helped me own the fact that I had a speech impediment and that it is not the end of the world. In addition, she showed me that I needed to push past the impediment to keep my self confidence.  To illustrate her point, she introduced to one of her colleagues who was still stuttering in his adult age to show me that he is normal and confident. By the age 11, I didn’t stutter at all anymore. The key thing is to be encouraged and have the self-belief to act on the self-talk, it is not enough to have people who believe in you. 

Keep guard of your thoughts

We constantly need to remind ourselves of our capacity and capability through positive self-talk and self-efficacy. Take stock of all the thoughts you have in a typical day. How much of your thoughts are focused on positive self-talk? Are all the thoughts yours or are they influenced by other people? Which thoughts hold you back from pushing past your comfort barrier zone and why? It is important to be aware of your thought so that you can eliminate the ones that are harmful to your resilience. If you leave your thoughts unattended, your brain will choose the path of least resistance. This is because our brains are wired to keep us from harm, where harm in this case is potential failure and rejection.

2. Attitude

How is it that some people living in adversity can against all odds picture a different future for themselves and through resilience achieve it? Yet millions  living in the comfort of mediocrity define it as their reality and never picture anything different? My mom was one of two children born in the 1950s during the apartheid era. She was born to a domestic worker and mineworker. They lived in Senekal a small town in the Free State, South Africa. Her mother was sickly and her father, a migrant worker, was never at home. Yet her parents wanted a different future for their children and saved up most of their money to have them attend a boarding school. This resilient sacrifice has had an impact on generations to come. Had my grandparents not been resilient for their children, who knows whether I would have been born and if so, under what circumstances?

Our personal attitude determines how we cope with adversity, whether we bounce back or if we succeed. This affects how resilient we are. Attitude is the way we think and feel about things and overtime we become settled in those ways of thinking. It is a good idea to regularly check and question if those thoughts and feelings that inform our attitude are still valid. We all think differently and are influenced by many external things such as family, friends, mentors, news, and social media. 

Thinking patterns

How we think determines what we see. In a time when the future looks uncertain it is how you think that is is most important.  Your thinking either helps you see opportunities or a picture of gloom and failure. This ability to “see” is what also gives resilience. If your thinking is to always see the negative in things, it limits the potential for your mind to show you all the other possibilities that exist. To access these possibilities, you need to be open minded. Always try to find different alternatives to the negativity that you see. You have the power to unlearn bad thinking patterns. Overtime, I have learned that thoughts and emotions are here to serve us not to enslave us. Take charge them before they hold you hostage! 

Emotions and performance

Similarly, you also have control over your emotions. Our emotions do two things, they lead to good or poor  performance. When you are feeling sad and overwhelmed by whatever adversity you find yourself in, it is difficult  improve your performance and outlook in that current state. I had plenty of times when I was feeling sad and overwhelmed during 2020! What works for me is to first acknowledge the feelings. This is a particularly important step for me because I’m the “there’s-work-to-be-done-no-time-for-weakness” type. Acknowledging these emotions helped me realize that something triggered them. Therefore I need to understand the following;

  • What it the trigger and why does it exist? Is the emotional reaction appropriate for the trigger? Am I the source of the trigger?
  • What can I do about it? Should I ask for help? Is it in my control?
  • What can I do immediately to lift my mood? Sometimes taking a break from work and doing nothing for the rest of day helps. This allows to start afresh and well rested the following day. Building puzzles turned out to be a nice way to escape to a different world for me.(I know I’m weird!). I love ice popsicles and slushies. They make feel like a 5-year-old with all the joy in the world. These always lift my mood no matter what! 
Purpose and attitude

In order to master your attitude and increases your resilience, you have do know your purpose. What is the bigger picture for your life? What are the things you need to achieve to realize that bigger picture? Knowing and defining this for yourself will give you the energy and excitement to master your attitude especially in the face of adversity. Without defining this for yourself, then any road will get you to any destination thereby giving up your control over what happens when, where, and how. It is hard to be resilient when the purpose for your life and career is undefined.

3. Adaptation

For many companies, their ability to withstand changes brought on by the pandemic and still function have been tested. Resilient companies have adapted to the changes and created a new norm for the future. Unfortunately, some have not been able to adapt and have had to close their doors leading to massive job losses and flooding the job market with redundant skills in some cases. It could be that your skills and experience are no longer relevant. This is a sink or swim scenario. You either adapt or you will be without a job and potentially for some people facing poverty. 

Resilient adaptation is future orientated

Adapting is the the “bouncing” back part of being resilient. In adapting, you must consider what the demand for your career looks like in the future. What new skills do you need to remain relevant? This is adapting to thrive. If you don’t consider the impact that the future will have on your career and skills, chances are that your job will be affected again in the future. This is adapting to survive. 

Don’t leave the future and security of your career only in the hands of corporations, trusting that the decisions they make will be in your best interest. History has shown that this is not always the case. Companies adapt and innovate to remain relevant and profitable. The collateral damage in these changes includes loss of jobs and dumping of redundant skills. Now is the time to invest in yourself and the take charge of where your career goes. To be able to adapt and become more resilient you must be in control of the things you can influence.

Be resilient

Being resilient starts with self-knowledge, improving your mental health and adapting your attitude. Building on these skills will help you not only survive but thrive in these uncertain times. The strong thrive because they are resilient. Be part of the few who will use these testing times as a launch pad for something incredible! 

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