Mental resilience describes our ability to adapt and function in the face of adversity, stress and trauma. Resilient people are better able to cope with adverse events and changing circumstances, and resilient workers are less prone to sickness absence, presenteeism and staff turnover.
Research commonly estimates that 50% of our resilience is down to genetics and 10% down to environment. That leaves 40% that is within our control. This gives us significant scope to enjoy the benefits of increased resilience.
There are a number of factors that we know are important to increasing psychological resilience; for example, positive thinking, active coping strategies and mental flexibility. In this blog I am reflecting on the theory I have learnt as a work psychologist and my own experience as someone managing a chronic health condition, to identify the key components to staying psychologically resilient and managing stress. Things that we can all benefit from, and things that not only make us more resilient but can make our working lives more productive.
So, today it is the art of acceptance and letting go. Acceptance isn’t a weakness. It isn’t about denial, avoidance, apathy or passivity. It is part of an active coping style that enables you to positively choose where you place your energy and your focus.
On of the mantras of WorkGuru is that we can not always control or change a situation that we are in but we can change the way that we think about it and respond to it.
Our evidence-based resilience-building programme contains a number of exercises aimed at showing you how.
Control, Influence, Accept Model of Stress Reduction
The first is our module on the Control, Influence, and Acceptance (CIA) model of stress reduction. This really simple, but effective approach invites us to recognise which categories our problems or difficulties fall under; which difficulties we can control, which we can influence, and which would benefit from us learning to accept and letting go.
The only thing that we can truly control is our decisions and ourselves. There are many situations and people that we don’t have direct control over but we can influence them. And then there are the things that we cannot control and we cannot influence – but we can begin to accept them and stop wasting our time worrying and complaining about them. These are the things that we need to learn how to let go of. If we can’t change it, if we can’t control it, if we can’t influence it then by continually thinking and worrying about it we squander our energy and our other resources instead of focusing them where they would achieve most benefit.
The second exercise on acceptance and letting go is our module on Mindfulness meditation. It is estimated that the average person has 70,000 thoughts flick through their mind each day. Try it for yourself. Sit somewhere comfortable for just 3 minutes, close your eyes and focus on your breath, as your mind begins to drift, make a mental note of where it has gone and then gently but firmly focus your attention back onto your breath. Our mind is a wilful beast; it flits from one thought to another. Mindfulness teaches us to see our thoughts for what they are – just thoughts: not reality, not something we have to act on, not something that defines us – just thoughts. It helps us to learn how to let those thoughts go, a bit like letting go of a balloon, or busting a soap bubble. Mindfulness helps us to learn how to observe our thoughts as they flit into our minds one after the other, to see them for what they are – just thoughts, and to let them go.
The third relevant WorkGuru module is on thinking styles. Results published from the UK’s biggest ever online stress survey shows that thinking styles (specifically rumination and self-blame) are powerful determinants in predicting the level of anxiety or depression a person might experience.
We all develop habitual thinking styles. These are ways of thinking that have become automatic and are often not very helpful. For example we may have a tendency to generalise (“This always happens”. “You always do that”), to jump to conclusions or mind read (“Well I know exactly what is going to happen now”. “What you really mean is that you don’t like what I am doing”), or catastrophise (“Well this is appalling, how could it possibly get any worse”. “This is the end of my career; I will never recover from this”). By recognising our thinking styles we can spot our less than helpful thoughts for what they are, and let them go, replacing them with more realistic, helpful thoughts.
Obviously, being the founder of WorkGuru, I have absorbed and enacted all the excellent advice that we provide – and you would never catch me obsessing and worrying over inconsequential things that I have no control or influence over. If only life was that simple. I did get caught recently whilst I was walking my dog and sobbing for 30 minutes as my mind ruminated over and became obsessed with a thought that hadn’t happened and wasn’t based on reality. After the full 30 minutes I managed to pull myself away from the obsessive thought, see it for what it was – just a thought not reality, and let it go moving on to focus on enjoying the walk and being in the moment.
Acceptance and letting go are coping strategies that we could all benefit from to help us build our psychological resilience and better manage our stress. In the wise words of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
This blog was first published on the Symposium-events website in November 2013