How to stay resilient during difficult circumstances

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When things get difficult at work, I find it hard to stay focused, and I find myself enjoying my job less. I walk into the office with a bit less energy and less confidence that I’m doing a brilliant job. How good my day is will then be heavily influenced by what happens. How can I have more control over how I react to what happens at work, particularly the tough stuff?

Not strangers to difficult circumstances, are we? I won’t list the health, political, and economic happenings that we all know could be described as 'difficult' from recent times. The good thing? It builds our resilience. There’ll never be a time without some difficulty in our jobs, industry, and life in general. And sometimes it will be unexpected. So, accepting that and finding ways to be resilient to the proverbial 'ball covered in muck' flying towards you at speed is a good thing to invest time in. So, thanks – this is a brilliant question you’ve asked. And according to People Management only a third of UK employees feel resilient, so you are far from alone.

The power of conscious reactions to difficult circumstances

So, what actually is resilience? It’s 'the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties'. A wise person once said, 'you can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react'. Obvious, simple, forgotten too often. So, when you face difficulty, stop, and think about how you want to react. Be really conscious of your reactions and spend time thinking about this before doing anything. Ask, how do I want to react to this? What advice would I give a friend who was in this situation? What behaviour would I admire in others in this situation? Give yourself time to do this.

So, how do we build capacity to react as we want to?

A brilliant article called 'The making of a corporate athlete' gives some good advice here. It says to be brilliant at our jobs we need capacity across four areas, all of which apply neatly to resilience.

  1. Physical capacity. Eat, sleep, move. When we do these things, we are more resilient to what the day chucks at me. Our most fundamental physical needs are met. A famously effective Snickers campaign tells us this is good advice.
  2. Emotional capacity. Our ability to think positively. Some people are born with a positive mindset, others have to work more at it - and there’s lots of great tips and tricks on how to do this. A gratitude journal, meditation, spending time with a person who makes you feel great. Make these actions part of your day and do them more on tough days. It works.
  3. Mental capacity. Can you be better equipped mentally to deal with what's thrown at you. Are there particular things that you find difficult? Can you learn more about these things so they start to feel less difficult and you have the answers closer to hand?
  4. Spiritual capacity. This one sounds a little less practical. But – this is fundamentally having a clear purpose. Why are you doing what you are doing? It’s easier to be resilient to what’s happening around you if you’re clear on the path you’re travelling down. Clarity on purpose is energising and gives you confidence you are stepping in the right direction. And measuring your success objectively against this purpose will build your confidence that you’re doing a brilliant job.

So, if you make sure you are thinking about your needs on a physical, emotional, mental, and 'spiritual' level, you are creating an environment where you have a higher chance of having the energy and resilience to react in the way you want to

But when things do feel really tough, is it still just about being resilient?

Sometimes the difficult circumstance may not be something that you need to, or should, withstand. In my experience, this industry is full of incredibly competent people who are very capable and can probably withstand quite a lot. But this doesn’t mean we need to be blindly resilient; the solution may be to seek some help in managing the problem, and not suffer in silence if that’s what it feels like.

And it’s worth remembering resilience is just one tool in our armoury…

Whilst resilience is a strong tool in our armoury, it’s not the only one, and we’re all human. We can be brilliantly resilient, and we can also be open and have humility, none at the expense of the other.

The Client Service Couch is a new column from the IPA Client Relationship Group. This question was answered by Louise Hayward, Chief Executive Officer, NOWIf there is a topic you would like us to address anonymously, please email Gabriella Young.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024