May 2021 Leader Letter

Ready on Resilience!

Leadership and psychology experts offer work/life techniques practiced by people who adapt well.

By Renée Covino

How resilient are you? Leaders who carry resilience with them can handle any scenario they find themselves in, including that of a global pandemic and its aftermath. Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well—and swiftly—in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, all of which have been abundant in these times of uncertainty. While it often helps to cope with negative forces by acknowledging and talking through them, it is also beneficial to view the positive side of a bad situation and to learn how to practice self-care and gratitude during the worst of times, according to psychology and leadership experts speaking at the recent collaborative webinar, “Resilience in Times of Uncertainty: A Conversation with Toastmasters and the American Psychological Association.

Are you a leader who would like to be more resilient and guide those who look up to you to do the same? Consider some ideas and strategies discussed by the esteemed moderator and panelists:

Begin your day with conscious purpose, conscious gratitude. Upon waking, “I try to direct my activities towards those I have control over,” stated Lisa M. Brown, Ph.D., ABPP (American Board of Professional Psychology), professor, university program director, adjunct clinical professor, and researcher. “When I wake up, I take a deep, cleansing breath and am honored I get to live another day,” said Pat Johnson, keynote speaker, educator, mentor coach, and Past International President of Toastmasters International. Mana K. Ali Carter, Ph.D., psychologist, adjunct professor, assistant professor, and researcher, also takes a deep breath and tries to cultivate some self-compassion, recognizing “there’s no blueprint for how to be the best me, it ebbs and flows throughout the day.” She also aims to be “present and grateful,” with “no strings attached.”
The practice of gratitude simply starts with the idea that every day, every minute is a choice, according to Charles S. Gates, entrepreneur, coach, trainer, emcee, and transformational speaker. “You can choose it to be a good day or a bad day,” he said. Paraphrasing a quote by Abraham Lincoln, Moderator Dilip Abayasekara, Ph.D., AS (Accredited Speaker), professional speaker, trainer, and consultant, said that each day, “we can be as happy as we make up our minds to be.”

Consider the “three trees” view of resilience, decide which one you are, and realize you can fluctuate among them, offered Brown. A palm tree goes with the wind and bounces back; a redwood tree does not move and is very stable; and a cypress tree changes shape when the wind blows, loses some branches, and is re-sculpted over the course of time. With no judgement involved, recognize that by adulthood when personalities are shaped, “we are all predisposed to lean toward one tree” model of resilience “and the one that’s right for you is the one you’re doing,” she said. But also, in the case of a “marathon” stress like the pandemic, take note that many of us probably started out as a palm tree, then perhaps adjusted to a different tree, Brown added.

Build ties and seek out group support, recommended Johnson. She highlighted the way that Toastmasters clubs around the globe quickly reacted to the pandemic, re-routing to the online aspect of networking/connecting, which she realized exemplifies the “cypress tree” model of resilience. It’s about “finding that connection when you get into a community where you have similar interests and many personalities, when you have that commonality to support one another’s highest and best [selves].” When you attach yourself to an environment like that, “its difficult not to be raised up,” Johnson stated.
The takeaway is that a support system of many kinds “can enable people to be resilient,” summed up Abayasekara.

Learn to think about a situation (or your mood) in a non-dichotomous way, advised Ali Carter. Steer away from a “good or bad” analysis. Simply put, “you can be angry and still be resilient,” she said. People who adapt well are often authentic, yet hold themselves responsible for turning things around in whatever system they are involved in. They don’t see an outcome as being all good or all bad.

Get to (really) know the people around you, suggested Gates. “In your neighborhood or your circle of influence, reach out and touch people, get to know them more than ever before,” he said. The idea is that human connection helps people to bounce back. “It will benefit you as much as the person you reach out to,” added Brown

Be deliberate about self-care, which includes physical, cognitive, psychological, and spiritual health, according to Ali Carter. “It never feels convenient or easy…you just have to do it,” she said, adding that because “you’re the expert on you, only you know what works best for you.” Brown compared self-care to fueling and maintaining a car. It sometimes comes down to the basics—a good sleep schedule, eating right, exercising, etc. “The challenge is because these things seem so basic, we often don’t make time for them,” she said. “When in doubt, put it on your calendar; the likelihood of doing it goes up tenfold.”
People (and leaders) who don’t care for themselves, can’t care for others, concluded Abayasekara.

Additional Resources:

Building Your Resilience

Staying Connected While Apart

How Volunteering Improves Your Health

COVID-19 Stress Management Tools