How to Build Your Personal Resilience

The first episode of the Modern Career podcast focused on staying resilient in challenging times. And what challenging times these are. The Conference Board calls this “The Ultimate Disruption,” and health experts say we may be underestimating how long the disruption will last. One thing is certain: we are in unprecedented unemployment and underemployment, and the road of recovery is still being mapped out.

Our personal resilience is one of the most important factors as we navigate what’s ahead. It’s also one of the most fundamental aspects of a successful work and career journey even in ordinary times. We spend approximately 90,000 hours working over the span of our careers. Over that time, we will experience many high points as well as some real low points. We all hope to have many more highs than lows but, nonetheless, the lows come with the package. Those who navigate most successfully have relied on their personal resilience, especially in the down times, and this in turn strengthened their resilience even more. 

Types of Resilience

We discussed in our first episode how our resilience can be physical, mental or relational: our need to feel secure, safe and healthy (physical), our psychological resilience to adapt and thrive (mental/emotional), and our feeling of connectedness and belonging (relational). The attention to and balance across these factors also matters. Over my work life, I always found making time for the more physical factors easier, and even then, all ten could have used more focus.

There’s a book we call out in Career Pointers, The Resilience Advantage, which highlights how to effectively plan for, navigate successfully and gracefully recover from challenging and stressful events in such a way that we are strengthened by the experience. It suggests a Resilience Advantage is not a bounce back, but a bounce forward.  

As individuals, we can’t afford not to bounce forward. We need to embrace all the tools and techniques to help us deal with challenges at work or home in order to grow through adversity and to thrive.  

We curated the most recommended ways to build and maintain our own resilience:

  1. Routine
  2. Exercise
  3. Nutrition
  4. Sleep
  5. Nature
  6. Breathing and mindfulness
  7. Connectedness
  8. Service to others
  9. Gratitude
  10. Kindness to ourselves

When so much feels less in our control, we still have the ability to improve and leverage these top ten factors, and I challenged myself to do just that.

I took the ten factors and (because I like a bit of analysis) made a simple chart so I could do a little (non-judgmental) self-assessment, knowing that working on all ten may be pretty tough to do all at once. I made a simple 1-7 scale thinking of 7 days in a week, and I was curious to see what I would find.  

Six of my ten factors were in what I call a “green zone,” although only one (sleep) is rated a 7. Three I rated in the middle, which I called yellow – not bad, but could be better.  And one, breathing and mindfulness, was the lowest at 1, as I don’t currently do enough deep breathing or any meditation. To be fair, I have been much more mindful as of late, so perhaps I can soon increase it to be a 2.  

This quick and dirty analysis was a bit of fun and it led me to decide that meditation (Mindfulness) was something I’d really like to try. I’d also like to focus more time and effort on my nutrition. I have used a food log successfully in the past which could really be helpful again, especially when working from home.

Opportunities for Introspection and Connection

Filling out this chart was not only a good time for introspection, but also an opportunity for connection (which is one of the 10.) I sent the chart to a few family members and friends, and we had really good discussions about what we each found. Some had stronger scores in the more physical aspects and a little bit lower on the mental/emotional and some had the reverse.

Many commented that they felt at their best at times in their lives when all of their scores were in the mid to higher range, and that even if some scores were really high with a few lagging, they could really feel how those few pulled down their resiliency.

Overall, it gave us all a little inspiration, exchanging ideas and tips towards setting an action plan to kickstart one or two of the lower rated ones into a higher level and support each other to do it. In the podcast episode, David Giannini mentioned finding someone in your life to help keep you accountable for your exercise goals, whether that’s a coach, a friend, or colleague. Filling out this chart and chatting with others, I found the same applies for each of the resilience factors. Sharing with others not only increases our feelings of connection and belonging, but can also help us stay accountable to our own goals, and support others.

Bouncing Forward

I’d encourage you to think about the ten and in whatever way works for you, and select one or two that you could focus on to give you a big boost to your resilience. I’m working on mine, and I can already feel a positive difference.  I remember a quote from Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky that I think applies:

“It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.  
That’s how winning is done.”  

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