the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
A couple of months ago, I was really starting to feel the weight of remote working, along with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome and was, to be honest, taking work too seriously. In a perpetual cycle of stress, often caused entirely by my own reaction to things. A curt slack message, overthinking and analysing things which were not directed at me, taking things to heart and even some days catastrophising when things weren’t going to plan.
Small things which would normally have washed over me pretty quickly were sticking, I was spending the first-hour post-work off-loading to my partner about all the details of the day. Unable to let go.
I knew, in order to get through the rest of the year in a healthy mental space, I needed to build my personal resilience but I didn’t know where to start. I turned to Twitter to ask for some advice to which Tony Piper responded suggesting we had a chat. It turned out to be one of the most pivotal chats of 2020, of which I’m very grateful to him for.
I want to share some of the key things we chatted about that day, as both a reminder to me but also in the hope that some of this will be helpful to others.
He started the call by asking what the opposite of the word fragility was? Spoiler alert, there isn’t one. Anti-fragile is the closest you get
Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.
Tony asked me “when you think of one of the situations which is causing you ‘stress’ or making you feel uncomfortable or hurt, what do you do?” To which I quickly replied “I retreat”, I run away. By doing that, I’m avoiding the opportunity to become resilient, to build up my ‘immune system’ to that environment.
As a useful comparison, when athletes want to build muscle, they continually push themselves to do slightly heavier weights. Each time they push themselves a bit further the stress creates microtears in the muscle.
“Microtears are what happen after a muscle gets physically worked. Over time, if done correctly, the microtears you sustain from exercise will eventually accumulate to form muscle mass. You have to break muscle down to build it back up stronger.”
This process enables athletes to progressively lift a bit more each time. The muscle tear builds resilience in their muscles. By putting ourselves in situations outside of comfort zone, we’re also building that muscle to the point where the things that used to bother us, don’t even touch us.
He asked me, instead of running away, to think “what is the gift in this situation?” What is it showing me, what is it teaching me, how is it making me grow?
We create our feelings from our thoughts and our feelings show the quality of our thinking. I recently read a book that said “if you thought yourself into it, you can be sure you can think your way out of it” but once you start feeling something, it’s much harder to think your way out of it.
So what should you do?
- Sensory distraction — when you feel you’re becoming triggered, distract yourself, change your position, move around, listen to some loud music, do something mindfully, use your senses, look at something for a couple of minutes with real attentiveness to its detail or touch something and really focus on its texture and how it feels. By doing these things, you’re interrupting the feeling and when your calm you’ll think and act differently than if you had caught the feeling.
- Smile even if you don’t have the answer, it’s amazing how much you can get away with if you smile!
- Set boundaries — I know I’ve definitely been more “on” in terms of Slack, emails etc. Burnout is often a result of not setting good boundaries.
- Feel hurt by something someone has said? Seek out their intention, most of the time, people’s intentions are good even if they haven’t chosen the right way to express what they’ve shared.
- Look for the good in bad news, what is it teaching you?
It’s amazing the impact this conversation had on me, I almost immediately felt lighter and back in control.
I’m now consciously protecting my energy for the things that matter, bringing lightness and humour back into my work and my language. I feel like me again.
I’ve just finished a book called ‘Big Magic’ and these couple of sentences have really summarised this journey I’ve started and will hopefully continue to be my motto for the days ahead
“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness”. Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s taken a while to get there but I’ve realised you can live in both camps, you don’t have to pick one.