How To Be Resilient And Bounce Back When Things Go Wrong.

Resilient, mentally tough brain

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When you are hurt or criticised, do you become so overwhelmed emotionally, that you cannot let go of it for days, weeks and even months? In other words, you don’t bounce back from adversity very easily?

Are you one of those people who whenever anything gets too hard, you have a conversation with yourself and rationalise why you can avoid dealing with it?

In other words, do you just plain give up when the going gets tough, even when it is something important to you?

Or are you the person who mulls over things and just cannot let them go? Do you talk over and over about it to anyone and everyone who will listen?

Are you aware how dis-empowering and draining that is?

It doesn’t have to be that way, You can learn to be resilient.

I recently wrote an article for LinkedIn Pulse following the Australian Open Tennis Men’s Final between Federer and Nadal. They epitomised resilience.

As I watched these two champions play, it wasn’t just their extraordinary talent that I was soaking up. It was their mental toughness that amazed me. While Federer got all the kudos and air play because he won, Nadal went side by side with him to the last ball. They are two extraordinary men from whom we can learn much.

About 4-5 months ago both of these could play nowhere near their potential. Nadal had opened his tennis academy and Federer went to support him. As one sports writer, Tom Fordyce, said: “Both were injured, reduced to hitting sponge balls with kids, old warriors turned battle-damaged friends. They wore suits and looked ready for slippers.”

Federer hadn’t won a major title since 2012 and hadn’t even played in a major tournament in more than 6 months and came in seeded at number 17. Nadal, seeded 9th, hadn’t got past a quarter final in a major tournament in 31 months. Yet here they were competing against one another in a grand slam final, what has been hailed as one of the greatest games in tennis history. They both displayed enormous resilience to come from where they were in that final.

Resilience – A Most Important Soft Skill For Leadership

Resilience is now seen as one of the most important soft skills for leadership. If you are a leader today, or aspire to be one, then learning to be resilient will equip you well to manage the change, uncertainty, unpredictability and ambiguity of this new economy in which we are now working and living.

Resilience is the psychological inner strength, the mental toughness, we bring to the events and experiences of our life. It is what helps us bounce back from every adversity to move forward again to achieve the goals we have set for our professional and personal life.

It is not one quality we possess, but rather a set of behaviours, thought processes, attitudes and a mindset that we develop and enhance as we move through, and constructively manage, every setback we face in our life. It is characterised by adaptability to change, an ability to problem solve, a growth mindset, emotional regulation, a belief in our own coping abilities and an accompanying persistence and commitment to achieve our goals in spite of obstacles in our way.

Federer and Nadal were neither victims nor survivors of the adversity they had experienced, but rather men who identified what had happened to them in the lead up to the final as challenges to be faced, ones they knew they had the resources and strength to meet. And meet them they did in an extraordinary display of commitment and persistence.

The biggest threat to our success
is not the adverse event or situation
but how we respond to it and manage it.

The importance of developing and enhancing the skills to respond constructively and pro-actively to adverse events, to be resilient,  cannot be over-estimated. The biggest threat to our success is not the adverse event or situation but how we respond to it and manage it. Do we pro-actively rise to the challenge or do we reactively contract and regress in the face of it?

Resilience is developed and enhanced through the “training” of our emotional and psychological selves. In fact the people who do this most effectively are our elite athletes and Federer and Nadal showed us that in the final. It is not just their innate talent that brings them success, but their mental toughness that sees them, over long periods of time in their careers, commit, persevere and push through every barrier to reach their goal. Federer, in particular, did that in extraordinary style. As leaders and aspiring leaders we have to do the same.

Some of those barriers we have to push through are within ourselves and developing a resilient mindset, a mindset characterised by mental toughness, is always the first barrier to work through. We saw great tennis players in that same tournament who did not have that mental toughness, showed little capacity to be resilient and whose history to now seems to suggest that they don’t understand its importance to their success. They reacted poorly when things did not go their way. They disappeared very quickly from the game.

As I have already stressed, resilience is not something that can be learned theoretically in a training course or by following particular strategies meticulously over a few days or a week no matter how committed you are. It can only be learned in practice, by facing setbacks and obstacles and working through them. The old adage – Practice makes perfect – is never more true than in learning to be resilient. Resilience means you cannot go around a problem or adverse experience, avoid it or deny its existence. You have to work through it.

Federer and Nadal are veterans of the game and have worked at learning how to be resilient in long professional tennis careers. They have mastered mental toughness, in game after game, to always come back up as this final showed the other night – and they did it with graciousness and deep appreciation of one another! As leaders and aspiring leaders, we can learn much from them.

A version of this blog first appeared in LinkedIn Pulse on January 30, 2017.

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