How Resilient People Direct Their Energy

A key leadership skill that has been tested time and time again in the corporate world – resilience.

Things will and do go wrong.

You don’t get what you were promised. You get passed over for a promotion. You get demoted. Your once friendly co-worker steam rolls you in a meeting. You screw up with a client. You’re trying to balance all that comes with life and an ever-demanding job. 

When something doesn’t go our way, it’s not always easy to bounce back. It’s easy to beat yourself up, take it out on others, feel disengaged with your job, or have it amplify the stress you were already feeling. 

Even if it’s a minor setback or annoyance, it can feel like one more thing to set you off. 

When something goes wrong, one common barrier to resilience is that people spend a ton of mental energy fighting reality. 

Don’t get hung up on your view of how things “should be” because you will miss out on learning how they really are.

– Ray Dalio

Here’s a common pattern – 

Something happens that doesn’t go our way, annoys us, or we think is wrong.

We don’t like it, so we mentally fight it. In other words, we don’t accept what just happened (i.e., we resist reality).

The negative rachet in our head starts up (either about ourselves or the other person/people).

We focus on everything BUT what we can actually control.

We get upset because our boss checks email on vacation, we don’t like the short deadline we’ve been handed, or how we just got a meeting on our calendar when we finally had some coveted free time. 

We say things like….

They shouldn’t check email on vacation.

This deadline is ridiculous! I’ll never get it done.

I can’t believe they put a meeting on my calendar! I was finally going to have focused time to work on that deadline I’ll never get done.

Instead of accepting and dealing with what has just happened, we go down to negative town and mentally stew on what that other person did. We focus on things we can’t control and get into a negative, victim-oriented mindset. 

The more overworked we are, the more stress we have, and the less sleep we’re getting helps us take the bypass straight to negative town.

Instead of fighting reality, here’s what I suggest – 

When something happens that you don’t like, say to yourself, “OK, that just happened…what are my options?”.

If we accept what has just happened, our options open up and we can focus on what we can control – ourselves. 

Let’s say that your boss sends you an email while on vacation. What are your options?

Option 1 – Mentally stew about it – “They shouldn’t be checking email on vacation. Now, I’m going to feel like I have to check my email on vacation.” Then, make sure to mention it to every co-worker you see as well.

Option 2 – It looks like they are working on vacation….maybe they are having a hard time disconnecting from work. Guess who’s not on vacation – me! So, I’ll do my job and answer the email.

Option 3 – Write back with a passive-aggressive – “Hope your enjoying your vacation!”.

Option 4 – Have a conversation with your boss about it when they get back. Express that it sets the tone that when you’re on vacation, you should too.

There are endless options available to you if you accept reality. It also helps to remember that you can only control yourself!

Mentally stewing about what we can’t control takes up a lot of mental bandwidth and energy you could be using for more important things. Things like reaching your goals, focusing on loved ones, or planning your next vacation.

Luckily, resilience is a skill we can all build. Building resilience will help you adapt well to get past the many, many challenges you’ll face in your career (and life in general).

Two questions to ponder:

What are you mentally resisting?

What or who’s been getting your energy lately?

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