How to develop a resilient mindset in an uncertain world (6 effective tips)

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I am a major proponent of setting goals and working on strategies to achieve them. Basically being my own coach!

I love reflecting and the chance to daydream about my future, where I would like to be, and what I would like to be doing. 

I also love the not so appealing part of coaching yourself, the monitoring of actions to keep you on track.

I even have my own scoring system, very simple and effective! I try to be objective and realistic.

Maybe out of 8 actions in a week I set myself to do, I achieve only 3 or 4 of them.

I try not to berate myself (the inner critic sometimes has a field day though!) just celebrate my small wins and resolve to take more action.

I am very committed and love the structure of goal setting and coaching yourself. I really feel it gives you momentum and a way forward in this roller coaster of a journey called life!

However, like everyone else I have been totally taken out of my world by the pandemic.  Virtually overnight life changed for us all.

What about those goals? Those plans for the future? In light of the terrible stories going on all around us, some of those goals and actions seemed trivial.

Like most people, I have spent a lot of time glued to the news and social media.

Amongst all the chaos, I marvel at the wonderful things people are doing for each other and the sacrifices they are making, of the way people can adapt and make the most of the situation, of the way we care about each other and do the right thing to not endanger lives.

Feeling just that bit more anxious and uncertain made me realize I need to revisit my trusted strategies that have helped me in the past to get through tough times, those inner resources I know are there but fortunately haven’t been needed for a while.

Time to revisit those core values that generally I hope my actions are aligned to.

Time to remind myself of my strengths.

Time also to learn more about that resilience mindset I think is so important to have and deepen my skills in this area!

A book that I read a number of years ago is my first port of call. Secrets of Resilient People by John Lees, a well-known UK career strategist.

This book details 50 different techniques to be strong and bounce back after setbacks.

Here are a few of my favorites which have really resonated with me in these uncertain times.

1. Learn from past bounce-backs

If you are a journal writer this is a great way of going back to a difficult time in your life.

The past is rich territory.

Remembering that you have felt this way before but you have recovered, perhaps gained an insight or reached a turning point and moved on.  

As John Lees states, “the advantage of reviewing things in hindsight is that you look back through the lens of known outcomes. You process the story not from the position of feeling beaten up and without choices as you feel now but knowing how it ended.”  

Look at how you got through the difficult situation, how you sustained your courage and tenacity.

If you can think of when you really began to feel you were getting on top of the situation, think of those strategies that helped you.

As Lees states, “When it comes to rediscovering even the smallest shreds of resilience, your past is a great teacher.

Thinking about past events and turning points enables you to remember not that you succeeded in the past but how you did it.”

2. Don’t listen to 2am voices

We have no doubt all experienced those overwhelming and racing thoughts when we have not been able to sleep in the middle of the night.

The more those voices go around in your head, the more insurmountable problems become.

The what-ifs and fear of what’s around the corner fill your head and can be overwhelming.

Lees states, “Psychologists tell us that the voice speaking to us in the middle of the night is the voice of a child…”

“This idea contains an important truth. You believe you are listening to an adult brain processing events, choices, dilemma, but the noises you are hearing are more about distress and anxiety than they are about real issues….”

“You may think you are weighing up  choices, but your mind has been temporarily hijacked by a tired, hurt child speaking to itself in the darkness, when every problem looks bigger than it is, and the morning seems a long way off.” 

What a relief it is to know that those overwhelming and worrying thoughts and ruminations are really only coming from a vulnerable and frightened child.

3. Stop worrying 

Before I go into the strategies in this chapter, I know your first reaction. If only! I have tried that all my life and not being successful! Bear with me. Lees has some great strategies.

Everyone worries. We are conditioned to worry. 

However, worry is often driven by fear and catastrophizing and thinking worst-case scenarios. 

Worrying about a problem and thinking that problem through are very different processes though.

According to Lees, one school of therapists states that you postpone worry until a time when you deal with it better.

It’s important to recognize triggers and blind spots that take you down the rabbit hole of worrying excessively.

It’s easier to postpone worry than to exclude it from your mind. Make a specific time in the day when you can worry, try to have it when you’re feeling calmer.

It’s amazing how you are more able to think of a solution when you’re not all het up.

If you follow the strategy of postponing your worry and instead nominating a worry time, focus on one issue only.

Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen?  Don’t try to push you’re your anxieties but focus fully on them for a while. 

Psychologists say that giving your worries your full attention for 25-30 mins can cause them to weaken naturally.

This is known as habituation.

In short, your brain gets sick of the anxieties and they lose their power.

When worries become obsessions we often think we can analyze our way out of them. 

Unfortunately, this supports the obsessions and we can get into a loop of thinking around and around in circles.

Lees suggests we need to do something that changes our emotional response.

Writing your fears down can reveal they are irrational and are really a pattern of behavior that has become a habit to you.

Lees states, “Worry unbalances and destabilizes by painting negative pictures as if they are reality.”

“Actions driven by worry are just a cry for help; real prioritizing and planning is about seeing the difference between what you feel and what can be done.

“The best strategies to counteract worry are often ways of tricking your mind to let go, postpone, or sideline worry.”

4. Rethink the way you set goals

I am big on goal setting as mentioned earlier in this article.

Goal setting is about taking control of your circumstances and being aware that you are taking control in some way to improve your life and move in the direction you want to.

As we know It is not just about the goals though it is about the actions you take and that first step is so important as it can galvanize you on a path.

We are often told to set SMART goals. These goals are S specific M measurable A achievable R realistic and T time- bound.

According to Lees, this misses the human dimension though.

What I really like here is that Lees extends this to setting SMARTER goals: the E stands for exciting and the R stands for rewarding.

Of course, we need to be interested or even passionate about what we are doing and we want to reward even if it is just something small we do for ourselves.

Lees states, “Don’t set too many goals because that will pretty much guarantee that none of them turn into reality…

“Rather than simply writing goals down, write down how you are going to move forward step by step. Record your progress and keep writing down descriptions of how life will be improved for you when your goal is achieved.”

5. Deal with imposter syndrome

Many of us have felt this way even despite overwhelming evidence of their competence. According to Lees, this is experienced by many people in senior roles, thinking of their achievements as luck and not due to them.

The revealing thing about Imposter Syndrome is that we believe the staff above us in organizations are immune from it.

They are not, even though it is kept hidden.

The rest of the world may see a confident and competent person but the simultaneous reality where these individuals feel that they are fakes about to be ‘found out’.

Lees states, “It (imposterism) is a rarely discussed vulnerability experienced by people in demanding senior roles.”

“Often these people lack a natural peer group to provide feedback or constructive criticism.”

It is a form of negative self-talk that can be exacerbated by a lack of support and being isolated. 

Lees states, “Own up to it, to yourself and at least one person you trust and then let it go.”

6. Watch out for catastrophic thinking

The fight or flight system where we perceive danger and threat is genetically programmed within us. 

We can jump to conclusions and think automatically of worst-case scenarios.

This is what is meant by catastrophizing. If you are aware that this tends to be your first reaction in all situations, you can try and do the opposite and investigate best-case scenarios.

This more optimistic type of thinking can help you identify solutions and not just focusing on the gravity of the problem.

As Lees states, “Catastrophic thinking needs to be managed, not hidden away or suppressed. If your first reaction is catastrophic thinking, look at it carefully and try to see why it is a habit.

Sometimes these persistent negative thoughts reveal to you that you have fixed beliefs that drive emotional reactions, and cause fear.

“The ultimate test is whether these responses are meaningful, accurate and useful, or whether they are just emotional ‘noise’.

Questioning and changing the underlying beliefs and values which drive them is an important first step.”

6. Bounce Back and Bounce Right

This is the final technique in this book and I think one of the most powerful.

According to Lees, basic resilience is about getting by and putting up with things.

Sometimes, depending on their circumstances, people may have no choice but to do this.

However, looking at current studies today into resilience we can take a much more optimistic insight. 

Lees states resilience is something we can “adopt, shape and grow”.

We can learn from ourselves, become more self-aware and we can also learn from others. 

As we know, what doesn’t really kill you really can make you stronger.

Lee states, “The good news is that bouncing back can, with commitment, imagination and support, be not just recovery of your former shape but growth into a new one.

So here’s to bouncing right – not just restoration but a new beginning”.

I hope these techniques may be of some help to you. Interestingly, even though I have read this book before it has been so refreshing to revisit those strategies.

I even think perhaps I have learnt more from this now. 

These techniques and others in the book seem so pertinent and timely, given the uncertainty and chaos around us at the moment.

As we know from that famous proverb from Buddha “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

Hope you got as much from reading this article as I did from writing it!

Stay safe and take care.

Jeanette Brown

I have been in Education as a teacher, career coach and executive manager over many years.
I'm also an experienced coach who is passionate about supporting people in finding real meaning and purpose in their lives, building a resilient, grounded inner self and achieving their desired goals.

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