Prosilience #24: Modeling Resilience
How leaders, parents, and others can serve as role models for resilience
If we take seriously the idea that resilience is a verb, and that it’s a collaborative effort, and if we recognize the importance of the environment in shaping the challenges people encounter and the resources they have to address them, we need to take a look at the important role that leaders play in the resilience process.
I use the term “leaders” to describe anyone who is in a position to influence others. This can include people in formal positions of power in organizations, communities, and families, including teachers, parents, and more. It can also include people in informal positions of influence—peers, colleagues, and anyone else who others look to for information, inspiration, and approval.
Leaders can do many things to enable and support resilience, but perhaps the most important is the example they set through their own actions and words. Here are a few thoughts—written for leaders—about the elements of modeling resilience.
The ability to move through challenges begins with the skill of self-regulation, which enables us to manage our emotions, resist impulsive behaviors, and focus on the issues at hand. Your ability to serve as a role model in this area depends on your own ability to recognize when you are disrupted, pay attention to your thoughts and emotions, and act and speak calmly. When you do this, you are accomplishing two things:
First, you are showing people how the process works. This is particularly important when working with children and adolescents, as their self-regulation skills are in a critical phase of development.
Second, you are influencing the unconscious physiological responses of the people around you in a process called co-regulation. Without even being aware of it, being in the presence of another person who is calm can affect our brains and bodies in positive ways.
What are some of the ways you soothe or calm yourself when feeling disrupted? What does it feel like when you are not able to do this effectively and you give in to unhelpful impulses? How do you and the people around you influence one another’s emotional state? What might you do to become even more effective as a role model for self-regulation?
In the Prosilience model, I outline three strategies for addressing a challenge—reframing (viewing it in a more hopeful way), changing the situation, and accepting what is. There are several ways you can influence others in this area:
You demonstrate the skill of reframing when you identify a different way of looking at a situation that opens up new possibilities—telling a different story about what is happening. Business leaders do this when they identify hidden opportunities in potential setbacks or difficulties. Friends do this when they suggest a different way of thinking about a relationship issue or unexpected life event.
You show others how to step up and change a situation when you initiate action on a challenge that is important to you. Business leaders do this when they begin projects designed to create an impact. Friends and family members do this when they start training for an athletic event, get involved in a social or political cause, or speak up in a difficult situation.
You show others how to accept what is when you take steps to adapt to a situation or new reality you don’t particularly like and/or can’t control—trying new responses, adjusting your own way of operating, and managing difficult emotions—without adopting a mindset of blaming or victimization.
You also set a good example when you make choices about picking your battles, thinking about what is inside and outside your sphere of control/influence, and figuring out what to accept and what to change. It’s particularly effective when you articulate the reasons for your choices.
What are some situations you have effectively reframed? How did the new story affect others’ perspectives? Where have you initiated action to change a situation? What are some situations or circumstances you have adjusted to? How effective are you at combining these strategies to move forward in world full of exciting, exhausting, surprising, disappointing, and interesting challenges?
As you move through various types of challenges, you apply a set of “resilience muscles” to help you use your energy effectively. These include:
Positivity—seeing hope and possibility in the midst of ambiguity and adversity
Confidence—recognizing our own efficacy and capabilities to master challenges
Priorities—being clear about what’s most important, and aligning our energy and actions accordingly
Creativity—viewing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending judgment, and tolerating ambiguity
Connection—building relationships with others and drawing on them for support and encouragement
Structure—applying systems and processes to get things done; planning and thinking things through
Experimenting—trying new things; taking some risk and being uncomfortable
There are several ways you can serve as a role model for applying these when addressing issues and solving problems:
When you demonstrate the effective use of one of these muscles, you show others how it can be done. For example, when you identify value in multiple points of view during a discussion or argument, you model the creativity characteristic. When you take time to put a plan together to get something done efficiently, you model the structure muscle.
When you choose the best muscles to apply in a given situation, you help people recognize the range of tools they might draw on in addressing their own challenges. For example, when you reach out for support (connection) rather than trying to do everything yourself (confidence), you help people see that they can bring both of these into their actions. When you combine positivity and experimenting to take a first step in a new direction, you help people envision how to use these muscles together.
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When you recognize the potential for overuse of any of these characteristics and step back from an extreme, you help people recognize the importance of balance and moderation. For example, when you recognize that you are developing “tunnel vision” from focusing too much on one important thing and missing the bigger picture, you reduce your use of the priorities muscle and bring in some of the others.
In what kinds of situations do you think your ability to apply these resilience muscles might be a source of learning and influence for others? Which of the resilience muscles are easiest for you to use? Are there any that you find particularly difficult to draw on? What signs do you look for to tell you that you may be overemphasizing a particular muscle? How do you decide which ones to apply to a particular challenge? How are you working to strengthen your resilience muscles?
The final ingredient in the resilience process is a strong supply of energy—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. As you work your way through your personal “challenge landscape,” your energy ebbs and flows. When the demands of multiple challenges exceed the energy you have available, you may begin to experience lower levels of effectiveness and well-being. You can serve as a role model for sustainable energy patterns in several ways:
When you recognize that your energy is being depleted and take steps to replenish it, you help people see the importance of self-care. Leaders do this when they intentionally make time for vacation and relaxation, setting a good example for others in the organization. Making time for a nap, seeking out a listening ear from a friend, allowing some mental down time, and watching movies that uplift the spirit are all forms of energy replenishment.
Identifying ways your energy is being unnecessarily drained and taking action to protect it is a second element in managing energy. When you break off a relationship that is exhausting you, set a personal boundary to protect your time and space, cut down on unhealthy foods, or find a work space that reduces distracting noise, you demonstrate effective energy protection.
Intentionally taking action to build your energy is a third way you can model effective energy management. Whether you are strengthening your physical energy, stretching your mind in new ways, expanding your emotional self-awareness, or seeking a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, you are increasing the supply of energy you can use to meet new challenges.
Who are your “energy sustainability” role models? What practices have you learned from others that help you build and maintain a strong supply of energy? In what ways are your own energy-management strategies a positive example for others? Are there additional things you’d like to do to build, protect, and replenish your energy?
If others see you as a person worth following, they will pay particularly close attention to how you manage the challenges you face—both the unexpected and difficult ones that arise and those you deliberately take on. Your words and actions in these circumstances carry far more weight than any of the more “formal” efforts you might make to create a resilience-enhancing environment. I’ll talk about these in more detail in future posts. In the meantime, whether you like it or not, you are a role model!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of the Prosilience newsletter! See you in a couple of weeks for the next installment.