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Resilience: How to Bounce Back without Bouncing Too Far

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Resilience has come under more and more scientific scrutiny as both allowing people to bounce back from adversity and yet, when extreme, leading them to persist in behaviors that have no benefit (what some researchers have called the “Too Much of a Good Thing Effect” or TMGT). Like an old-fashioned Weeble, you demonstrate resilience when you pop up again and again; but you also have to know when to quit.

To find the right balance between bouncing back and bouncing too far, you need to adjust when your resistance is low and recognize when high resilience is leading you astray.

How to Protect Your Resilience

Your level of resilience may differ considerably from someone else’s for any number of reasons, possibly including genetic; comparisons are counter-productive. Instead, protect the resilience you have.

The following steps are most useful in restoring your resilience:

Encourage the positive. In the midst of problems that overwhelm you, finding the positive may be difficult. But optimism is a response you can cultivate. By looking back on and perhaps keeping a journal of past problems, you recall both your ability to overcome them and the unexpected good that resulted from them. When the next crisis arrives, you have a more positive, growth mindset to fall back upon.

Strengthen your social ties. You will gain support and normalize your experience by sharing it with others. You will gain insights that, with your resilience plummeting, might otherwise escape you. Relying on others, whether coworkers or family or friends, increases and maintains resilience.

Build-in time for yourself. When you schedule your day, deliberately carve out 10-minute breaks between duties, make meetings shorter than a full half-hour or full hour, get up from your desk and walk, and delay family chores until everyone can pitch in to help. No matter how jammed-pack your schedule is, you must create moments for yourself or you will rapidly lose resilience.

TIP: Strong social ties are one of the best ways to maintain resilience. Quantity is less important than quality; everyone needs someone who will listen to them.

How to Bounce Back

Low resilience may be characterized by one or more of the following: stress, a loss of hope that might evolve into destructive thoughts, lack of stamina that may engender physical illness, anger, trouble sleeping, and risky behavior. Your emotions are closer to the surface and your ability to take next steps is compromised. Self-care, like that provided by SMaRT techniques, is important for bouncing back; however, you may need professional counseling and help if the symptoms become too overwhelming or last for weeks and months.

The following steps are most useful in restoring your resilience:

Stop before your use up all your reserves. You may need a vacation, a walk around the block, a chance to relax with friends and family, or a consult with a professional. When you feel your resilience fading, step away from the challenge long enough to refuel; battling through will only deplete you further.

Act. Taking one small step to face your problem or overcome an obstacle fuels your resilience and often breaks the log-jam of negative thought and stress. That step may not solve your problem—it may even be a “fake it until you make it” band-aid—but it will give you hope: there is something you can do.

Introduce ritual. Ritual is one way to increase grit, the ability to stick to a goal and a major component of resiliency. Growing your grit is easiest if you practice with small rituals—lingering over a cup of coffee as you read the morning paper, ending each day with a short meditation, declaring one night a week movie night, complete with popcorn. Ritual grounds you and alleviates the pressure you are feeling from the challenges you face. Ritual also ignites your ability to act, to take that one small step forward.

TIP: When you feel your resiliency slipping, reach out for help. With low resilience, you may be overcome with a sense of helplessness that prevents you from taking any action on your own behalf.

How to Avoid the Over-Bounce

As important as it is to have grit, it can become a drawback when the goal you stick to is unrealistic and drains your resilience in attempts to succeed nonetheless. When you define resilience as never giving up, when bouncing back becomes an over-bounce, you court burnout, resulting in low self-esteem and a sense of failure.

When you are always striving to meet your goal, you compromise your objectivity. You tend to resent advice from other people indicating that the goal or the risk involved is untenable. You push your team too hard so that instead of building the team’s effectiveness you undermine it with impossible expectations.

The following steps are most useful in keeping your over-bounce in check:

Take a break. An Ernst & Young study found that performance increased 8 percent with 10 days that an employee took in vacation time; every 40 hours increased an employee’s stay at the company by 8 months. Yet, employees regularly skimp on vacation because, ironically, they want to show dedication. Taking a break from a goal may be the best thing for your sanity and your career.

Watch out for minor issues. You may constantly brush aside minor issues because they don’t affect your overall goal or you feel you don’t have time to deal with them. But those minor issues are the ones that grow into crises when you are busy elsewhere. You may also self-talk yourself into believing that your resiliency is endless despite warning signs (irritability, lack of sleep, poor nutrition) and they come crashing down.

Accept help. From risk analysis and management to finding ways to relax, you benefit from social support. You will usually find better and faster solutions and make better decisions if you allow others to participate, if only because they offer a different viewpoint.

TIP: By breaking your focus on your objective, you widen your vision until you can accurately assess your tactics in reaching your goal, the worth of the goal, the effect on other people, and the effect on your own well-being.

Key Takeaways

Resilience—the ability to stick to a goal—is a much admired characteristic but it becomes a drawback when it interferes with the ability to wind down, re-evaluate, and ask for help. You are better able to restore resiliency during a challenging time and keep yourself in balance if you practice thinking positively, take good care of yourself, keep an eye out for minor issues, and stop before you are completely depleted.

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