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September 24th, 2020

ELEVATE PERSPECTIVE

The Importance of Resilience

By Kyle Keeney, Ph.D., Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Southern Indiana

During crises, it’s important to recognize all factors that go into success and/or failure and what you can do to better prepare yourself for the worst. We all face tough times and life-changing experiences at some point, but when faced with these challenges, how well do you bounce back?

In this article, I will examine resilience – specifically individual resilience and why it is so important to learn and develop.

 

What is resilience and why is the term now gaining so much attention in the startup world?

Resilience refers to two separate but related concepts. First off, resilience can be defined as toughness. It is the ability to weather and recover quickly from setbacks. Secondly, resilience is a matter of elasticity (not necessarily the same as toughness). A stone wall can be tough and weather a storm quite well, but it is unyielding. The stand of birch trees can weather the same storm, but with a different set of tactics, bending in the gales.

It is easy to see how resilience, regardless of which definition you use, can be a valuable trait for entrepreneurs and startup organizations to develop as part of their skillset/toolbox. There are challenges that require being steadfast like the stone wall. Some negotiations require this resilience. Just as often, there are challenges that are better met by absorbing and bouncing back, like the birch trees.

What is it that makes a difference between individuals who are able to adapt and be flexible through these difficult times and those that aren’t?

Research, like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s spectacular book “Antifragile”, has shown us a couple of things. First, there is a genetic trait to all of this. There is certainly an early childhood, “how you were raised” kind of a factor that goes into play; but also, and just as important, there is a great deal of learned behavior. Some common factors come into play with resilient people:

People (and organizations) that are guided by and oriented to optimism are more resilient than those who are not. What we’ve learned from research is that optimistic people tend to weather difficult storms better than others. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has written extensively on this topic. As the old saying goes, “when you have lemons, you make lemonade”. Optimistic people tend to be more resilient because they look for the positive side of things. When you’re faced with difficult situations in the outside world, you actually have two cards you can play. First is because of these difficult times, you’re able to walk back from bad situations that you may be encountering but didn’t have the ability to get away from in a different context. COVID, for instance, gives us the grace and space to make moves that would be difficult to do so in regular times: schooling decisions with our kids, investment decisions as a firm, pivoting a startup business, etc. Second, you have the ability to move forward on new initiatives in ways that you otherwise may have been forbidden to, providing pathways to explore innovative ideas.

Resilience is a direct manifestation of an individual’s moral compass. The landscape inside of us provides us with the kind of map that we need in order to be able to make sense of difficult times. Resilient people have an internal map that allows them to make sense of the uncertainty that’s facing them. Part of this also has to do with a sense of a larger belief system, or a set of beliefs about how the moral compass is pointing.

Finally, there are two other things here that go on. One is something that researchers call cognitive flexibility. That means that when we’re faced with a difficult situation, are we so rigid in our thinking and what it is that we expect in an outcome that it perhaps precludes us from being able to make other choices? And lastly, all of this gets situated in the social context of the uncertainty, meaning that how we’ve positioned ourselves, our family, our immediate environment, and our businesses all feeds into how resilient we feel, and how we’re able to adapt in these kinds of situations.

How to boost resilience?

Whether you feel like you’re naturally resilient or not, everyone can take some time to find ways to build or boost resilience.

One way to boost resilience is to be exposed to stress. While stress is often viewed as a negative thing, in healthy amounts, stress can actually be beneficial. Life can be challenging and it’s important to learn the best ways to cope while responding to stressful situations with action, rather than fear. It will help you adapt and will teach you to thrive allowing you to bounce back, becoming more resilient in the end.

Overall mental and physical wellness is also important to personal resilience. As I mentioned earlier, an optimistic attitude goes a long way when it comes to handling difficult situations. In addition, physical wellness is just as important. Exercise can release endorphins, provide stress relief, and improve your sleep, leading to a healthier mental state of mind.

To further build on your wellness, it’s also important to connect with other positive and resilient people. Building a strong and positive network can give you additional support in both your personal and professional life.

Other ways to boost resilience include working on and building one’s individual moral and spiritual compass. Having that kind of foundation that helps you make sense of the uncertainty that you face in difficult times, and also current skills that we can work on to form this broad patchwork that makes us once again, more or less resilient.

Building resilience won’t make your problems disappear, but it will prepare you to be both tough and flexible when faced with difficulty. 2020 has been an extremely unpredictable year and it’s likely that is going to be the case for a while. As we look forward, it’s important to embrace the challenges that lie ahead and try to be equipped with the skills needed to weather any storm.

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