Why “Inner” Resilience Is Key To Thriving In A Crisis
Inner Resilience Is Not The Stress Response
We are all familiar with the term resilience. But it’s much misunderstood. At best it is used as a strategy for gritting our teeth and waiting it out when times are tough. At worst, it is weaponised against those struggling to cope with very real and significant uncertainty, shock, loss of a job income or business; something many are experiencing in this pandemic.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences in America in July 2020 on the impact of covid on the expectations and outcomes of business owners revealed:
- high levels of emotional and mental fragility
- wide ranging negative expectations and expectations of the worst happening
- many business owners were waiting for, or relying on, external help from the government to solve their problems.
But no-one is talking about the devastating mental and emotional effects rippling through our lives and workplaces.
Businesses are powered by people. When people are feeling fragile and in shock they are not operating at their highest power or potential.
The biggest lessons we are all learning right now in the global pandemic are:
- life never goes the way we want it to go
- there is no normal no certainty no stability to cling to
- all bets are off !
There are any number of leadership resilience programs out there offering to teach you how to be better equipped for overcoming challenges or a crisis. These programs will teach you how to: create a crisis action plan for your business; use tools and systems to optimise your output; analyse your product or service offering or chain of supply; review your emotional resilience even.
They teach how to rely on something outside of you to help you survive a crisis. What they won’t do is train you how to ‘thrive’ in a crisis.
Business and personal success during a pandemic or any crisis can only come from cultivating inner resilience. When this is mastered, we can weather any storm when it comes and come out on top!
The 3 Key Stand Outs of Inner Resilience
Inner resilience differs from external resilience in three distinct ways:
- external resilience looks to changing our external environment or circumstances; inner resilience looks to evolving ourself to get a better outcome
- external resilience is surviving a crisis by battling our way through it the best we can; inner resilience uses a crisis to grow and evolve ourself so we can thrive
- external resilience relies on maintaining the status quo; inner resilience creates new opportunities in a crisis through innovation
External resilience is like learning how to tread water in a huge storm in the vain hope that the storm won’t do too much damage, and that you can carry on as normal once it passes. It is no solution to thriving in a crisis.
Controlling the Stress Response
I first learned about inner resilience not from my 16 year career as a corporate lawyer, but in an ashram in India. After dedicating decades of my life to law and burning myself out, I had turned my back on my prestigious career, sold my house and went in search of my purpose and wellbeing.
At the ashram, I was instantly faced with a huge and very unexpected challenge. It was customary to sit in the temple on the marble floor in a sacred ceremony called ‘puja’ for up to 4 hours, twice a day. I guess you could say I was dropped in at the deep end when it came to inner resilience training!
I soon learned the importance of: quieting my persistent negative thoughts; breathing through the pain of physical discomfort; sitting with the myriad of feelings of anger or fear constantly bubbling up inside of me; and resisting the constant urge to run away.
I was under the illusion that retreating to an ashram would bring me instant peace. I had no idea that it was the perfect setting for me to learn how to control my stress response, master my minds and cultivate inner resilience.
Fight, Fight or Freeze Response
Today, most leaders, business owners, lawyers, executives are responding to the pandemic from the autonomic (involuntary or unconscious) stress response; fight, fight or freeze.
What I am witnessing is the freeze response: ‘I’ll wait till the lockdowns are over until I make any changes to my business’; “There’s no point to vision the future of my business now with all this uncertainty.”; “It’s up to the Government to lead us out of the pandemic”.
The fight response is seeing leaders and founders putting extra resources into competing for seemingly scarce resources; executives spending hours and hours worrying they may lose their jobs, panic stricken, and not sleeping; and finding it impossible to switch off.
In a freeze response, we literally disown our painful feelings and thoughts and self medicate with food, alcohol, shopping, working longer hours, binge watching Netflix, gaming, or constant screen use. There are endless ways we can avoid our pain and fear.
Whilst all of this is completely understandable, it doesn’t really help us, and it certainly doesn’t allow for leaders and business owners to bring about the much needed changes to thrive in a crisis.
Overriding the Stress Response
When we learn how to cultivate inner resilience we are capable of overriding our automated stress response. With inner resilience we can:
- take a deep breath and step back from our automated fight, flight or freeze response
- bring ourselves back to rest and digest and get back in control of our mental and emotional facilities
- build an internal self calming muscle so that we can have greater clarity, make better decisions and direct our response in a way that supports our continued success
What this means is when a crisis hits, or things don’t go our way, we can stay laser focused on solutions and get creative with our work and businesses.
Cultivating inner resilience means we become the driver of our own life, checking we have enough fuel, our lights are on so we can see the road ahead, and map out our own course. We are well prepared and not shaken by outside weather conditions.
At its most basic, inner resilience means we can meet our own needs for peace of mind, certainty and security and this shifts us from surviving to thriving when challenged.
How Time Poor Leaders and Founders Can Cultivate Inner Resilience
In a pandemic, business owners and leaders are being stretched to the limits. Training in inner resilience often sounds to them like it could be a lot of extra time and effort. I hear it all the time, “I just don’t have time right now to develop myself. I’m too busy keeping my head above water.’
But this is the very mindset that keeps us in survival mode, and only serves to create more stress and anxiety. It becomes a vicious circle.
The good news is that we can build our inner resilience muscles easily without adding to the pressures of our already full ‘to do’ list. It doesn’t take any extra time, because it’s a skillset that is already within us. We simply need to cultivate a better awareness of it.
Like breathing. It may sound super simple, but breathing deeply when you feel the stress rising is one of the fundamentals of building inner resilience. It takes us out of stress response mode into clear present awareness mode.
My top 5 strategies for cultivating inner resilience are:
- take some deep breaths into your belly when you notice yourself feeling wound up, stressed or anxious
- ask yourself right at that moment of stress, ‘what do I need right now’?
- really reflect on your needs in that moment to get specific about what they are
- talk yourself through these needs in a calm way
- tell yourself you are doing the best you can and that is always good enough.
We all know that nobody makes good decisions under stress. These 5 simple steps will radically improve our ability to stay calm and make better decisions.
The Business Benefits
The main benefits leaders and business people notice when building their inner resilience muscles are that they:
- feel a lot calmer and in control of situations
- have greater clarity of the next steps and make much better decisions
- can control and override negative or self sabotaging thoughts and emotions
- are able to respond positively to a crisis rather than react out of fear
- naturally shift from problem to solution focussed
When inner resilience muscles are engaged in a crisis, leaders and business owners are far more equipped and capable of thriving at work and their life, no matter what’s going on in the world.
If you are interested in learning more about how inner resilience training can help your business or teams, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.