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Developing Resilience
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“Bouncing back from a difficult situation is as essential in business as it is to life.”

You’ve been betrayed by a business partner, lost a key sale or been passed up for promotion. Even worse, you may have suffered a family crisis or been through a personal health scare. What next? Do you know how to bounce back from the difficult challenges that life places in your path? The answer is all about developing resilience. 

Bev du Toit is a consultant and motivational speaker on wellness at work who knows a lot about resilience. In 1996 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she largely attributes her survival to resilience and the fact that she tackled this life challenge head on. Du Toit says that resilience is defined as the ability to withstand or recover from difficult situations but adds that it requires new definition. “I believe that resilience should be re-defined as the ability to cope well under any circumstance.” Du Toit is engaged by leading brands and blue chip companies and teaches them how to foster and enhance resilience.

Du Toit says that resilience is tempered by what we’ve been taught. “Each person’s resilience is defined by the beliefs and attitudes learned from role models and integrated into their behaviour. If your role models (parents, teachers, peers and managers) had non-resilient coping techniques then there is a good chance that we will not be resilient people. Our learned coping skills are not only integrated into our behaviour but neural pathways develop in our brain. As situations arise, we no longer think about how to handle them; we simply access the neural pathway and behave according to the information stored there,” she says.

Resilient people are solution focused, flexible, responsible, realistic and able to manage their emotions. They have a great sense of humour and can empathise with others. Non-resilient people tend to focus on problems, are rigid, seek to blame, have unrealistic expectations, are self-centred and lose their perspective when faced with a challenge.

The good news if you’re not resilient is that you can learn to flex this mental muscle. There are two key components required for this – belief and attitude. “Resilient people believe in their ability to cope, to find solutions and to manage problems,” says du Toit. “They generate thought, feeling and behaviour (attitude) from this belief that centres on attaining the outcome they want.” 

She adds that people can develop resilience but must first make a commitment to developing this aspect of their personalities because it won’t happen overnight. “You have to substitute old beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviours for new ones,” she says, advising that one should practice repetitively for new neural pathways to be developed. “Practise on the small things that go wrong and hone your new skill here. Then, start with observing your usual coping practices. Decide if they are resilient and helping you manage your life. If the answer is yes, keep building on them. If the answer is no, it’s time to substitute with the resilient behaviour mentioned above. When things go wrong, focus your thoughts on finding solutions. If you find yourself falling back onto your old coping style, stop and start again. Keep practicing, it took you years to perfect your old coping style, dedicate some time to developing the new supportive one.”

It’s well worth the effort as resilient people are better able to cope with life’s big crises like retrenchment or illness as well as small snarls like traffic, work-overload and difficult interpersonal relationships which occur often. As you put your resilience skills into practice your stress levels will decrease, the strain on your physical body will decrease and you will enjoy better health and vitality. This in turn will lead to an increased sense of fulfilment and enjoyment of life.

Mandy de Waal (mandyd@mweb.co.za) is an award-winning communications consultant, writer and public speaker. With twenty years’ experience in branding, reputation management and communications strategy, de Waal recently founded The Soul Circle (www.soulo.co.za) – an online community focused on helping people to live their best life at home and at work. 



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Last Updated: 01-02-2007