Research shows that workers with a high degree of resilience are less susceptible to burnout and psychological distress. But “resilience” is a broad term that raises the question, “What are the qualities that allow us to overcome challenges, obstacles, hardship and adversity, instead of being defeated by them?”
A new study of 97 participants demonstrated that college students possessing a higher degree of resilience were less susceptible to burnout and psychological distress that endured for three months or more. The study identified five aspects of resilience—all of which can be learned—that lower burnout and boost psychological stamina.
- Approaching, rather than avoiding, adversity. You move yourself outward into new, uncharted territory instead of inward into retreat—actively seeking ways to solve a problem—even if it means getting out of your comfort zone and sticking your neck out. This requires you to face adversity that might invoke fear instead of withdrawing from the challenge. You take the perspective of treating a problem as a challenge instead of a personal threat. You hold the perspective that life is an adventure to experience instead of a problem to solve. You look for opportunities to overcome pressures instead of ways to deny or avoid them. You expose yourself to small challenges that hone skills for the bigger ones that are sure to come.
- Believing in your own abilities. You learn to trust in your abilities and think of yourself as a strong person who can scale obstacles and make difficult decisions. Studies show when you see yourself being a cause of your life, more optimistic and responding more positively to situations beyond your control, you can beef up your resilience. You consider yourself to be the master of your fate and bear responsibility for your response to whatever happens. The belief in your own power to affect events beyond your control to at least a small degree, even if some things are unchangeable, gives you the ability to find a way to cope with adversity.
- Being motivated by a sense of purpose. You work hard to attain your goals and are motivated by your own sense of purpose with the tenacity to persevere. You cultivate relationships with other people that support and give you the “social capital” to jump-start your motivation. You align with others and allow your shared struggles to toughen you and offer a greater cause to your efforts. You have a commitment to working as a team for the common good that dwarfs your own individual concerns. If you get discouraged and feel like giving up, you find support from other colleagues that anchors you and keeps your spirit alive.
- Having solid interpersonal and internal resources such as peer support, strong social relationships and knowledge of where to get help during challenging times. Internal resources are those personal qualities, accomplishments or successes you possess that you take pride in, which helped you withstand and surmount adversity in the past. Contemplating how you overcame past hardships widens what neuroscientists call the resilient zone. Reminding yourself of how you overcame past personal and professional adversity can be a resource that strengthens your belief in yourself.
- Attributing a spiritual component to life’s random events to a Higher Power or fate beyond the capacity of human control. Spiritual beliefs allow you to be able to accept the natural occurrence of adversity. You know you cannot control all situations, but you can respond constructively to situations beyond your control. When you’re not in control of what’s happening, you challenge yourself to control the way your respond to what’s happening, let go and turn the rest over to a greater power beyond yourself. You commit yourself to something bigger than yourself such as the company you work for and the co-workers with whom you work. You’re committed to collective selflessness—the bigger picture, not just your own little corner of life.
The findings from this study indicate that mental resilience is a two-pronged process. There are a myriad of interventions that companies can implement to boost resilience and prevent psychological stress and job burnout. But there are also measures individual workers can take to do their part to cultivate such resilience skills as how to face adversity, increase self-belief, develop a sense of purpose, find support services and enhance reliance on a power beyond human capacity.