“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”—Viktor E. Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
Neuroscientists have found when we’re under the gun with looming deadlines, overloaded with work tasks or struggling with a disgruntled boss, it’s natural to be worried and anxious. Mother Nature hardwired our brain with a negativity bias that constricts and targets the threat for survival. The same is true on a larger scale when besieged by a crisis—such as the global pandemic followed by the insurrection on the Capitol. Narrowing on the danger so we can fight or flee clouds out the big picture where creativity and thinking reside, interfering with our ability to concentrate and engage at work.
The Perspective Less Taken
According to a recent study, people who travel frequently are seven percent happier and more satisfied with their lives. Other studies show that travel to distant lands detaches you from the life that defines you, expands your outlook and gives you the perspective of an outside observer on the potential that daily life masks. Research also shows when you travel you start to think in terms of “we” instead of “me” and look beyond imagined threats from people of different ethnic groups, genders or ages to see the common ground you share with strangers, people of different lifestyles and cultures around the world. But you don’t have to leave your sofa or work desk to acquire the happiness, empathy, clarity and creativity of the perspective less taken.
As a result of many experiments, neuroscientists have found when we intentionally broaden our outlook, we widen our attention, expand our world view and take in a range of possibilities to cope with career challenges. The more we take in, the more creative ideas and solutions we add to our toolbox. Think of a camera that has both a zoom lens and a wide-angle lens, then in a threatening situation, notice whether your thinking constricts or broadens. If you walk into a rose garden, for example, you have the choice to narrow your perspective on the thorns or widen your focus on the roses. Both are there, but focusing only on the thorns for fear of being pricked limits the beauty of the flowers and distorts your full experience of the garden.
When our professional livelihoods are at stake or our very lives threatened, the negativity bias rushes in with lightning speed, emotionally hijacks us before we know it and throws our “rational brain” (prefrontal cortex) offline. A man hit the roof over having to pay a million dollars in taxes, overlooking the fact that he earned 10 million dollars of income—a rich man living an impoverished life. A woman who loved the longest day of summer shrunk her own joy on the big day, lamenting that now the days would get shorter again—an unhappy woman eclipsing the time she longed for most.
32 Tips To Widen Your Resilient Zone
Everybody wants their careers to be smooth sailing. We want to succeed in our and lead happy, safe and secure lives. However, the cruel fact is that life isn’t a bowl or cherries. It’s sometimes bumpy, messy, scary and unpredictable. Heartbreak, disappointment and fear exist alongside safety, success and contentment. You can’t have a front without a back, a top without a bottom or a right without a left. But the good news is grass grows through concrete, and you’re more powerful than you realize. When you can’t control career setbacks and disappointments, you always have the power to choose how to respond to them, simply by enlarging your outlook. You can decide whether to water the weeds or the flowers in your garden. One of the best mental tools at our disposal is the ability to flip a narrow perspective, expand our vision and free ourselves to see and enjoy the full spectrum of our lives.
It’s simple science. The habit of enlarging your perspective on a regular basis has cumulative effects that widen your resilient zone and develop muscle memory to dwarf professional letdowns. Scientists have discovered that stretching your mind to take in as much information as you can widens your span of options and possibilities and cultivates clarity and creativity and potential for career success. For example, a series of studies has found self-affirmations function as “cognitive expanders,” providing a wider perspective and diffusing the brain’s tunnel vision of self-threats. A regular practice of meditation also enlarges your world view. Practiced on a regular basis, these 32 habits can widen your resilient zone, boost job performance, help you recover more quickly from setbacks and propel you up the career ladder faster and farther:
- Don’t take career highs any more seriously than career lows, and don’t take the lows anymore seriously than the highs.
- Replace self-criticism—which strips you of your power—with self-compassion—which empowers your resilience and success.
- Use self-affirmations to cultivate a long-distance relationship with your self-judgment, and see yourself more fully in a broader self-view.
- Brainstorm solutions to a work quandary instead of getting mired in the problems.
- Imagine a career challenge as an adventure to have instead of a problem to solve.
- Focus on the upside of a downside work situation—the diamond in the rough.
- Pinpoint thecareer opportunity in a career difficulty .
- Nail the gains in a career losses that actually can be blessings in disguise.
- Spend as much time enjoying the present moment as you do worrying about the future or regretting the past.
- Create a to-be list—watch a sunset or a bird nesting—alongside your to-do list.
- Find the shades of gray when you get caught in all-or-nothing thoughts. “I didn’t get the promotion; I’ll never reach my career goals” becomes “I didn’t get the promotion, but there are many other steps I can take to reach my career goals”
- Make your list of tallcomings—your positive professional qualities—equal to or longer than your shortcomings.
- Have lifelines—pauses to smell the roses—on the way to your deadlines.
- Take health days in addition to sick days.
- Create a gratitude list of all the things you’re thankful for to offset the grievances that stand in your way.
- Get outside in nature for green time after prolonged periods of screen time.
- Stack cans (work tasks you can control), instead of cannot’s (those you can’t control).
- Step back and look at the big picture when you get stuck in small details.
- Hold unpleasant emotions—such as worry, anger or frustration—at arm’s length and observe them as separate from you just like a blemish on your hand.
- Let yourself be drawn with passion instead driven from pressure.
- Adopt the role of narrator (instead of actor) when replaying a work dilemma, then feel the emotional grip loosen as you flip the script.
- Keep an unmade mind about career possibilities instead of a made-up mind that eclipses your potential.
- Employ first-name self-talk—the way you speak to someone else, referring to yourself by name instead of as “I”—and create a psychological distance from your egocentric survive mind.
- Underscore your inner resources instead of your limitations to overcome hardships.
- Remain mindful throughout the day instead of plodding mindlessly along.
- See career curve balls as happening for you instead of to you.
- Think of job problems as lessons to learn versus misery to endure.
- Emphasize how far you’ve progressed in your career when you look ahead at how far you still have to go.
- Practice empathy and think we instead of me to free yourself from narrow snap judgments, neutralize biased attitudes and build team harmony.
- Avoid jumping to conclusions about what your team thinks of you and recognize your biased thinking has more to do with your thoughts than theirs.
- Think outside the box and stick your neck out of your comfort zone so new experiences can teach you how confident, creative and capable you are.
- Get cozy with uncertainty, instead of craving certainty, because career uncertainty is the only certainty you can count on.