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Micro-Resilience

How this meta-skill will change your life and your leadership

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Burnout. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. Illness.

In today’s non-stop environment, these words are all too common. At work and at home we push ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion, only to wake up and do it all over again. I used to think being high performing meant working 75 hours or more per week, saying yes to anything and everything that came my way, volunteering and taking professional development courses. This is how I defined success and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

After losing a pregnancy and landing in the hospital for emergency surgery, something had to change. As I reflected on my lifestyle, I realized that what I thought was high performing was actually far from it. I had zero time to recover and rest. I wasn’t always focused and present because I was always on the move. Then I came across the concept of micro-resilience.

Think of micro-resilience as the ability to recover or reduce stress immediately, in between all of those things that are going on around us. Building micro-resilience allows us to truly be high-performing while reducing stress, maintaining focus, motivation, and energy.  

What defines the best of the best?

Bonnie St. John, in her book Micro-Resilience, discusses research done on tennis players and what they do between the points, not before or after a match; what are their actions and behaviors during the activity that allows them to maintain focus and energy throughout the match. What researchers found was that these tennis players didn’t look up at the crowd between points and focused on their tennis racket instead, passing it from hand to hand. These small movements allowed for them to have a mini recovery while maintaining focus and not getting distracted by everything happening around them.

We often think to be the best of the best we must work harder, run faster, outlast others. That as leaders and entrepreneurs, we need to have all the answers, and, if we don’t have all of the answers, we aren’t as high-performing or strong as we thought we were. While this attitude and way of life may work in the short-term (although I would question whether it works at all), these behaviors most certainly don’t work if you’re playing the long game. We have to find our greatness even if the circumstances aren’t perfect. Just because you don’t manage people, doesn’t mean you can’t lead and mentor others. Just because you’re in a job which you don’t see yourself in long-term, doesn’t mean you can’t shine at it today. My point being circumstances are rarely ever perfect and we may not be exactly where we want to be, but we can still be great at whatever we are doing currently.

How do you develop micro-resilience?

Meta-skills are like talents that help us improve other skills and which are part of every aspect of our lives. Micro-resilience is one such skill. Micro-resilience allows us to perform better, have more energy, focus and be our best with less stress and burnout. With micro-resilience, the goal is to recover a little along the way, allowing us to keep going. There are small hacks that we can do to build our micro-resilience.

  • Focus (and refocus): If you need to be in the zone and focus on a specific task, block out other distractions. Turn your email off. Place your phone in another room. Put in ear plugs. If you find you need to refocus, think about your original intention, what you set out to do. This will help center you and bring your focus back to the original task at hand.
  • Change your attitude: It can be difficult to eliminate all negativity. We are human after all. Instead of eliminating negativity, try adding positivity in. Change your attitude about a task or outcome. Shifting your perspective to focus on the benefits will help you stay focused.
  • Label your emotions: Emotions can quickly hijack our thoughts and actions when we don’t pay attention to them. By labeling how we are feeling (anxious, nervous, embarrassed, etc.) we are increasing activity in our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking. When we identify an emotion, we give it less power.
  • Reconnect with your purpose: Why are you doing what you’re doing? Having a visual reminder near you could be helpful to remind you of that purpose. Thinking about your motivation can also help increase positivity in your attitude.
  • Reset: Hydrating, eating a nutritious meal, going for a walk and getting a good night’s rest can all help decrease stress and increase focus. When we lack sleep, we often make poor food choices, can’t focus and don’t perform at our best.    

Remember that baby steps are progress. While following these steps won’t automatically increase your resilience, sticking with them will be key. The goal is to use micro-resilience in order to increase your capacity as well as your energy to be human.

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