How do you build resilience the right way?

By Nan Nan Liu-Maffetone | Strong Female Leaders | Reading Time: Approx. 5 minutes

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We were wrong about how to develop resilience. We must de-glorify 'busy,' resist being everything to everyone, and set self-care as the priority.
Women must find creative ways to build resilience because of all the hats that we wear. We are professionals at work, involved parents to our children, and leaders in our communities. We are busy tackling issues and crisis everyday, one crashing wave after the next.
Then. Suddenly. Burn out.
We become unmotivated, idle, and scatter-brained. We let all the paperwork pile up, stop returning messages, and start to wonder: what happened to the capable, confident and resilient go-getters we once were?
Is the problem our hectic schedules? Our unattainable goals? Our needs to overachieve in every aspect of our lives?
Or. Perhaps. A simpler root cause.
Perhaps we haven't quite grasped the real definition of resilience. Perhaps our militaristic, "tough girl" approach to resilience and grit is inaccurate, if not impossible. When we hear the word “resilience,” we imagine the hardened soldier that Demi Moore played in the 1992 film, G.J. Jane, slogging through muddy terrains and risking her life to save a fellow soldier. Boy did she look glorious! We must realize, however, that the character’s glory was the figment of imagination of Hollywood’s most creative talents. In real life, the heroic Lieutenant might have eventually burnt out or suffered PTSD.
What’s the message here?
Toughening it out over and over again isn’t how to develop resilience. We can certainly make it work for a few years, and build confidence and credibility with our teams along the way. For lifetime value, however, we need a holistic approach and a system that instills repeat recovery periods.

Recent medical research discovered that a lack of recovery causes various health and safety issues, namely sleep deprivation and lack of focus due to extreme cognitive arousal by constantly checking electronic devices. When we get off of work, we continue to connect with work, and develop uncontrollable workaholism that consumes our lives and compromises our health.

On the surface, we look as glorious and resilient as G.J Jane on the battlefield. In reality, once we experience burnout, the amount of time for cognitive recovery takes much longer than a few weeks of annual vacation. This “crash and burn”, in turn, counters productivity, and destroys the confidence and credibility we have built with our teams.
What’s worse?
We increase healthcare and turnover costs for employers. In other words: we have overworked ourselves into liabilities.

And here comes the worst part:
We are teaching our children the same misconception of resilience.

Exhausting our kids with jam-packed schedules and motivating them to stay up past midnight to study do not breed resilience. Such overwork puts our children in harm’s way! When exhausted students go to school, they have less cognitive resources to focus in class; they have less self-control in social situations; they are more prone to experiencing moodiness and depression; and they are more likely to develop harmful habits.

Our children look to us for example. If we burn ourselves out, they will too.
So how do we build resilience the right way?
It takes more than stopping work for the night. Because rest and recovery are two different things. Plus, as soon as we get off of work, we immediately begin parenting our children, leading community organizations, or spending energy on friends and families.

We never get a real break, do we.

What we need is a combination of adequate internal and external recovery periods. By internal, we mean regular breaks that take place within the frames of the working time. And yes, helping kids with homework and organizing PTA events are working times! So please schedule breaks during those sessions too.

By external recovery, we mean leaving work at work, packing homework out of sight, and stashing away our event planners, for the weekend, during the holidays, and through vacations.
Asking our spouses to hide our phones and laptops is absolutely brilliant!
What we aim to achieve here is to build our “homeostatic value,” a term coined by neuroscientist Brent Furl from Texas A&M University.
Homeostasis, explained Furl, is how the human brain trains by continuously restoring and sustaining well-being. And “homeostatic value is the value that certain actions have for creating equilibrium, and thus well-being, in the body.” When we overwork our bodies, we get out of alignment, and waste mental and physical resources in trying to return to balance. Without balance, we cannot move forward.
Parting Thoughts
It’s quite commonsensical: the energy that we burn to "build resilience" requires burning more energy to recover. And this "up-regulation" exacerbates exhaustion. To stop fatiguing ourselves, we must strategically disconnect both during and after work.
But first: we must admit that we were wrong about how to develop resilience. We must de-glorify "busy", resist being everything to everyone, and set self-care as the priority.

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