Can You Bounce Back?

A good friend of mine and I had a long chat a while ago on a Saturday evening. In the course of the conservation, he dropped the bombshell that he was not that certain that his position in his company was all that secure. Given that he was in the last part of his career, and that he was very senior, it would be understandable if he were worried about this development. On my question as to how he felt about this, he told me that it did not bother him too much. There was nothing he could do to prevent it from happening, other than doing his best at what he does.

I found this an incredible approach. Although he was at the later stages of his career, he was still healthy and would be expected to reach 80, at the very least. What would happen to his life if he were to lose his job now? It was not as if he would be able to walk into another job at a similar level of seniority, as he was past 60!

I then started to think about people who dealt with adversities in a number of different ways. I thought about close family who had lost a son. And how they dealt with it. I thought about another close relative who had divorced his wife, or rather his wife had divorced him. And how that had affected him, and still does.

A close friend had been accused of irregularities in his job and was branded in the newspaper as a criminal. Two years later his name was cleared. The accusations were front page. The verdict of not guilty, actually the withdrawal of the case due to an utter lack of actual evidence, was hidden on some or other middle page. I thought about how that had affected his life and that of this wife and his children.

I thought back to a period when I would wake up in the morning at about 03h30, and start worrying about the issues at my work that were disrupting my tranquility. And how I dealt with it.

Two or 3 years ago I came across a book written by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, i.e. “The Resilience Factor.” In this book the authors explain the concept of resilience and what it is. Loosely translated I see it as the ability to bounce back and deal with challenges in a productive manner. They actually identified 7 keys to find the inner strength and overcome life’s hurdles. These 7 keys are as follows:

• Learning your ABC’s: “Listen” to your thoughts to identify what you say to yourself when faced with a challenge, and to how your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviour.
• Avoiding Thinking Traps: When things go “wrong,” do you blame yourself or others? Do you jump to conclusions? Do you assume that you know what another person is thinking? Identify the mistakes you make and learn how to correct them.
• Detecting Icebergs: Everyone has deeply held beliefs about how people and the world should operate and who they are and want to be. Identify these deep beliefs and determine when they are working for you and when they are working against you.
• Challenging Believes: How effective are you at solving the problems that you encounter day to day? Do you waste time pursuing solutions that don’t work? Do you feel helpless to change situations? Test the accuracy of your beliefs that lead you to pursue the wrong solutions, and find solutions that work.
• Putting it in Perspective: Stop the what-ifs so that you can better deal with actual problems that do exist.
• Calming and Focusing: Stay calm and focused when you are overwhelmed by emotion or stress so that you can concentrate on the task at hand.
• Real-time Resilience: Change your counter-productive thoughts to stay engaged and in the moment.

These skills are quite important, but as I have come to realize, if you do not practice them regularly, you lose them. At times I have been waking up very early (at times at 03h30) in the past few weeks, stressing about issues that I shouldn’t be. Looking at the issues, one would be forgiven for doing that, but it is not the most productive thing to do.

I define resilience as the ability to bounce back and to remain focused. To not be consumed by what had happened in the past, or to not be consumed by something what could happen in the future. Again this is easier said than done. In order to help me, I looked at typically the drivers of purpose in people’s lives.

Rick Warren identified a few drivers of purpose in his work, “The Purpose-Driven Life.” Here he identified the following issues:

• Guilt: This deals with running from regrets and hiding your shame. You tend to be manipulated by memories, and allow the past to control your future.
• Resentment and anger: You hold on to hurts and never get over them. Some “clam up” – others “blow up.” This hurts the individual more than the target.
• Fear: This may be as result of a traumatic experience, unrealistic expectations, growing up in a high-control home, a genetic predisposition, etc. You miss great expectations due to a fear to venture out
• Materialism: Here the desire to acquire becomes the goal of your life. The idea is more possessions will bring happiness.
• Need for approval: Here you allow expectations of your parents or spouse, etc. to control your life. The irony is that many adults still try to earn approval of unpleasable parents. Others are driven by peer pressure.

These tend to all be negative. Rick doesn’t say that these are what should be what drives the purpose of people, but rather what does. I subsequently looked at the research of Danah Zohar and her husband, Ian Marshall, in the book, “Spiritual Capital.” Here they identified 16 levels of drivers of motivation, ranging from a +8, Enlightenment, to a -8, Depersonalization. They found that 85% of the people in the sample ranged from a +4 to a -4, more or less spanning the middle range. What was shocking was that 90% of that 85% were motivated by issues ranging from a 0 to -4. This tells us that by far the majority of people (more that 80%) are motivated by issues that have negative power. This ties in closely to the point of view of Rick Warren.

What I have said above does not mean that we just ignore what had happened in the past or what could happen in the future. We need to address the effects and implications of events in the past. To ignore them could lead to disastrous results. We also should not ignore the psychological implications of past events. That would lead to the suppression or repression of issues, which could lead to inappropriate actions at some time in the future as well. We need to deal with the past and the future, but we need to do it in a productive manner. Not be sitting and anguishing about past events or future possibilities!

Eckardt Tolle in his work, “The Power of Now,” talks about the need to put yourself outside of your mind, and then to look inside at this mind taking decisions and developing thought patterns. He also states that the past is the now of yesterday, and as such not reachable. The future is the now of tomorrow, and as such also not reachable. The now of today is the only place where you can reach and act. Resilient people live in the now of today. This refers to the point that Karen and Andrew makes, about staying in the moment: real-time resilience!

At a business level, I find that the work of people such as Manfred Kets de Vries, Lynda Gratton, Ken Wilber, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Jim Collins, Jeff Porras and others tell us what is required to develop organizations that are resilient and bounce back. Jim Collins’ work, Good to Great, and the work he did with Porras, Built to Last, spell out the importance of getting the right people in the right positions and to get the wrong people off the bus. They tell us to appoint clock builders and not time tellers. They tell us about the importance of having visionary leaders. They also tell us to develop an organizational culture that helps to get our people engaged. And they actually tell us to grow and develop resilient people!

Companies can help a lot by developing visions and mission statements that help to anchor people and give them a sense of direction. I am a fan of the mission of Pick ‘n Pay, a local South African food retailer: “We Serve. With our hearts we create a great place to be. With our minds we create an excellent place to shop.” Another mission statement I am a fan of, is that of Starbucks: “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit: one person, one cup, one neighbourhood at a time!” Adidas in South Africa also has a slogan that is great: “Impossible is Nothing!”

As a mentor, a senior manager, a father or mother, what are you doing to develop the resilience of the people who report or look up to you. Successful people are resilient! Successful companies are filed with resilient people! Successful marriages consist of resilient people!

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3 Responses

  1. Abel says:


    You know that I’m at a point in my career where I really needed these insights. Thanks for sharing. I have ‘saved’ it for reading in the safeness of my own home once I am back in SA.

  2. Piet says:

    Thanks, I needed this today

  1. September 12, 2010

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