Chances are your desk or your computer would benefit from some freshening! Research indicates that a clean desk increases efficiency; it helps to keep your attention focused. Tidying up can also reduce feelings of stress, confusion or pressure.
So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week: I take a minute every evening to tidy up my desk or my computer.
I love tennis. The Australian Open is one of my favourites. Despite the late nights, watching these gladiators confront the boundaries of their skill under sustained pressure is thrilling and inspiring. It also highlights the important role of presence.
Whether a fan or not, to watch these women and men master their on-court presence is a lesson we can all learn from. Out there on court, with a screaming crowd or broadcast to millions, a player is under intense scrutiny through sustained pressure.
Consider the self-mastery of Tsitsipas weathering the storm of a brutal, on-form Nadal to come back from two sets down. Barty dealing graciously with defeat. Djokovic smashing his racquet in vicious rage against Zverev and coming back to win. The playfulness of Hsieh. Zverev’s sad eyes and exposing his stomach when things go wrong. The steadiness of Osaka. The power of Williams – and, ahh, the clothing.
We know that our physical signals determine how someone responds to you within 40 milliseconds. Given that emotions activate in around 300 milliseconds and thoughts in around 600 milliseconds, the body rules. What we show physically is based on how we master emotion and thought.
There are eight great lessons to help you face the challenges of leadership, parenting, politics, teams, and the hustle of making progress in a testing world. There is no one right way. This is a creative journey of building the presence you want to be in the world. Test the lessons for your own needs. Adapt and refine.
Discipline your Body. Your body sends the first signals. Are you confident? Are you open and warm? Are you fit for purpose? Are you dominant or submissive? What emotion is your body signaling? The body is tangible and malleable. Much more so than your emotions and thoughts. The body is where we must start.
To present in life, recovery the first requirement. Sleep, breathe, stretch and nourish yourself well. Your vehicle must be well serviced. The moment a match completes triggers a structured routine of recovery. Do you believe you are physically prepared for the day?
Unlike other creatures, we adorn ourselves with clothing, gels, jewellery and hairstyles. Creative presentation is great. Are you presenting like a male peacock? What is the signal that you want to send to those you engage with?
Walk and Stand with Purpose
A limp in an antelope is an attack opportunity for a predator. Walk tall, directly, and maintain a spring in your legs. Keep your shoulders open and let your arms swing naturally. Stand with your feet apart, weight on the balls of your feet, balanced and ready to move. Do you have a video or picture of your gait?
Lengthen the Back of your Neck
Keep your spine light and long. This reduces the strain on your neck massively. Well balanced shoulders and neck make you look alert, ready, open and confident. When your shoulders hunch and your head bows forward (i-posture), you look beaten. The signal goes both inwards to your own hormonal status (testosterone down and cortisol up), and out to the impression others receive.
Never Expose your Stomach
We are a predator species. Exposing the belly is the strongest submission pose a predator can display. Watch Zverev. He really must stop this habit. Too much exposed flesh is a distraction at best. At worst, it derails your purpose.
Shut your Mouth
Only open your mouth to speak and in extreme exercise. Breathing through the nose is much better for health and performance. Leaving your jaw slack and hanging has no benefit. Deliberately keep your lips sealed, tongue soft and slow your breathing. This will also help you to listen better.
Restrain Emotional Outbursts
Smashing a racquet, swearing or angry outbursts might have been OK in McEnroe’s time. We are past it now. Destructive emotions must be checked and expressed with respect and skill. While rage appears to excite a part of the population (Kyrios vs. Thiem), we will advance faster when we learn to express the better angels of our nature – respect, tolerance and kindness.
Practise like Crazy
Just as you cannot pick up a racquet for a masterful forehand without years of practice, so you will need to practice this stuff.
Watch different postural styles in contexts that you admire
Review or record photos and videos of yourself in action
See an experienced physiotherapist for a muscle balance assessment
Develop a daily stretch and core strength routine
Mitigate sleep deprivation, overload and hyperventilation
A resilient mindset appears as a simple, compelling concept. If we could just acquire such a thing – perhaps with a pill or an app – life would magically become better. A resilient mindset could solve all sorts of problems.
For a critical mind, the concept is complex and confusing. Is there even such a thing? If there was such a thing, how might we develop and apply it?
In this article we try to understand and define what a resilient mindset might be and explore whether it is possible to develop such a thing.
What is a resilient mindset?
First, we must define a mindset. The catchy answer is to tease out Carol Dweck’s growthmindset. A fixed mindset takes the position that things cannot be changed – even with dedicated effort. For example: “There is no point in me trying to do mathematics. My mind is just not built for mathematics. I simply cannot solve these problems.” This built on Martin Seligman’s learned helplessness. Research demonstrates that it leads to a less fulfilling life.
The growth mindset, previously calledlearned optimismby Seligman, takes the position that if I apply myself, I can learn to master this. For example: “Mathematics is challenging for me and many others. If I apply myself and practice hard enough, with the right support, I can learn to solve these problems.” Research demonstrates that this belief leads to fulfilling and successful lives.
We cannot see these mindsets in a brain scan. They are beliefs about our abilities and the challenges presented to us. We could say that a mindset is a strongly held belief. There is evidence – primarily from twin studies – that some beliefs have as much as 50% genetic origin. Conservative views, pessimism, risk taking, and anxiety correlate with inheritance.
Nevertheless, we can become more aware of our beliefs and through this learn to challenge and adjust our beliefs. In this way cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can cure depression as well or better than anti-depressants. Likewise, a belief that ‘those people’ are evil and awful can change with constructive engagement to a belief that ‘those people’ are just like me.
In summary, a mindset is a mental representation of how things do or don’t work. Here are some mindset tests.
Which statement describes your mindset?
People are selfish
We should be self reliant
Humans cause climate change
High taxes are good
I will take care of myself
Empathy is a hardwired trait
I believe I can master ‘x”
Life is brutal, solitary, nasty and short
People are kind and generous
We should support people
Climate change is random
Tax should be minimised
Others should care for me
We can learn empathy
There is no point trying ‘x’
Life is a creative advance into novelty
Does one really want a mindset? Perhaps in this age of polarisation, what we need more are flexible perspectives. Rather than having set beliefs, we might learn to explore different perspectives thus testing the pros and cons of each. The BBC advocates aparadox mindset. There is no one right way and therefore, “mindset” may be misleading. We vote for flexible minds.
Second, we must define resilience. Is it a genetic attribute which is fixed at an early age? Alternatively, is it a learned set of skills that we can all acquire with effort and support. Some believe that it is ‘bouncing back’ from adversity. Others believe that adversity stimulatespost traumatic growth.
While we must each come to our own definition, our research shows that the learned ability to bounce, grow, connect and find flow is an integrated set of skills. A skilful performer takes on increasingly difficult tasks. Adversity and failure are inevitable. They must learn tobounce forwardfast. As they learn bounce, theygrowphysical, emotional and mental skills. These skills areconnectedin a team, game, or specific situation to achieve theflowstate. Whilst super-productive and fulfilling, there will be setbacks.
Right here we face one of the conundrums of our time. Should we protect our children and people from adversity? Shall we make sure we are physically safe, emotionallycoddled, and mentally complacent? In this mindset, adversity is the problem. People must be protected. Pressure and challenge must be avoided. We must support people at all costs and ask little of them.
Alternatively, should we challenge people with adversity and risk? Evidence shows that adversity stimulates awareness and growth. Further, serious adversities connect communities and increase collaboration. Rather than seeing people as vulnerable and victims, we view human ability as noble. We expect dedicated self-improvement and altruism.
Either one can become a fixed resilience mindset. These are the polarised perspectives of liberal humanism versus stoic self-reliance. Taken to extreme, both perspectives have risk. If we press the first, people can become frail (unwell), fearful (anxious) and fragile (depressed). If we press the second, people might feel isolated, exploited and distressed.
A flexible, resilient mind might ask when safety is the priority versus when challenge and accountability is a better solution. Pick your battles with wisdom and learn to adjust with new information.
How to build a flexible, resilient mind?
The bad news is that it takes time, effort and repetition. A pill or an app is not the solution. Hard work over thousands of hours defines the path. The good news is that we can learn and master well established, defined skills. There are even some bio-hacks (short cuts).
The goal of a flexible, resilient mind is:
“to construct a conscious, deliberate alignment of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resources to engage effectively with a defined situation”
Conscious and deliberate cognition is essential. Our thinking must be clear, ordered, flexible and creative. In approaching the situation, we must have a clear view of the complexity of the situation, master our own state, and be able to generate creative options to solve it.
The All Black rugby team has drilled this under the name of ‘red or blue, decide, do’. Articulated well byCeri Evans, it is the discipline of engaging with a challenging moment knowing that we can choose between a ‘red’ emotionally reactive approach or a ‘blue’ thoughtful and deliberate approach. Players practice selecting the ‘blue’ by stepping back, up and in. They ‘step back’ to calm the ‘red’, then step up to get a clear view, and then step into the situation fully committed and deliberate.
In a challenging situation, the body will often react with fear (flight), anger (fight) or withdrawal (freeze) reactions. These strong negative emotions disable clear thinking and decisions. They can set the mind in stone.
The challenge is to restrain strong, negative reactions. To do this we have to name them, tame them and reframe them (step back and up). It is only when our emotional state is calm and positive that we can activate the mental skills required to assess, analyse and solve the challenge.
Our physical wellbeing is essential to support this effort. Good quality sleep, adequate rest and recovery, physical fitness and smart nutrition are required.
We can think of our spiritual resources as faith. Faith that with deliberate practice I/we can learn to master this situation (grow and flow). Faith that self-care is an ethical imperative (grow). Faith that people are fundamentally good (connect). Faith that flexible and creative work can solve the toughest challenges (bounce, grow, connect and flow). Faith that those who love and support us will be there regardless of the outcome (connect).
To apply this approach in your own life, think of a specific situation or challenge you are facing right now. Describe the situation clearly in writing. Reflect on the last time you confronted this situation. What were you thinking? What emotions were in play? What did you experience in your body?
As you describe how your mental, emotional and physical resources lined up to the situation, you can see with clarity how the situation evolved. This is called situational awareness and is the foundation of a resilient mind, emotions and body.
Next, define in writing what sort of outcome you would like to achieve in this situation. When you can define clearly the current versus desired outcome, you have created tension – a gap that you intend to close. This is the purpose of a flexible, resilient mind. We can apply willpower to close the gap.
Then, you must apply the creative solutions that help you close the gap. There are many variations that you might consider and explore. What new thinking might you introduce? What emotions will motivate and inspire action? What sort of physical wellbeing and engagement is required? This is called situational agility. This is the work of a resilient mind, emotions and body.
Once you can build a few potential solutions to the challenge, you are applying integral resilience and situational agility. It may not work on the first attempt. Be willing to test and trial these options with a colleague or a coach. The first time you apply it, it will feel awkward and may go astray. Sit down and reflect following the steps described. What do you need to be more aware of? What other options are available? How can you practice that particular part of the solution?
If you have made it this far, you are on the path to aresilient mindset– sorry –flexible, resilient mind. Well done.
Mindset: updated edition, Carol Dweck, 2017
Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, 2006
The Coddling the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 91% scored “I am contented, joyous and fulfilled” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Sadness (disappointment), fear (anxiety) and anger (frustration) are easy emotional traps to fall into. Far too many indulge in these destructive reactions. They will leave you in perpetual freeze, flight and fight states. This is deep suffering and ineffective.
Only 4% of the least resilient people score fulfilment with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:What is the constructive emotion for this moment?
Condition:Be intolerant of complaint, frustration and blame
Caution:When necessary, tell your truth with courage and empathy
What you can do right now?
In every moment – even the darkest – there is a positive response. In sadness there is learning and growth. In fear there is courage and calm. In anger there is tolerance and altruism. Be assertive in searching and expressing the positive response.
Complaint spreads discomfort. Reject it. Frustration disables you. Reject it. Blame steals your power. Reject it. Respect, experience and name these negative reactions. They are real. Use the signal to say “NO”. Seek the positive angle.
Learn to strengthen your positive emotions. If sad, seek the lesson learned. Be grateful. If afraid, seek calm presence. Be content. If angry, seek kindness. Be compassionate. If fatigued, seek energy. Be resilient.
Positive emotions are like muscles. If you work on them, they will get stronger. Even the toughest moments can be fulfilling. Enjoy your discomfort. Appreciate the moment. Strengthen your joy.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 96% scored “my purpose in life is clear and meaningful” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question: What is my purpose? Describe with clarity and meaning
Condition: Step back, up and take a wide view of what matters
Discipline: Connect and leverage all you do to your purpose
Caution: Keep a sense of humour, laugh and play
If you cannot define and describe what matters to you, you leave yourself exposed to distraction, seduction and procrastination. You will become a victim to the purpose of others. Your success will be compromised.
Only 6% of the least resilient people score purpose with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. Poorly defined purpose leads to suffering.
What you can do right now?
Your life is rich and diverse. There is no right or perfect purpose. Each of us must seek to define what really matters. Consider the times that you felt your life or activity was optimally on track. Joy and engagement are the signals to seek. Imagine your life with more of these times. What purpose would you be serving?
It is essential to step back and remove the daily busyness and distraction. Find a perspective where you can take a wide view of life. What work needs to be done. Where are your particular skills best deployed? How do you want to feel? Who do you want to contribute to? What would you most love to achieve? Right down what this purpose would look like in action.
Be courageous and look for ways to reduce those parts of your day that are not on purpose. Where could you increase the amount of time that would be spent on your purpose. Do what is not on purpose in the aim of getting back on purpose. Share your written purpose with others. Seek helpful feedback. Ask for help.
Being on purpose all the time can be boring, overwhelming or intimidating to others. Don’t be too serious. Welcome failure and learn. Laugh when you go off track. Forgive yourself and make time to play. Seek nature and creative expression.
Building purpose takes time, experimentation and setbacks. The more accurately you can describe your purpose the more you will access your motivation and intuitive decision-making.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 94% scored “my mind is clear and focused” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question: What meaningful activity will I complete today?
Condition: Clear your mind of distraction and clutter
Discipline: Hold intense, steady and sharp attention on task
Caution: Take regular breaks to rejuvenate and keep perspective
Distraction, uncertainty and self-doubt rule. Every day, thousands of interruptions, concerns and risks will present. For those who do not understand, train and continually improve focus, it is a very dangerous time indeed.
Only 4% of the least resilient people score focus with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. Lack of focus leads to suffering.
What you can do right now?
Select a meaningful task each day of the week. Start with making your bed or eating well. Once you have your basic daily routines sorted, then shift to one meaningful work or career goal. For example: today I will complete my new CV. Rest at least one day of the weekend – no important task.
Clear your mind. Focus is impossible when lost in floodwaters of distraction. One by one, clear it away. Select your focus window during which your phone, e-mail, music, food and drink options are not available. Be comfortable but alert. Relax your awareness into the moment. Allow all frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, disappointment and sadness to drop away. Detach your mind from thoughts that arise and gently return to the present moment.
Build intense focus. Select the focus required for the immediate task in front of you. Direct your attention fully at this task. Zoom in so that you can see the detail in fine granularity. Keep the beam of attention firmly on the current execution of your skills. Learn to recognise when focus fades, take a break and refocus.
Building powerful focus will take time and practice. Select achievable goals and define your time periods carefully. Pay attention to what works.