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Ionela Spinu

Soft skills Director at DataU Cambodia - training the future leaders of Data Science on soft skills

Life long learner, who loves being part of conversations, especially love nerding out on neuroscience and behavioural science, passionate about how we can modify our behaviour in order to grow and evolve and become better

The Crucial role of resilience – Facing challenging situations is always hard and it can make us feel anxious, fearful, erratic, angry, neurotic, depressed…you get the point! Combine that with a pandemic and you have the perfect cocktail for disaster. The reality of COVID-19 and its implications on the economy are massive; this has triggered what will likely be a recession in many countries worldwide. To add to it, there are no clear answers, everything is uncertain and everyday we see displays of leadership and behaviours that we might like or we might condone. But I won’t get into politics, I am here to remind you of a simple thing we tend to forget, especially in times of crisis:

YOU have the capacity to control how you respond to it!

What fascinates me in times like these is what keeps people going and what their inner monologues are like. I believe resilience is crucial in these situations but it’s also the great puzzles of human nature. I often contemplate how is it that some people break after every small setback whereas others seem to thrive despite traumatising events in their lives? If you’re reading this, don’t forget you’re privileged and having this reframe is in a way a commodity you should take advantage of. It’s easy to forget to practise gratitude, especially when you’re too busy focusing on what’s lacking.

As you might have already experienced, especially in stressful times, it is hard to control our emotions. If you were able to see the situation with your rational mind, you would realise that, however hard it seems, this too has a resolution. At the end of the day, you’re still alive and you can figure it out, one step at a time. You will perhaps reframe this and ask: “What can I learn from this?” instead of “Why is this happening?”

Regardless of your job title, it’s crucial to recognise this: YOU are a leader in your own life. You are a role model in your family, community, business, friendship groups, in your team. And as a leader (especially if you’re running your business) the ability to shift your behaviour and positively reframe your perspective, especially in times of crisis, is a crucial part of the equation.

So what can you do in times of crisis?

Reframe your situation – everything has a resolution

Acknowledge that among great moments of joy and happiness, life will be filled with all sorts of perceived obstacles but these are what build our character.

Resilience plays a vital role in how you deal with setbacks and according to Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, resilient people have these 3 defining characteristics:

● they cooly accept harsh realities by facing them

● they find meaning in terrible times

● they have an uncanny ability to improvise making-do with whatever’s at hand In short, it’s about your ability to manage your emotions so you can turn changes, stresses and challenges into opportunities.

In return, the skills you will develop include “adaptability, a healthy relationship to control, continual learning, having a sense of purpose, and knowing how to leverage support and appropriate resources.” – Harvard Business Review

Most times when we are stuck in our own head, we seem to only play one version of the story and typically on repeat. In our head, everything is far worse than what it actually is in reality.

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If we were able to pause for a moment and detach from our particular predicament, we’d realise that our situation has a solution. As Marie Forleo puts it: Everything is figureoutable.

Remember that everything we do in life is about mindset and perspective. Therefore, it’s important to notice how you react when faced with harsh realities. Are you “the glass is half full” kind of person or more the “glass is half empty” kind of person? You have no control over highly stressful events that may happen, but you can change how you react in these circumstances – “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it” – as Charles Swindoll puts it. Instead of asking why is this happening to me, use this reframe: What can I learn from it? Seeing things from this perspective will force you out of your negative bubble. When you start to understand both at a cognitive and emotional level that you can choose the perspective, you become more powerful and you will start feeling like you have a bit more control over the situation.

Try this quick exercise: Take a few minutes and ask yourself

How can you flip your perspective right now?

Focus on what you can control

The main stressor is usually the fact that more often than not we focus on things that we cannot control. All we actually achieve by doing that is causing more stress and anxiety, whilst blowing the situation out of proportion. So I will say it again, focus on the things you can change (hint: you can’t change outcomes, people, what other people say or do). It might be your own attitude and behaviour – especially if you’re leading a team – the way you respond will influence the rest of your team. It’s important to note that, when you stress, you also impact those around you.

As Daniel Goleman, (Emotional Intelligence) puts it, we always influence those around us with our own emotions. Be the leader who chooses to focus on the things they can control. As an exercise try this – Write down a list of things you can control right now and a list of things that are out of your control – you will instantly feel a bit more in control of the situation.

Surround yourself with positive people and cultivate meaningful connections

The importance of cultivating meaningful relationships that act as a support system especially when difficult situations arise is crucial. I encourage you to cultivate connections that are honest, empathetic, where you feel loved and accepted for who you are. Research shows that these social connections not only impact your mental health, but your physical health as well. A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death. If you want to dive deeper into the Science of Wellbeing, I totally recommend this free course by Dr. Laurie Santos, from Yale university.

The best way to cultivate meaningful relationships? Listen to people, connect at a deeper level, show empathy, be less judgemental and show up for them, especially in hard times. Be kind with no hidden agenda – that’s actually one thing that will make you feel better about yourself. Furthermore, in a world where everyone seems to have a hidden agenda, you can stand out from the crowd by being someone who is generous with their time, words and connections.

For those of you who want to dive deeper in other practices, here are some things that have helped me massively:

Journaling and practising gratitude

There’s plenty of research showing that gratitude not only helps us feel less negative emotions but also has a huge impact on our mental health. Wong and Brown from Indiana University, used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity between people who wrote letters of gratitude and those who didn’t. What they found was three months after writing the letter the subjects showed “greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner.” This indicated that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on our brains. I usually start my morning journaling with a gratitude practice. I typically count my blessings and go through a list of the things that I am grateful for. I have been doing this for a few years now and what I actually came to realise at the beginning of this year, was the fact that I have been more focused on the positives and the abundance in my life rather than “what I don’t have”. “Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them” – Stephen R. Covey

Exercising

Not only it releases endorphins and dopamine but it’s also good for boosting your immunity system and will help you feel more energised. I can honestly say, with no exaggeration, that if it wasn’t for exercise and challenging myself mentally with tough workouts, I wouldn’t be as happy and mentally tough. I can certainly tell the difference in my mood between the days when I exercise and those when I don’t. My overall energy is at a much lower level when I don’t exercise. I swear by yoga and meditation – they go hand in hand for me but you can pick one to get started – there’s a misunderstanding that meditating means keeping your mind completely empty of thoughts which is not accurate; if you tried that before you know it’s quite impossible to have no thoughts in your mind. You have to acknowledge them and let them go – think about it in terms of: your thoughts are cars you see driving past and you choose not to jump in the car. I’d encourage you to start with 2 minutes of stillness a day and go from there. Tools like “Headspace”, “Waking up” and guided meditations from Kris Carr are among my favourite. Among countless benefits, helping you to be more present and focused, meditation has this really cool benefit as it boost your brain’s neuroplasticity – a process that helps our brain create new neural connections throughout life – I totally recommend reading Rewire your brain for love by Marsha Lucas

The ideas shared above are simple but effective if/when applied. I often argue that we dismiss the simple things as we believe “we know” them. But we know them so well, we stop applying them. I’d like to end by reminding you this: Only applied knowledge is what will drive change and propel you forward.

And to emphasises that, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of all times from Derek Sivers that is linked to my point: “If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs”

Ionela Spinu on LinkedIn 

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