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Thinking about how you “Think” can build resilience

April 28, 2016 by Amy Gilburg

I’ve been reflecting a lot about resilience lately—my own, but also how people and organizations become resilient. A few months ago, I was confronted with a health crisis. Between the time of the diagnosis and the eventual surgery and prognosis, I spent a lot of time considering the worst-case scenario, which was the potential for an early death.  I decided that if my life was taking a detour down this unwanted road, I was going to make the most of it. I was going to look at this scary, life-threatening situation as an opportunity and learn as much as I could about myself, my health, and my options. I focused on learning from and adapting to my new normal.

Resilience is the ability to adapt or bounce back from difficulty or hardship.  Given the rapid change and ever growing complexity we are experiencing today, resiliency (personal, team, organizational) is an imperative. Leaders talk about wanting their organizations and employees to be nimble and resilient. Everyone wants to be resilient, but how do we do this? What makes one person resilient and able to adapt and another not? What makes a situation navigable for one and an insurmountable obstacle for another? Is it the situation or how we think about it?

The more I considered these questions the more I was drawn to the work of psychologist and educator, Carol Dweck PhD, and her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s theories on growth and fixed mindsets were originally focused on education and helping children learn, but they easily apply to how we navigate through life and our level of resiliency.

A fixed mindset refers to believing intelligence or talent is something a person is either born with or not.  Challenges or set backs are seen as bad—failures to be avoided at all costs. Whereas a person with a growth mindset views intelligence and talent as a starting point but the true determinants of success are effort and the drive to learn. Mistakes, even failures are seen as opportunities and fertile ground for learning. Eduardo Briceno does a great job of introducing Dweck’s Mindset theory at TEDx Manhattan Beach, The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success.

If having a growth mindset is critical to being resilient, imagine if we began to see challenges and disruption as necessary for breakthroughs and innovation? Instead of shying away from difficulty or feeling burdened by problems, we viewed them as opportunities to make unprecedented leaps towards something yet to be realized. We become comfortable being uncomfortable because we know something better is around the corner. Check out Tim Harford’s inspiring TED Talk, How Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity.  

Consider watching these two videos with your colleagues or teams. Challenge yourselves to become skilled at meta cognition—thinking about your thinking. Is the wicked problem you are facing a possible gift?  How might you all embrace the learning and growth that can come with facing the challenge together? What kinds of support, ground rules, clarity, etc. will enable the team to try?

As I reflect back on my own recent health challenge, I wouldn’t change a thing. What was overwhelming and frightening allowed me to learn a lot about myself and grow wiser in my heart, mind and soul. I am healthier now than I have been in many years. I can’t say I approach every hurdle with a growth mindset, but I eventually get there.  Some of the hardest things I have had to face—personally or professionally—have been the most valuable and it started with thinking about my thinking.