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26 Jul 2021

Simple techniques to build mental resilience

Leaders need to be on top of their game to thrive in today’s workplace. At Mantle, we categorise resilience under the area ‘leading self’ or personal leadership. It’s the first place our experts focus on when we are working to empower leaders to step up and purposefully lead. The good news is that resilience is not a passive quality, but is an active process that can be enhanced through learning.

Cognitive strategies that help leaders build resilience

While there are a number of techniques which we use in our work supporting top NZ leaders, to keep things concise, we’re focusing this article on a few easy to implement cognitive strategies. These relatively simple changes – when maintained over time – can make a real difference.

Eating the elephant

We’re sure you’re familiar with this analogy. To eat an elephant, take one bite at a time. By breaking-up a daunting task into do-able segments, you’re utilising the benefits of compartmentalisation. This ‘bite-size’ approach also frees up your working memory. It’s a proven technique employed by the likes of NASA and special forces units around the world.

Visualisation

Take inspiration from high-performing athletes by imagining your success in as much vivid detail as possible (and repeatedly). Studies show this type of mental rehearsal can have a measurable impact on performance. By preparing for performance, leaders can think their way into that future.

Regulate your response to stress

When we’re triggered by stressful emotions, our bodies release hormones such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine. Breathing is a solution that can help calm, regulate and resolve your emotions during times of tension. We like this 4 by 4 for 4 method used by the US Navy Seals:

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds
  • Breathe out for 4 seconds
  • Repeat for 4 minutes

This technique works even more quickly if you are a regular meditator.

Accepting, labelling, and verbally expressing an emotion can also help reduce its potency and facilitate cognitive regulation. Just keep in mind, it’s best to do this in private!

Reframing

We can’t control what’s happening in the outside world, but we can influence our interpretation of it. Reframing is about training and purposefully choosing a more useful growth mindset. Notice how you are responding to stressful situations and purposefully adopt a more positive interpretation. Celebrate small wins on the way.

Respect the need for regular breaks

Our focus, clarity and energy cycles are typically 90 to 120 minutes long. Work with your hourly ultradian rhythms by taking short breaks. It takes just a few minutes to reset your energy and attention. This balancing of work activity can also promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus – ultimately growing our capacity for resilience throughout the course of the workday.

Compassion and leadership effectiveness are not mutually exclusive

Perhaps a surprising finding from Stanford research is that cultivating compassion for others (and yourself) increases positive emotions and creates positive work relationships. It also increases co-operation, collaboration and reduces stress. Consider if this is an area you need to focus on.

Evidence-based techniques for building leadership resilience

Resilience is a key area of personal development which helps leaders to fulfil their potential. We’ve seen the benefits time and time again in our work with some of NZ’s leading companies. For more useful and simple strategies, you’ll find our free agile leadership resource provides more essential reading. Download it now.

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