By Sarah Lewis, C.Psychol., Appreciating Change

Lockdown has eased, but that doesn’t mean we are back to normal. We need to think instead of ourselves as moving forward in to a new normal. This new normal involves living with the reality of coronavirus. Indeed many experts in virology are warning that coronavirus wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last virus against which we have no defence. Navigating the new normal will take resilience and adaptability.

What helps us be more resilient and adaptable?

Resilience is about having the resources to cope with unexpected, difficult or adverse situations. To be able to use these resources we, of course, need to know we have them before we can deliberately use them to help us. These three things, having resources, being aware of them, and being able to deploy them, are what feed our resilience, and our ability to bounce-back from adversity.

Being adaptable means being able to quickly and appropriately change our behaviour when circumstances change. For example at people have had to adapt to different ways of working while also having to manage their children’s education.

For both resilience and adaptability, being resourceful is key.

How can we discover our resourcefulness and boost our resilience and adaptability?

Broadly speaking we have personal resources and social resources that we can call on.

Personal resources

Our Strengths

One of our biggest sources of personal resources is our own unique strengths. Strengths are the attributes that are at the heart of our best self. They are the things that are natural for us to do and that seem easy to us. We each have our own set of strengths. For instance some people are naturally empathetic, others inherently strategically minded. Some of us are good at logical analysis, others of us are great at developing others.

It’s important to know our own strengths as using them boosts our confidence and gives us energy, allowing us to recover more quickly from setbacks. We are likely to solve a problem better if the solution uses our strengths. To learn more about your unique strengths you can take the VIA free strengths test or buy a pack of strengths cards so you can self-identify your strengths. Once you have done that, you can get some feedback from others on what they think your strengths are, and when they’ve seen you use them in a difficult situation.

Our previous experiences

Sometimes, when we are stressed or anxious it is hard to believe that we can cope, we feel so helpless right now. In this situation, it can be really helpful to remember other times when we did cope, when we got through a tricky situation or when we turned a situation around. Being in the grip of the present can prevent us from accessing resources from the past: our knowledge, our skills, our experience.

We can discover these hidden resources by remembering our best experiences, when we weren’t just coping but really flourishing and excelling.  Once we’ve brought these experiences to mind, we can mine them for tactics, strategies, ideas, conversations, that really made a difference then and that might be useful now. Appreciative Inquiry is a change process that is built on the understanding that resources from the past can help us in the present and in the future. There are there are some books about how to apply it to your personal life, or your professional life to tell you more.  If you want to try it for yourself, there is a pack of Appreciative Inquiry Cards with questions designed to help you through the resource discovery process.

Boosting our resilience by building our HERO abilities

Our HERO ability made up of our states of hopefulness, optimism, resilience and confidence (efficacy). Add these four things together and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, although resilience is part of our HERO abilities, it is also boosted if we can boost our sense of hope, optimism and confidence.

You can discover more in the Psychological Capital and Beyond, a book by the people who discovered this, or, invest in a HERO card pack that contains questions and quotes as well as explanations, to help you boost your own HERO abilities.

Social resources

Our social networks extend our resourcefulness. Think of it as ‘I know a (wo)man who can’. Our network contains people who find easy what we find hard. They can be a source of inspiration, uplift, practical advice, useful contacts and many other resources that help us cope. Exchange your strengths across your network. For instance, you might find it easy to use Zoom, Team and other online resources, while your friend, who is hopeless at that sort of logical rational technical stuff, might be able to reel off a whole list of fun ways to teach times tables!

What about when we get back to work?

Organisational resilience is about all of the above, and, about social capital. The social capital of an organization reflects its connectedness. It’s about how easily information flows around the organization and how much trust there is. Both of these, quick information flow and trust, make it much easier for organizations to be resilient and to adapt quickly. As we tentatively ease lockdown, the enthusiasm of people to return to previous places of work will depend, to some extent, on the extent to which they trust the organization to look after them. Do they believe the organization is telling them what they need to know? Do they trust the plans to keep them safe? These positive organization development cards have lots of information about the features of the best organisations

A few quick tips for boosting your resilience and adaptability in the new normal

  • Follow safety instructions, but more importantly, understand the principles and apply them in different situations so you can be active in keeping yourself safe
  • Manage your energy and look after yourself. Having to suddenly adapt our behaviour means we can’t run on habitual lines, so it takes more energy even if you seem to be achieving less. Go easy on yourself, adjust your expectations and standards
  • Re-prioritise, and then do it again when things change again. It’s very easy to assume the priorities stay the same even as the situation changes. They don’t. So take the time to think about what the highest priorities are now, in this situation within these constraints, with these resources.
  • Redefine your goals so you can succeed in the new situation. This is very important.
  • Create and recreate structure for yourself. Structure really helps because it reduces decision-making, which is taxing. So keep evolving new structures to your day or your life as things change.

If you are interested in learning more about resilience and adaptability you can also access a video interview of two psychologists talking about resilience both generally and at work.

Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level.

Sarah is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society, a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a member of the International Positive Psychology Association.

Sarah is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology expert, a regular conference presenter and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley), Positive Psychology and Change (Wiley), ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage) and Positive Psychology in Business (Pavilion).

She also collects great positive psychology resources to support consultants, trainers and coaches in their work which are sold through the Positive Psychology online shop.