Practising resilience in the moment
Updated: Jan 28
Resiliency is an important skill, but it’s easy to be swept up in the flow of emotion when confronted with a challenge. How can we steer ourselves away from impulsivity and towards logical decisions? Well, the first step is learning how to stop effectively.
Previously, I’ve written about the executive function of the brain and the role that it plays in both decision making and resiliency. Historically, academics defined mental health as the capacity to be aware of the gap between a stimulus and a response, together with the ability to use this gap constructively. That stimulus might be something confronting that arises as an in-the-moment challenge or an ongoing situation – either way, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to react to it.
As research in this space has evolved, a big part of the focus in mental wellbeing is knowing that – no matter what – when something happens to us, there is a moment where we are the driver of how we’ll respond to the stimulus and, subsequently, what follows.
It’s within the gap created by that moment of choice that we can make a decision about how we’ll react. There’s a choice between relying on an emotional response or using our brain’s executive function to try and take emotions out of the equation.
Once you’re aware of the presence of this moment, it becomes an empowering realisation. At that decision point, you can work through your options logically and steer yourself away from instantaneous, impulsive responses.
Several tools can help you achieve that awareness and take back control when you’re facing a challenge. First, you need to be aware of what your natural, instinctive response to a heated situation is. If you can try to observe your self in action, or reflect and gain insight into what you typically do – then you’ll have the chance to learn from that and adapt accordingly.
A useful technique is to ask yourself questions in the moment. This is a mental trick that you can use to your advantage. In the act of questioning yourself, you’re triggering a shift toward the logical part of your brain and away from an emotional response. Try asking yourself, ‘What would someone that I respect do right now in this scenario?’ Or, ‘What can I control right now?’ These questions create a mental space that will interrupt your instinctive emotional response.
Stop for a moment
Once you’ve made that shift, you can use the STAR technique. STAR is an acronym that stands for Stop, Think, Act, Review. If you learn and practise it enough, it will become an automatic function.
The first step, ‘stop’, is the hardest part of the process – and it’s also the most important one. The ability to stop extends the gap between impulse and response, giving you an opportunity to evaluate things and potentially defuse the situation. If you can master stopping, then you’re three-quarters of the way to success already.
An effective stop will bring down your emotions, as well as those of the people around you. It will enable you to shift from an impulsive, biological response towards a logical space that’s going to allow you to make a considered decision.
Learning how to stop
I teach the STAR technique when I’m doing workshops with corporate executives. It’s amazing that when you challenge these high-performing people to list the different ways they can stop – they don’t know how to do it.
With that in mind, here are some strategies you can use as effective stops. These are skills that should be in everyone’s toolkit. Think of them as your first line of defence against making emotion-led decisions. The more you practise implementing these, the more naturally they will come when you need them.
1. Focus on your breathing for 10 seconds.
2. Clench and unclench your fists.
3. Excuse yourself to the bathroom for a few minutes.
4. Suggest that everyone return to this situation at a later date.
5. Agree to disagree.
6. Suggest continuing the conversation over a cup of tea.
7. Go for a walk around the block.
8. Acknowledge that you need a few minutes to think about the situation at hand.
Think about your options
Once you’ve stopped, the next step is to ‘think’. Challenge yourself to come up with three different options to handle the situation in front of you. For example, when facing a challenge, one decision might be to walk away, one might be to intervene, one might be to breathe through it and let it go.
Again, the purpose of challenging yourself to think of multiple options is based around the process of invoking the decision-making part of your brain. Once you’ve come up with these potential actions, then you’re in a position where you’re mentally forcing yourself to move toward deciding which one is the best solution that you have in the moment.
Act on your decision and review the results
The third step is simple, you just need to ‘act’ on the decision that you made in step two, which brings us to the final stage: ‘review’. The review process can be instantaneous – for example, when you see the response to your actions from the person you’re speaking to. That feedback might lead you to think, ‘Okay, that didn’t work.’ In that scenario, you would backtrack to step two and try to think of a different way to tackle things.
If you act and there’s a resolution to the situation, then it’s still useful to review what worked later on for future reference. You may find it beneficial to reflect with someone else familiar with the situation, like a boss or a mentor. If you’re going to engage in self-reflection, it’s important you do so after the emotional intensity or urgency of the situation has subsided.
Standalone versus evolving situations
Finally, there’s another dimension here that needs to be considered. There are different types of scenarios that will arise in your life that are going to require you to be resilient. Some of them will be standalone, individual incidents. For example, your child shattering a glass or you being involved in a car accident. In isolated or self-contained challenges, the situation has already occurred and it’s about focussing on recovery. How you choose to recover will be the ‘think’ and ‘act’ of the STAR technique – and your ‘review’ will help you learn about the way you handled the situation.
Situations like dealing with negative workplace issues, toxic relationships or facing social anxiety, will require a different approach. If it’s an evolving or recurring situation – for example, a relationship that has problems – there’s likely to be a regular set of new inputs that are exasperating the challenging circumstances. Being able to stop, think, and act in a way that gets you through the situation but also brings you to a point of reflection is vital. It’s not just about resiliency in the moment, it’s about entering the ‘review’ stage to problem solve. By really sitting in this stage you can try to get to the crux of the issue.
Personally, I ponder well before bed and then journal my thoughts. Other people I know like to debrief with a friend or think while walking quietly. It’s definitely challenging for us to be perpetually resilient as human beings, because we have that need to find solutions – we want to recover not just cope. Resiliency is a measure of your ability to bounce forward after a setback, but don’t forget that there’s also a need to address the root of the problem – and that’s where reviewing and reflecting is going to be your greatest ally.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on February 27, 2019.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.