Resilience: Equanimity – staying cool at home and at work

Recently, I once again discovered an exciting article in the magazine Gehirn & Geist (in German language only) that, in my opinion, contains a very fitting topic for the end of the year. The title was “Resilience. What Allows the Psyche to Grow.” You can download this article, and the entire issue (11/2017) here for 5.99 EUR.

The article explains what resilience is, how it can be learned and why some people are born with a bigger share of resilience than others.

This time I have decided to let someone else speak about this exciting topic – namely Brigitte Hettenkofer (Homepage in German), a health expert and theologian I hold in high esteem, offering help and support with mastering the challenges of everyday life (work, illness, etc.) in order to stay healthy, fit and productive. In the following guest article she will explain why it pays to look into the topic of resilience.

As the year ends I wish us all a little more resilience against the worries and challenges in our daily lives, joy and happiness and a festive Season with our loved ones! Birgit

Now, let Brigtte talk:

It pays to be – or become – resilient

Life tested me again recently. “How resilient am I, actually? Can I handle difficult situations?”

I was in a good mood, shopping at Tegut, my favourite supermarket. I was wheeling the shopping trolley to the refrigerated section. One of the cooling shelves was open. A cart with new goods was parked to the right of it, just waiting to be stacked onto the cooling shelves. I thought I would easily be able to squeeze by and boldly maneuvered my trolley between the two obstacles. And then it happened! The door to the cooling shelf swung in the wrong direction and – whoosh – the glass broke into a thousand pieces. Luckily the shards did not scatter all over the floor. The other shoppers around me stared at the scene of destruction, as I did! The culprit had very obviously been me. In the next step I fetched a Tegut employee, who in turn fetched the store manager. I left my contact details and we agreed that he will get in touch when the bill comes for me to pay.

It‘s only after I’m outside in the fresh air again that I notice how calm and collected I remained throughout the incident. This surprises me because that’s so not me. Normally my pulse would soar, my face would turn red, and embarrassment would have me stammering a million apologies. I broke something – my mistake. Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit here. But it would have run along those lines.

After this incident I was surprised that I had been able to remain so calm and do what was necessary without freaking out. I go home with my shopping, carrying this feeling with me.

Staying cool – with yourself and others – equanimity in spite of small or big obstacles, is something many people wish for. My customers often tell me that this is what they wish for, as if equanimity were a kind of magic potion.

What does equanimity have to do with resilience?

A lot. If we can stay cool even when faced with a mountain of tasks, we will have more energy to actually get them done. The route to our brain’s problem-solving area remains open and not littered with anxious thoughts. This is just one example of what equanimity can do. Resilient people just can’t be fazed that easily. They don’t blow up, like the little HB man in the commercials many years ago.

Resilience – what exactly is it?

The term actually comes from physics. Applied to human beings, it refers to mental hardiness or the psyche’s immune system. To illustrate this, the experiment with a chair in the IKEA store comes to my mind: a machine repeatedly exerts great pressure on a chair, after which it returns to its original shape. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too.

For us human beings, this means crises do not topple us. On the contrary, following a period of crisis management, we may emerge stronger than ever from the experience. We stumble, fall, and pick ourselves up again. 

This is a skill that has always been important, and will become even more important in future. Today’s VUCA[1] world demands a great deal from us.

The good news is, you can learn to be resilient!

Resilience is not a gift from God, or something we are born with. Resilience can be learned. The Resilience Quotient (=RQ) can be increased – you can do it, too.

For a long time, experts thought that resilience was an inherent personal trait. Today, science knows that everyone can learn and train resilient behaviour, for example good impulse control, self-responsibility or healthy stress management.

What does resilience include?

Resilience is therefore a kind of meta-competence and includes a variety of skills. You will find experts referring to it in different ways and sometimes it’s 7 or even 12 in number. But in principle it always boils down to the same thing: what characteristics make us mentally resilient? Here is my model:

In my point of view, the basis for resilience qualities is mindfulness. This means we have to be aware of the following:

  • What is going on inside me at the moment?
  • What feelings/impulses do I feel right now?
  • What is happening inside my body?

Various resilience skills can be developed on this basis.

Imagine a chest of drawers. Every drawer contains a different resilience quality.

Tip: You should not work on every drawer. There will be drawers already well-filled and others less filled. These are the ones that should be tackled first.

If you want to know which drawer you should get started on now, feel free to take this little self-evaluation exercise I’ve provided for you: Self_evaluation_RESILIENCE

I wish you a big portion of resilience and the courage to keep at it. You won’t regret it!

Yours, Brigitte Hettenkofer, Institute for Neuro-Resilience

PS: The store manager never did call me. The glass door was repaired after some weeks and now I know the store manager personally – a nice guy.

[1] VUCA is an acronym and is short for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity und Ambiguity.