10 ways to top up your resilience at work

Dr Hayley Lewis, a psychologist and executive coach has likened resilience, the ability to cope mentally and emotionally after something difficult has happened as being like a reservoir. Why so? Well like a reservoir your resilience is a very precious resource, which is vital to your health; like a reservoir your resilience needs to be regularly topped up; like a reservoir your level of resilience can rise and fall, and like a reservoir you really don’t want your resilience to run dry.

I’ve written before about the importance of looking after your own well-being and being attentive to the well-being of family members, friends and colleagues. Maintaining a healthy level of resilience is vital for your well-being, but all too often your job, with all the stresses and strains that come with it can quickly drain that resilience away. I want to share some things that I’ve found to be effective for preventing this from happening. It’s worth nothing that whilst I’ve got first hand-experience of all these techniques, I’m not a health-care professional. If you’re really struggling with your resilience and mental health I’d strongly recommend speaking to a health-care professional for support.

Your resilience is like a reservoir, it needs to be protected and regularly topped up.

1. Start your day with a plan

Rather than jumping headfirst into my working day I’ve found it useful to spend a few minutes planning my day ahead. What do I want to achieve? What are my top priorities? When am I going to take breaks? How can I protect my boundaries? (More about this later).

It can be demoralising and resilience sapping to always write a long list of things to do and only ever tick a few off by the end of the day, so keep your to-do list short (no more than 6 items) and realistic. I’ve found using a single post-it note to be a great way to keep my daily to-do list short as there is only so much you can write on one 3 inch by 3inch post-it note!

2. Go for a walk

Walking is not only good exercise, it’s also a great way to switch off from work by getting away from your desk. A nature walk beats a city walk, but really any walk is better than none.

I will try to take a 20–30 minute walk every working day, usually before I start work or at lunch time and will listen to podcasts to ensure that I properly switch off from work (the excellent Cycling Podcast being a particular favourite).

Regular walks are great for your resilience, even better if you can connect with nature.

3. Take regular breaks

You probably have a desk-based job, meaning that you spend most of your working day sat at your desk (although if you’ve read my How to survive working from home article you might have invested in a standing desk). Humans certainly didn’t evolve to sit on our backsides all day and as someone who has suffered from back pain in the past, I know the importance of taking regular micro-breaks throughout the day.

Regularly getting away from your desk, whether it’s to make a drink, to take a short stroll or to have a quick stretch is a great way to get your body moving and to take a micro-break from work. I will aim to take a few minutes break every 30–45 minutes and use a great little break time reminder app called recess on my Macbook to remind me to do so.

4. Protect your boundaries

It can be all too easy for the boundaries between home life and work life to become blurred, especially as more and more of us are now spending a lot of time working from home. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, it also drains his resilience.

It’s important to pro-actively prevent your work life from bleeding into your home life. For example, by very deliberating not working in the evening (and calling out others for doing so), by ensuring that you take a proper lunch break and by resisting the urge to check work emails whilst on holiday.

I really like the daily resilience working from home checklist by the career psychologist. One of the important questions it includes is:

  • Did you protect yesterday’s most important boundary?
  • What is the most important boundary to protect today?

Asking yourself these two questions every day can really help you to actively protect your boundaries. Take a look at my How to survive working from home article for more hints and tips if you’re frequently working from home.

5. Look at the bigger picture

Have you ever heard the saying: “Can’t see the wood for the trees” (or “Can’t see the forest for the trees” in American English)? It means that someone is so involved in the detail of something that they can’t see the bigger picture.

This can often be the case when we face challenging situations, especially at work. We get so involved in the details of a situation that we lose sight of the bigger picture. When I find myself in situations that are really testing my resilience, I find it useful to ask myself some questions that will help me to step back and see the bigger picture. For example:

  • How important is this when I consider the bigger picture?
  • How would this situation look like to someone not involved?
  • What would be the best thing for me to do if I consider the bigger picture?

6. Focus on what you can control

Let’s be honest, whilst we might not admit it, the vast majority of us are control-freaks. We all like to think that we have things under control, and that we can control things. How wrong we are.

Whilst we control lots of things in our life, including of course our own actions, most of what goes on in the world is simply outside of our control, like 99.999999999% of the stuff going on. You or I can’t control the economy, we can’t control the weather, we can’t control the fact that Vladimir Putin went crazy during lockdown and decided it would be a good idea to declare war on Ukraine.

I’ve found the circles of concern framework to be a helpful way to consider exactly what is and more importantly what isn’t under my control. The framework outlines 3 areas of concern:

  • Circle of control — Things under your direct control, such as your own behaviour.
  • Circle of influence — Things you can influence, but which are still outside your direct control. For example, family, friends and work colleagues.
  • Circle of concern — Things you have no control over, such as the wider economic situation.
The circles of concern framework by Stephen Covey.

Remembering the circles of concern framework helps me to avoid worrying about things that are outside of my control, and to focus on things that I can directly control, or at least influence.

7. Find time to relax

Modern life can be hectic, making it hard to find any time to switch off and relax. If your average working day is anything like mine, relaxation certainly isn’t going to happen by accident, it’s something that needs to be planned into the day.

I try to create moments for relaxation during my working day. For example, sometimes I’ll do 10 minutes of yoga (if I’m working from home, it would be a bit odd to do it in the office) or spend 10 minutes reading a good book. In the evening I’ve found some mindfulness exercises to be useful for helping to relax and top up my resilience. For example, by going through some simple muscle relaxation exercises.

Yoga is a great way to switch off and relax during the day.

8. Celebrate your achievements (and those of others)

Too often we focus on what we’ve not been able to do, that long list of things with no tick against them, rather than what we have been able to achieve. To combat this natural tendency, I’ve started spending 5 minutes at the end of each day capturing:

  • What I’ve achieved
  • What I’ve learnt
  • What or who I’m grateful for
  • What I want to achieve tomorrow

This helps to ensure that I celebrate my own achievements, along with those of others.

9. Write down your worries

Worries can feel like a huge weight around your neck, dragging you down and draining your resilience. Rather than running away from my worries, I’ve found it to be helpful to write them down so that I can then break them down.

I’ve found that actively writing my worries down can help me to focus on how significant the worry is and if it’s something that I should be worrying out (most of the time it isn’t) to create an action plan. This helps me to focus on what I can do about the worry, rather than just the worry itself.

10. Record your end of week reflections

I aim to have a growth mindset. To be inquisitive, curious, to try things out and to be continually learning and growing. Something that helps me do this is to record my end of week reflections. I’ll spend 10 minutes on a Friday afternoon capturing:

  • How my week was and why
  • What went well
  • What could have been better
  • What I accomplished
  • What I learnt
  • What my priorities are for next week
  • How I can make next week a success

This helps me to reflect on how I’ve grown during the week and how I can strive to continue growing. I’ve created a template to help me record this which you can download and use yourself:

End of week reflections template (PDF)

Capturing end of week reflections can be a very helpful learning exercise.

Recap

Maintaining a healthy level of resilience is vital for your well-being, but all too often your job, with all the stresses and strains that come with it can quickly drain that resilience away. To prevent this from happening you can:

  • Start your day with a plan.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Protect your boundaries.
  • Look at the bigger picture.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Find time to relax.
  • Celebrate your achievements (and those of others).
  • Write down you worries.
  • Record your end of week reflections.

Remember that it’s ok not be ok, but it’s not ok to do nothing about it. If you’re really struggling with your resilience and mental health I’d strongly recommend speaking to a health-care professional. Finally, if you find yourself in a toxic work environment that is draining your resilience quicker than you can top it up, don’t be afraid to walk away, your own well-being has to be your main priority.

See also

Resources

Image credits

Office meditation by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Mountain lake image by Felix Wolf from Pixabay
Countryside walk image by Pexels from Pixabay
Yoga image by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

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Former techy turned UX Jedi from the UK. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.

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Neil Turner

Former techy turned UX Jedi from the UK. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.