I am preparing to talk to a large group of bank branch managers about the secrets of resilience. They’re not interested in the basics; years of change and disruption have taught them the fundamentals (remember when the ATM was going to replace all the jobs in financial services). They’re looking for the next level—the secrets of not just surviving but thriving through change.

Resilience is a hot buzzword, but still a poorly understood idea. If you ask someone who isn’t resilient, they’ll probably tell you that resilience is a trait—one they weren’t lucky enough to be born with! Those who are resilient don’t think they have a special gene for mental toughness, they see resilience as a process and a way of thinking and acting that helps them get through adversity.  Emerging research supports the process view of resilience, not the trait model. Resilience is more closely tied to how you behave than who you are.

Now that you know you have the power to become more resilient, here are a few things you can try.

Choose, every day, to be where you are. This sounds like a moronically simple concept and yet it’s the most important one of all. If you feel like your organization is imposing an unreasonable amount of change on you—a mountain of work that you would never choose to climb, then you’re set up to feel overwhelmed right from the start.  If, instead, you get up each morning and choose to be a part of a massive change; choose to tackle the day’s challenges with your best effort, then you become an agent of change rather than a victim of it. That’s the first step in resilience.

The next step is actually many steps. Take small steps and keep moving. You’re looking for actions that are low impact but high frequency. That way, no one step is overwhelming but the cumulative progress is noticeable. And don’t get overwhelmed when you see how far is left to travel. Instead, choose some days where you just focus on accomplishing as much as possible in one day. On other days, take a look in the rear-view mirror and see how far you’ve come.

Think beyond yourself. Focus on what you’re learning and the privilege of leading people during challenging times. Some days, it’s hard to muster the energy to behave in all the right ways. On those days, it’s useful to remember that others are counting on you. While you might want to collapse in a heap, consider all the people who are looking to you for the next move. Be proud of what you’re learning and accomplishing. “Before this change, I never would have known how to…,” or “I never would have had the guts to…”

A body in continuous motion is not always resilient. Think about how carefully athletes plan whitespace into their training. Rest is when the muscles heal and build. Rest is also when the brain can consolidate the information you’ve collected and turn it into insights. To maximize your resilience, you need to build whitespace into your weeks. Where are you going to close the door and not answer calls or emails? Where will you build in some time to just chat informally with your team about how things are going? These unscripted rest moments are just as important to your productivity as the busy moments.

While you’re turning into Superman or Wonder Woman, be sure to listen to your body and pay attention when you need a break.  Sleep, healthy food, time with family, and hobbies are not indulgences, no matter how many commas are in your paycheck. Those are the fuel and oil for your machine—the one your company is paying all that money for. You need to change your language from “it’s so busy, I can’t afford to [insert resilience building activity here],” to “it’s so busy, I can’t afford not to….” This is particularly important when it comes to investing in your relationships. The research shows that strong relationships and people you can turn to for support are one of the most important predictors of resilience.

Finally, you might be tempted to avoid difficult situations, thinking that they will wear you down. That’s a big mistake. What really wears you down is the worry and anxiety of unresolved situations. To keep your resilience up, approach the uncomfortable issue and move through it as efficiently as possible. That way you won’t waste your energy fretting.

I’m getting excited about talking to these branch managers. It’s a great message I have to share. Resilience is within reach. Resilience isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you do. Resilience isn’t about climbing a giant mountain, it’s a series of small, manageable actions. Resilience doesn’t mean running full speed and never stopping—rest is as important to resilience as forward motion is. What will you do to increase your resilience?

Further Reading

Gas in the Tank?

Bolster Your Stress Reserves

Are You Meeting at the Wrong Time?