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How to develop emotional resilience
Thought Leadership

What Is Emotional Resilience? 4 Ways To Develop This Essential Skill Set

  • Burnout goes beyond physical or mental exhaustion — it’s a state of suffering that occurs when we allow stressors to defeat us.
  • Emotional resilience is the use of stress and tension to achieve our goals instead of burning out, and we should build that resilience as we build our leadership skills.
  • Focusing on our strengths and learning when to take breaks can shore up our emotional fortitude to carry on when our businesses need it most.

Anyone can thrive when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the skies are clear. But who among us can weather the storm when chaos ensues? For entrepreneurs and the teams they manage, it’s a major factor in whether their organizations grow, stagnate or go belly up. It’s of utmost importance to learn how to develop emotional resilience.

“Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you respond to it,” Mark Carruthers, Principal and Senior Consultant at Avgi Management Consulting, says on an episode of The BOLD Business Podcast. This is why it’s so important to develop emotional resilience. 

To achieve this requires a very specific, nuanced outlook. “A lot of it comes down to the fact that the glass isn’t half full or half empty. It’s refillable. And it’s a question of figuring out, how do we refill this glass,” Ben Baker, President and CEO of Your Brand Marketing, says. This really is the most important question for getting from potential burnout to emotional resilience, and it’s a cornerstone of what we call “dimensional leadership.” 

When our minds and bodies are feeling run down from work or home-based sources of stress, we can draw upon our coping skills to stay the course or reroute and then accomplish our objectives. This is emotional resilience in action. Or, we can allow ourselves to become overwhelmed and wave the white flag: burnout. 

Andrew Hutton, Founder and CEO of startup community Day One, points out that burnout comes in more than one form. “There’s one version of burnout that’s the Wall Street person who doesn’t sleep and works 150 hours a week,” and there’s another form that involves decision fatigue. “It’s more of an emotional burnout. ‘I just can’t gear up to make this next decision, and I may be wrong and have to backtrack it and try again.’”

Mark, Ben and Andrew joined The BOLD Business Podcast to talk about what it means to have emotional resilience in a world of burnout. 

How to Build Emotional Resilience 

To remain clearheaded, stay decisive and avoid burnout, you must have self-awareness, persistence, emotional control, and flexibility. Here are several key concepts and strategies for developing these skills.

1. Focus on Your Strengths to Stay in the Game

Continuing to show up day after day and removing the option to quit is an integral part of every entrepreneur’s journey. 

“Most of the time, businesses don’t fail; founders give up. Businesses don’t run out of money; founders run out of money. The founders don’t have enough gas in the tank to take the next shot,” Andrew says.

Before you take that next shot, you should know who you are, be who you are and use what you excel in to help you endure and get stronger. “To build your own emotional resilience, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. Focus on what you’re awesome at. We need to focus our strengths and understand who we are as people to lead others,” Ben says.

Andrew recommends giving yourself some extra runway to make the process of building emotional resilience easier. “If you’re going to survive the game, and then truly see if the business can make it or not, set the expectation that it’s going to take you longer than you think.”

Quote - Andrew Hutton

2. Stop Looking Out the Window 

You’re not Google, Tesla or Microsoft, so stop comparing yourself to them (or any other brand). “It’s always, The grass is always greener,” Ben says. Do what works for you.

“You need to sit there and say, What are the key performance indicators that work for our organization? What are the policies and procedures that work for our organization? Forget about industry standards; forget about what other people are doing in your industry,” Ben explains. “What works for you as an organization? What does your company need to be successful?”

Focusing on your own personal needs and the needs of your business will keep comparison from being an additional stressor, making resilience easier to come by. 

3. Stay Nimble 

To succeed as a CEO, founder or any kind of entrepreneur, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Embrace change and be willing to frequently adjust your approach, Andrew says.

“Businesses have pivots to be made, customers to be found and 100 things you need to do better this month and next month.” As difficult as it may be, you need to “dip into that well of energy,” whether that means hitting a deadline or gathering the will to regroup and attack whatever’s next. 

Telling yourself upfront to prepare for changes can help you stay emotionally prepared for anything that might happen with your business.

4. Give Yourself a Break to Refill the Glass

As a highly driven group, entrepreneurs often feel the urge to resist slowing down and taking a few extra breaths when things get intense. Mark has seen this time and time again. 

“Individuals who are looking to advance in their careers are willing to put in extra time and put stress upon themselves to try to achieve more and move up the corporate ladder.  And who’s benefiting? Usually, the business as opposed to the individual. But in the longer term, it’ll catch up with the individual and harm them. And they don’t realize that until it’s too late.”

Quote - Mark Carruthers

You may be tempted to ignore the need to decompress, but forcing yourself to push on when your reserves are tapped can have negative consequences. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the signs that tell you it’s time to hit the pause button. 

For Andrew, it’s when he finds himself checking Twitter. “Building a business requires you to push through your comfort zone. But if I’m just staying locked in to do a hard thing, then I know that I’m just underperforming.” 

In order to move forward, we need to stop periodically and gather our thoughts. That can mean actually leaving our surroundings to take a walk, have lunch with a colleague or go to the gym. It can mean taking a nap, reading something unrelated to work or doing something else on our agenda that’s unrelated to the project that’s adding to our stress level. 

Then we can harness the energy we need to move past whatever obstacles stand in our way. 

But realize that pausing is not the same thing as quitting and that setbacks do not equal defeat. Ben frames it like this: “Treading water is not drowning … It just means now is the time to give our heads and our bodies and our brains a break.”

In fact, you may need to borrow someone else’s brain, and there’s no shame in that. “No matter how dark things get, I may have to go looking for that answer. I may have to align myself with somebody who knows more — a mentor, a coach, a friend, somebody that I don’t even know — somebody that’s actually had that experience,” Ben says. 

Think of each unexpected difficulty you face as an opportunity to seek wisdom as you evolve toward a state of true emotional resilience and dimensional leadership.

Want to learn more about good leadership and how to develop emotional resilience? See what else Anthony, Carol and Steve had to say on the topic in our podcast episode, “Strong Business Culture is the Future of Work.” Don’t forget to subscribe to The BOLD Business Podcast for more insights on leadership and success.

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