Top Ten Books on Resilience – Exploring a Practical Guide for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams

By March 13, 2019Uncategorized

Being defeated only needs to be temporary – giving up is what makes it permanent!

The CIPD identifies workforce wellbeing as one of the biggest drivers of employee performance and productivity, yet how many companies are including pro-active Resilience building training (not just an annual medical) in their Leadership and Learning and Development programmes?

The legacy of great Leaders is often their ability to get things done. However, the reality is that pace of life has increased dramatically, and with that comes increased pressure that can reduce our ability to perform at our creative, calm and balanced best.

Being competitive and profitable can and should go hand in hand with positive wellbeing. It can be achieved, provided the Leadership practices and behaviours of those at the top of an organisation embody it.

A good way to take a temperature check on our Resilience is to ask:

Can you continue to manage your current stress levels if nothing has changed 5 years from now?

Thinking about your current situation – what stress solutions are currently working?

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “I have enough energy levels for a hobby or past time” 

What do you need to do to get your energy back to a level you would be happy with?

I heard an interview with the All Blacks Coach, Steve Hansen where he described being an All Black is not just about winning, it is a way of being. Rugby is one of the most physically demanding and mentally challenging games. Hansen went on to say we are asking the players to be warriors and we need to help them understand how to do that successfully by cultivating a readiness to change where change is needed. Leaders in business are no different – in order to cultivate the Resilience required to be successful we need to pay particular attention to our mental health and mindsets and be open to change.

During challenging experiences we can liberate ourselves from our automatic reactions. Paying attention to our thought processes can help us notice our impulses before reacting. Negative thoughts and emotions sometimes have important messages for us. But it is critical we notice and observe these and aim to choose our reactions rather than be triggered into a reaction by a habitual primitive response, that links back to prehistoric times.

The trigger to our reactions is known as the fight, flight or freeze response. This basic survival mechanism that has developed over millions of years of evolution, is incredibly powerful and almost impossible to stop.   

To help us understand the power of our reactions, Mark Williams – a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, explores in his Book – Mindfulness – a practical guide for Finding Peace in a Frantic Worldhow the mind fuses thoughts, feelings, impulses and bodily sensations to give the mind a theme. To create this theme the mind trawls through memories to find a ‘parallel’ with our current experience, e.g. if you feel threatened your mind digs up past memories of when you were threatened. All of a sudden you are no longer responding to what is happening in that moment but to all previous moments that remind us of this ‘theme’. This begins to help us to understand why traumatic memories can be triggered years after an event.  The context for our mental Resilience is our memories can influence our Resilience and not always in a constructive way.

The world is full of triggers. When you think of a lemon, you are likely to produce more saliva. A question that implies a flicker of blame can bring unsettling memories back. Maybe we were unfairly accused or blamed of something and therefore our reaction becomes defensive to both the current and past ‘threat’. The key takeaway for building Resilience is we CAN stop the spiral from feeding itself with more negativity with proactive action. Various practices that support growing our capacity for mental Resilience can help to stop the next cycle of negative thoughts and help us re-enter the zone of peace and balance rather than head towards acute stress, burn out or an episode of depression. Mindfulness and developing a growth mindset are high on my list as practices that boost our mental Resilience.

Feelings from the past can feel very visceral. Emotional clusters form that relate to body sensations and in turn drive our behaviour. These can become habitual and, as Mark describes really nicely in the book, we are almost “wearing grooves” in the mind. Over time these become deeper,  making it easier to trigger a cascade of negative thoughts that can be difficult to shake. In moments of negativity the mind can switch to auto alert, triggered for threat – alarm bells go off and our mind will trawl through the memory bank for current, past and future worries.  The animal mind has the same alert system – but when the danger is passed – the animal mind switches off the alarm. In humans our alert system is not switched off and we continue to look for threat or danger  can I eat it or will it eat me?

New evidence from brain scans show people who rush around every day find it difficult to stay present and focused and have an amygdala (the pre-historic part of the brain) that is on constant high alert. This can be described as “doing mode”. The analytical mind breaks down information in order for critical thinking however this can lead us to focus on the gap between where we are rather than where we would like to be, in turn leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The doing mode becomes our normal default and leaves little room for just ‘being’. If we can stop ‘doing’ in order to step back to assess a situation with objectivity – challenge any negative thinking we may be having – we can harness the capacity to de-clutter thoughts, feelings and emotions and fresh perspectives can arise.

Practicing mindfulness helps us observe events without criticism and is a skill that can help support our mental Resilience.

Mindfulness can allow us to catch negative thought patterns before they tip us on a downward spiral. This is about creating virtuous rather than vicious cycles of thinking.

Mindfulness can put us back in control and can positively affect brain patterns that can be the cause of stress, anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness can help us towards a growth rather than fixed mind-set and raises our capacity to be more aware of our mind and thought patterns – and challenge ourselves where necessary.

Our lives are becoming busier and our brains have evolved into a complex, intelligent part of our physiology that process information quickly and help us fast track our decision making.

Mindfulness helps us access the intelligent mind without becoming mentally dispersed or hyper reactive.

It shows strength of character to be prepared to change and yet many of us resist change. However the structure of our brains does not always support our Resilience in the best possible way and therefore a commitment to growing our capacity for mental Resilience in order to support our long-term wellbeing is key. We can build our ability to adapt which helps us thrive during challenge rather than go on a downward spiral. 

The key to Bouncing-Back and becoming successfully adapted ‘warriors’ for this period in history is the acceptance we need to challenge and change certain things within us in order to rise above the challenge rather than be caught in the turmoil. 

In our work we have identified 4 cornerstones to personal Resilience that can be built upon and improve. These are:

PHYSICAL: The body, your physical health and wellbeing

VALUES: What you stand for, what you believe in – your purpose, what motivates you, and what connects you to others

MENTAL: Your mind, strengths, mental resources, capacity for bounce back thinking

EMOTIONAL: Your feelings and underlying emotions, your emotional landscape, self-awareness and capacity for balance. 

I spent some time in January blogging on Emotional Resilience and next month we will look at Physical Resilience whilst the Brighton and London Marathon’s take place. In this blog I begin to explore mindset and Resilience and will continue to do so in March’s Blog as well as sharing further books on Resilience and mindfulness in my personal top 10.

Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog and as ever feedback and comments most welcome.

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