What constitutes resilience - individual, in a team and organizational
A conversation with David Ebermann
Resilient individuals demonstrate durability and not only navigate through crises unscathed but often emerge from them even stronger. Coach Harald Gabriel explains the role of one's life story in enhancing personal resilience.
Given the current crises, the term 'resilience' is on everyone's lips. Employees and leaders are facing new, constantly changing challenges. Many insights and best practices accumulated over the years seem to have
little or no effect when it comes to successfully overcoming these challenges. Who wouldn't desire a high level of personal resilience? Resilient individuals exhibit resilience, not only moving through crises unscathed but often coming out stronger. While it was commonly believed that resilience is an innate characteristic – that one is inherently equipped with a more or less 'thick skin' – it is now known that resilience can largely be learned. Essentially, it involves sharpening personal self-awareness, developing a sense of one's own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in different areas, and based on that, cultivating corresponding behaviours and routines. In this context, one also speaks of personal resources that need to be discovered and utilized to achieve a higher level of resilience.
Personal Resilience - The Significance of One's Life Story
An often-underestimated resource for enhancing personal resilience is one's biography, i.e., one's own life story. But how can reflecting on one's past help in mastering future challenges? Isn't it actually about developing new competencies and skills? What matters, as in many areas of life, is the personal attitude, that is, how we think about something and the mindset with which we approach a subject. And precisely this attitude is, most of the time unconsciously, strongly influenced by how a person sees their life story, especially how they look back on difficult phases and challenging events in their own biography. It makes a big difference whether a person sees their past life as a catastrophe in which they are the victim or whether
they can perceive and appreciate their own contributions to their fate with gratitude.
Breaking Free from role of the Victim
From neuroscience, we know that the brain does not distinguish between the actual experience of an objective situation and the subjective memory of that situation. In both cases, the same brain regions are activated, as can be visualised using imaging techniques. Likewise, we know that the emotional colouring of an event and the detailed interpretation of it can be altered by the brain afterwards. Each time a thought is thought or a story is told, the corresponding neural network is further reinforced.We cannot change our biography retroactively, but we can definitely change how we look at it, how we evaluate certain events, and what story we tell about our lives.In my coaching work with clients who want to enhance their personal
resilience, I therefore recommend a thorough retrospective of their own life story:
• How has your life unfolded so far?
• Which life events have had the greatest impact on your life?
• What patterns do you notice in your biography?
• What decisions have you made?
• What are you proud of?
• What do you regret?
Most life stories that emerge from the detailed examination of the above questions typically involve three essential elements:
Positive Events: Remembering and focusing on such moments provide strength.
Example: A client recounts how they still vividly remember their first professional presentation at an external conference several years ago, for which they received a lot of positive feedback. Whenever they face
challenging business meetings, they recall this event with pride and fulfilment, drawing strength and confidence for the upcoming task.
Negative Events: The fact that setbacks were overcome and dealt with, is proof that one can handle crises well and grow personally from them.
Example: A client shares how, at the beginning of their career, they lost their job due to a restructuring. After a prolonged period of grief, they took a deliberate break and fulfilled their dream of a long trip to Asia. Upon
returning home, they approached job hunting with renewed vigor and a clear perspective, which quickly resulted in success. Today, they say that in retrospect, they are even glad about losing their previous job because otherwise, they would have never obtained their current dream job.
Insights and Decisions: These realizations and navigational impulses are expressions of your self-leadership capabilities.
Example: A client realizes that they have made several "course changes" in their life, both in personal and professional aspects. For instance, they dropped out of university after a few semesters to pursue training as an insurance broker. Despite initial doubts, they joined an insurance company and quickly became a top performer. At the moment of their supposed greatest success, they realized that their personal values were increasingly misaligned with the company's goals. They quit and became a self-employed financial advisor. Their learning experiences can be summed up in the phrase: "I know what's good for me and can trust myself to make the right career decisions even in difficult situations."
Thus, one can understand a person's biography as a collection of resources. Engaging intensively with one's life story, for example, with the help of a coach, strengthens personal resilience because a conscious approach to one's biography has positive effects on one's attitude towards present challenges and expectations for the future.
Harald Gabriel is a coach and trainer at Leadership Choices. He works internationally and across industries with executives on communication, leadership, self-leadership, and resilience."
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