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What Should You Do When Things go Wrong?

Life is littered with things that do not go as well as we would like them. This is a fact. The only variable is how we deal with them. One of the issues that makes it harder to deal with these things are the stories we tell ourselves about these events that can turn disappointment into despair. People often believe that when things go wrong they are to blame or that it means that there is something wrong with them and then make generalisations about their overall abilities. For example, Zac presents at a meeting and forgets what to say. Afterwards he berates himself thinking how badly he did, that this would have a terrible impact on his job and that everyone will think he is useless.

Here are some of the ways we create damaging stories around the things that do not go well:

This may sound extreme but if we were not thinking the above then we would not feel so upset when things go wrong or we make mistakes; we get hijacked by our emotional brain and this can be highly damaging and distressing.

How to manage our emotions better when things go wrong

When things go wrong and our emotional brain goes into action we need to re-engage our rational brain to help us deal with things better. Imagine we did not get an interview and we called up a friend who said "I cannot believe you did not get it, you never prepare for things that are important, you will never get a job and this is now going to be dire, you are useless". If they said this we would think that they were not a very good friend, but the awful part of it is that often this is what we tell ourselves.


What to do

Catch and become observant of your inner critical voice: Once you can start to catch your internal voice that is critical and severe you can begin to minimise its negative impact. We know that people do not respond well when they are verbally beaten up so why do we do it to ourselves; often because we are not even aware it is happening.

Label and name how you are feeling in the moment: At the moment I am very upset about what happened. Naming the emotion has been proven to reduce the feeling or our response.

Catch the judgements and generalisations: You can start to question the generalisations and judgements your internal voice makes e.g. Do I never prepare? Is it likely that I will never get a job? This does not mean I am useless overall.

Use data and rationale facts to decontaminate your inner voice: I did prepare for the interview and I could have got some more examples. I am not useless as have all these skills... I was not able to answer 2 of the 10 questions as well as I would have liked to. However, I was pleased with my responses to 8 of the questions.

De catastrophise: This was not ideal but I am okay and will get over this. It does not mean I will never get a job as this is one job and I can go for more using this experience.



How Does Creating Balance in our Work Lives Help To Build Resilience?

Our physical and emotional well being is at the heart of our resilience and ability to perform well in the long term at work. When we work too hard, for extended periods, most people will experience a variety of side effects that reduce their ability to stay cool under pressure or think clearly.

Here are the findings of a Mental Health Organisation survey of employees who were working long hours:

Relaxation and breaks build resilience

Working too many hours without breaks has been proved to reduce the ability of our brains to do the following:

To be resilient and function to the best of our abilities we need our brains to be well fuelled and rested. A more balanced approach to our lives that involve better eating, exercise, breaks, rest and play will increase our ability to effectively perform whether at work or out of work.



Understanding our emotional world: Why do we want to voyage to Mars but few want to find out more about their internal world?

Emotional Intelligence and Resilience have become buzzwords of our time. It seems we want to build skills in these areas and realise that this will help us at work to become better at managing relationships, dealing with set backs, being good leaders, and managing up, to name a few. Whether we like it or not our emotional responses make up a great part of our day and are even present in the quality of our sleep and can enter into the content of our dreams. However, the tools we need to go deeper into our emotional world are mostly found in therapy. Normally the people who come into therapy go in when they are facing a crisis and we talk about mental health issues as if it is limited to those who are depressed or emotionally fragile. However, we all have a mental life that it is part of us and shapes our behaviour, relationships and performance.

A good example is looking at stress. Most people think that stress is just something endemic in modern life and business. However, stress is directly linked to our internal world; the beliefs, assumptions and the things we tell ourselves about situations which are often hidden from us. We know that when we get stressed we are telling ourselves something catastrophic otherwise we would not produce the chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol, that we do when we are under attack. The tools we need to understand this equation are therapeutic ones. Without them this type of insight is hidden, it is like we are living a life blinded to conversations that are going on inside of us.

Here is an illustration of how we can manage our responses to a stressful situation using the ABC model, which is one used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Many people feel stressed when they present. Some people can feel sick, have difficulties breathing and race through their presentations in a state of heightened anxiety. These are all symptoms we experience when we produce adrenaline and cortisol (commonly referred to as the flight or fight hormones we produce when under internal or external threat). The question is; why have we told ourselves something terrible when the majority of us do not struggle talking to friends or in more informal contexts? The thing that has changed is our internal dialogue. So perhaps we feel exposed and vulnerable when in front of a group and some of the things we may be telling themselves are ?I am going to do a rubbish job, everyone is going to think I cannot do my job, I am useless, they are going to sack me, I am the failure I always thought I was...? This would account for adrenaline and cortisol being produced in this way. We tell ourselves awful things and then our body responds accordingly.

Once we have a better idea of this equation i.e. what catastrophic things are we telling ourselves to make us produce adrenaline and cortisol, we can start to reduce our stress levels by engaging our rational brain which can provide a counter script.

This thinking can be helpful but it misses another deeper layer; where did these beliefs and assumptions, that drive our internal dialogue and are so toxic to our wellbeing, originate? If we could understand more about this we could change our internal thought process more significantly. I believe, along with other psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, that they often come from our childhood experiences, parents, culture and generational history. If we could learn more about this we could work at a much deeper level to change how we behave, react and respond to others. This would have a profound impact on many areas of our life.

For us to fully understand and build our emotional intelligence and build resilience we need to explore our emotional world. This would help us reduce our responses to things like stress, relationship issues, conflict, difficult conversations and a whole raft of other situations where our emotions come into play. We can only do this by bringing therapeutic tools into the mainstream so they are not just known by those who are in therapy. If we all had a better insight into the internal world or our emotions we would be better able to genuinely increase our emotional intelligence.



In the Twentieth Century Resilience may be the defining factor for success.

What is resilience?

Resilience is having the ability to overcome challenges, trauma, set backs, personal crises and obstacles and bounce back stronger, and wiser, feeling empowered.

Resilience is an emotional intelligence in contrast to our intellectual intelligence. It is how we manage our emotional world to deal with the uncertainties and difficulties in life. People with higher levels of resilience can deal with work better, are more likely to succeed and will be able to harness the skills and attributes they have.

We all have different levels of resilience and at different times will feel more or less resilient. A good analogy is the one of a glass. We get up in the morning and the dishwasher has leaked all over the floor; we can add a good measure to our glass. We miss our train, there is not one for 20 minutes as there are delays; we can add another measure to our glass. Someone pushes into us on the train and is rude when we mention it; add another. We get to work and our boss asks us to help out with something that we do not usually do, the glass may spill over.

As resilience is an emotional intelligence it makes sense that our capacity for it is dependent on our emotional well-being. For example if we are tired, stressed and over worked we will have much less ability to be resilient. It makes it even more important that we take actions to ensure our emotional welfare and health as it helps us access the skills needed to be resilient.


Why is it important?

"It seems that we have been sold the idea that being great and having an amazing talent is due to winning the genetic lottery or just dumb luck. But, in reality, amazing people are those that are willing to fall flat on their face, wipe off the dust and keep on keeping on. To them, failures are an opportunity to learn and grow." Dc Michelle Nielsen Seven Key Factors to Creating Resilience - Propelling Entrepreneurs to Massive Success, Huffington Post.

As Dean Becker, the president and CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems, a four-year-old company in Pennsylvania, that develops and delivers programs about resilience training, puts it: "More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person's level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That's true in the cancer ward, it's true in the Olympics, and it's true in the boardroom." (Quoted in Diana Coutu?s article in the Harvard Business Review How resilience works).

One of the key attributes of successful people and entrepreneurs is that of resilience, that they keep going, oercome obstacles and when there are set backs they learn and carry on. Intelligence in itself is not enough and in some respects there is less that you can do to influence this.

In our day and age, business is becoming more complicated and competitive. It is not enough to be intelligent, employees need to be good at learning fast, overcoming obstacles and changing rapidly. This demands higher levels of resilience.

We are also now more aware that emotional states such as anxiety, stress, anger, irritation, frustration, boredom and resentment can decrease productivity. Without being able to understand and so better manage these emotions, they can impact significantly on our relationships, well-being and performance.

Resilience can help us deal with the many highs and lows of our working life, increase our emotional intelligence and our chances of being successful and more fulfilled in our careers.

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