Us humans have a lot going on these days.
On an individual level, we’re busy taking care of our families, doing chores, running errands, working one or two jobs and trying to find time to fit in fitness, healthy eating, time with loved ones and self-care.
On a societal level, we’re devouring information, sharing and consuming everything and anything, and trying to deal with what’s going on in the world today; some of it good, like complete strangers showing up to a lonely young boy’s birthday party thanks to a viral Facebook post or a puppy and a duckling who’ve become the best of friends and whose shenanigans are shared on YouTube for all to see… and some of it bad, like the recent horrific incidents involving our own species in the states and all over the world.
It’s overwhelming. It’s despairing. It brings out the best in some of us and the worst in others. And it can be almost too hard to handle.
As a change manager by day and former student of anthropology, how humans behave as a collective – either as a whole culture or sub-group of a culture – is fascinating to me. There’s part of me that thinks if we could just understand why we do the things we do from a behavioral perspective in our current environment – an environment and way of living that has changed way faster than our bodies and minds have had a chance to adapt to – we could figure out how to better handle ourselves, and the diseases of modern civilization (heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, etc.) wouldn’t be so rampant.
Trying to understand why we do the things we do in the environment we’re in is something I do at a molecular level at my job. When a group of employee’s jobs are changing, or a new technology or process is being brought in an a group of employees/all employees will need to learn how to use it, my job is to understand the current work culture/process/tool/role within that group of employees, where they need to get to be able to work in the new way successfully, past changes within that group that may impact how well they adopt to the new way of working/process/tool, the best way to communicate to/train the group, how long they will need to transition, and coach the higher-ups to help them help their staff through the transition. I get to be a corporate anthropologist of sorts, understanding the dynamics of the group, the impact of the change and what the best method of adoption is instead of just imposing a change on them that ultimately fails because it wasn’t the right fit for the group and/or was introduced in a way that didn’t give them sufficient time to learn and understand it.
Although we have people doing this kind of work on a municipal, provincial and even national level (urban planning and new policies in government, for example), I feel like we also need it on a global (species) level and individual level (which I’ll get to in a moment – this is where the resilience boosting comes in).
From a species perspective, there are some things we first-world humans are still hardwired for that we no longer do, such as living in tribes, raising children together with extended family, and having to constantly be on the lookout for both danger and high-fat, high-sugar foods to keep us alive. Although the way we live now fits the way we run our modern consumerist society – and particular groups and individuals certainly do thrive in it – I believe this drastic change in the way we live has a lot to do with the collective darkness and challenges we are experiencing these days. Of course, I’m not excusing or accepting the behaviour of disturbed individuals who do horrible things and saying their actions are due to our modern environment, because humans have done horrible things throughout our existence. We’re not an entirely peaceful species (though I wish we were). What I’m talking about is the rise in mental illnesses and chronic conditions like heart disease on a global level thanks in part to the way we live these days.
War journalist, documentary filmmaker and writer Sebastian Junger (who also has a background in anthropology) explores this theory in his latest book “Tribe” (which I definitely plan to read this summer):
“Mr. Junger’s premise is simple: Modern civilization may be swell, giving us unimaginable autonomy and material bounty. But it has also deprived us of the psychologically invaluable sense of community and interdependence that we hominids enjoyed for millions of years. It is only during moments of great adversity that we come together and enjoy that kind of fellowship — which may explain why, paradoxically, we thrive during those moments. (In the six months after Sept. 11, Mr. Junger writes, the murder rate in New York dropped by 40 percent, and the suicide rate by 20 percent.)” – New York Times Review
Of course, our modern environment is only a piece of a large and complex puzzle that is humanity and there’s no such thing as a global change manager/group who could help us a whole to rediscover elements of the human condition we might be missing out on. And I’m not suggesting we all revert back to tribal living and become a bunch of hippies living on a commune. (Though that’d be kind of awesome. Peace and love, maaaan.) But there are things we can do on an individual level to help us be resilient in times or change and hardship.
5 ways to boost your resilience in tough times
Resilience is the capacity to adapt well in the face of adversity/change, and it’s something you can actually improve by working on the following five activities, thoughts and behaviors (as adapted from Roffey Park):
- Keep everything in perspective. Practice taking a step back from a challenging situation and accept rather than deny its negative aspects whilst finding opportunity and meaning in the midst of adversity. “Finding opportunity spurs active striving, the setting of goals and the taking of action to achieve them. Perspective-taking expands choice options, empowering rather than disabling. The act of gaining perspective allows resilient people to focus their efforts on those things they can change and accept those things they cannot.”
- Enhance your emotional intelligence. Allow space and time to process your emotions as well as be aware of the emotions of others. When you’re feeling at a loss, reaching out to others who need help and supporting them without explicit benefit to yourself is healing for everyone involved.
- Focus on your purpose, values and strengths. Having a clear sense of purpose, a belief that what we do and contribute to in life is congruent with our personal values and plays to our strengths are all key to resilience. If this is something you can’t define, it might be helpful to take some time to sit down and write out what you believe are your core values, what is important to you in life, what your strengths are, and how you’d like to be of service to others to change the world. Signing up for life coaching or a workshop would also be helpful if you’re struggling to do it on your own.
- Build connections. I don’t care how introverted you are – humans are a social species and it’s imperative to have a network of close family and friends to draw on, both to get things done and to provide support during good times and bad. I like to have several groups and networks to draw on for advice and support for everything from my career, fitness, relationships and health. If you can’t name a few people in each of those areas, it might be time to sit down, think about who you know (or who you’d like to know) who could support you in each of those areas and reach out the them to be on your “board of advisors”.
- Manage your physical energy. Last but not least, ensuring we get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and spend time doing things we enjoy are key components to building resilience. Unfortunately, this always seems to be the one thing we let slide when things get tough. If we prioritize this capability, I believe it will make every other capability (and everything else we face in life, really) more manageable.
How do you build resilience? Do you have a board of advisors? How do you deal with change or tough times?