Pallavi Pinakin offers pointers on how to face disaster – and overcome it

Work, like life, is a roller coaster. Over the course of your professional life, you’re likely to encounter thrilling peaks and frightening valleys. When disaster strikes, some people sink into darkness and despair, unable to dig themselves out of the hole. Others however, ride out the storm and emerge stronger than before.

The differentiating factor is resilience!

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks. This prized and somewhat mysterious capability is vital for surviving periods of turbulence – be it a family tragedy, loss of a job or business, or even day-to-day work challenges. Without it, we flounder and sink under the weight of our burdens. Resilience is what allows us to accept hardships, adapt, strategise and take action.

Fortunately, resilience doesn’t fall into the category of ‘you have it or you don’t.’ It’s a skill that can be learned, developed and sharpened. Certainly, it’s worth the effort given that we live in an increasingly mercurial business landscape where staying relevant is an ongoing challenge.

Here are four suggestions to help you build a reservoir of resilience…

NEW NARRATIVE At the heart of resilience is the ability to create meaning and cast your current situation in a larger story of your own making. By building a mental bridge to a more meaningful future, you are able render your present circumstances more bearable, helping to keep despair at bay.

Dr. Viktor Frankl developed a technique that he called ‘meaning therapy.’ It’s a process that anyone can apply in the worst circumstances imaginable. Prior to World War II, Frankl was a renowned psychiatrist in Austria and lost everything when the Nazis invaded – his practice, money and pregnant wife included. It was during his imprisonment at Auschwitz that  Frankl realised that in order to survive, he needed a way to rise above the daily suffering.

So he began to picture himself giving lectures after the war and helping other people understand what his fellow prisoners had been through. By doing so, he was able to invest his present with importance. In his book titled ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ Frankl explains: “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”

FACE DISASTER Look it in the eye. While constructing a meaningful tomorrow is crucial, it’s equally important not to wear rose-tinted glasses. In order to deal with setbacks, first you need to accept them.

Actually, an overly optimistic outlook that distorts your sense of reality can work against you. If you keep telling yourself that ‘it’s going to be fine’ without taking any action, your hopes will be dashed again and again until you are crushed by repeated disappointments. Denial as a coping mechanism is a route to failure.

Experts recommend taking a sober unblinking look at the situation. How bad is it really? Confronting reality can be deeply disconcerting and even devastating but it’s a necessary step to bouncing back.

Writing about business transformation, researcher Jim Collins highlighted this ability in his book titled ‘Good to Great.’ He had found that (contrary to his expectations) resilient companies are led by executives with a well honed sense of realism rather than endless optimism.

VICTIM MINDSET When things go wrong, it’s tempting to slip into the ‘why me?’ mindset: ‘This is so unfair! I don’t deserve this…’ While this kind of wallowing can be temporarily satisfying, it doesn’t help in the long run.

Constantly blaming external factors distances you from the actual problem and takes away your sense of control. Playing victim is a passive state. So it’s important to shift into an active state and start doing things rather than letting them be done to you.

Resilience requires you to take ownership of your life. So ask yourself: ‘Given that I’m in this situation now, what can I do about it? Which elements can I change and what factors can I influence?’ Create a plan of action to put yourself back in the driving seat.

BE CREATIVE Always be ready to improvise. Robust individuals and companies often bounce back from tough times on the back of sheer relentless inventiveness. If Plan A fails, adjust it and try again. If that fizzles out, dump it and go on to Plan B. Didn’t work? Switch to Plan C.

In short, get comfortable with failure and focus on learning. Every succeeding plan will be better than the last one.

Be flexible and open yourself up to new ways of working, as well as fresh possibilities. Make the best use of any and all available resources. Hustle, tweak, adapt and amend. Do what you must in order to get the job done and keep going. If you can stay in the game until the storm passes, you’ll live to see another day.