In a time of rapid change, economic turbulence, and continued uncertainty, resilience becomes a more pronounced commodity. The ability to absorb adversity, work through it successfully, and grow from the experience, is essential to our function, but is not often something we are taught.
Dr Sven Hansen has spent much of his career helping people develop the skills required for resilience, but when he founded Resilience Institute in 2002, few people understood its value beyond the sporting arena.
“It’s now widely understood that resilience can help to improve the wellbeing of individuals and the performance of organisations,” says Hansen, who worked with ANZIIF to review the content of its new ‘Becoming Resilient’ professional development activity.
“When people are resilient, they have more energy, they feel less depressed and anxious, and they tend to function at their best,” he says. “This can only be a good
thing for individuals and for organisations.”
Power of resilience
Resilience Institute is a global organisation with a multi-disciplinary team of experts that include medical doctors, psychologists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and experienced business leaders.
They draw on the latest research to develop practical, engaging programs aimed at building resilience and sustaining positive change.
Hansen’s interest in resilience was formed at a young age.
His father was a professor of paediatrics whose work focused on child nutrition and brain development. Hansen was raised to think about what a healthy life could look like.
His early medical career began in sports medicine, where he discovered the power of deliberate, scientific training to secure both individual and team success.
“It was enlightening to discover that if you were respectful of the physical, the emotional, mental and practical, you could move beyond injuries, fatigue or burnout and see individuals and teams really improving their performance,” says Hansen.
“I realised that if it’s possible to improve the wellbeing and performance of athletes, why couldn't we translate that to the rest of the population?”
More than 100,000 professionals have participated in Resilience Institute training experiences and Hansen says its primary focus is to help organisations grow and protect the wellbeing of their employees.
“We also run a diagnostic to help organisations measure resilience,” he says. “We can strip away the individual identifiers to provide an interesting aggregate view of an organisation.
“To understand your level of resilience, you need these kinds of measurements, because resilience is proving so important for organisations,” adds Hansen.
“We saw this during Covid, where some organisations really took off and others really dived. Organisations require that ability to work through adversity, to grow their capabilities and to stay innovative.”
Resilience is not something we are born with. It is a skill that involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone, at any stage in life and involves a combination of inner and outer resources.
Resilience Institute defines resilience as a set of four learned abilities:
- Bounce: to engage skillfully with adversity to bounce forward and grow
- Grow: to develop our physical, emotional and mental strengths
- Connect: to secure connections with self, others and nature
- Flow: to match our skills to meaningful challenges
“Every time we go through adversity, in most cases, we learn, and we grow,” says Hansen.
“There’s an argument in academia that says that in order to be resilient, perhaps you have to have adversity. Nassim N Taleb, author of The Black Swan, proposes a category of person who is 'antifragile'. These people become more effective when things are difficult."
Learning and growing through adversity is a focus of ANZIIF’s Becoming Resilient professional development activity.
It explores the importance of resilience and how you can build it through simple, personal adjustments, like quality sleep, exercise, and relaxation.
It also includes interactive elements, such as encouraging participants to consider difficult experiences in their own lives and how they drew on their own inner resources, as well on resources of others, to work through it.
“The content is produced by ANZIIF, and I worked with them to review it,” Hansen explains. “I really respect this approach, because they built it from inside. Most of our clients come to us to build these activities for them.”
Risk factors for low resilience
We all experience hardships in life that can throw us off balance. Resilience helps us to work through it, to learn from it and to grow.
Hansen says there are risk factors for low resilience. The first one being poor sleep patterns.
“Of the most resilient people, about 93 per cent of them will tick ‘very often’ to ‘nearly always’ for getting a good night's quality sleep,” he says.
"In people who are at the lowest levels of resilience, it's only seven per cent of them who will tick these boxes.”
Hansen says a propensity to worry is another high-risk factor.
“Technically, worry is a mental process where people think about the future over and over in a repetitive loop,” he says.
“It is paired at an emotional level with anxiety or fear and the body adopts a physiological ‘flight’ reaction.
Rumination is the third highest risk factor, says Hansen.
“When we ruminate on the past and dredge up resentment, anger, or disappointment, it impacts our realistic view of the present,” he says.
“Another risk factor for low resilience is fatigue and apathy,” Hansen adds.
“It's really hard to be resilient when you're just tired and not motivated. However, this is matched when we look at the key factors for high resilience, which include things like focus, purpose and fulfilment.”
Hansen likens the mind to a muscle and says adversity can stimulate growth.
“If I train a muscle, it comes back stronger. If I stretch a muscle, it comes back more flexible. Humans grow with effort, and that effort is physical, it's emotional and it's mental,” says Hansen.
“The mind is a little trickier than the physical self, and you may need to work harder at it, but if you are diligent and focused, you can certainly improve many aspects of the mind.”