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How to Be Resilient at Work

Why Resilience in the Workplace Matters — and How to Cultivate It

Resilience is that grit, clarity, flexibility, and deep-seated cool that leaves one looking unvexed, no matter how high the stakes. Those who've cultivated resilience possess an unflappable confidence, focus, and composure. They handle whatever emotional distractions come their way without projecting their inner turmoil.

Athletes tend to be stellar practitioners. From Little Leaguers to pros, the ones who ace their game have a deep inner resilience — you can't discern by their body language whether they've thrown a strike or a ball. No matter what the crowd is chanting, they seem cool and collected when they take aim at the free-throw line. Their facial expression doesn't change when they bobble on the balance beam; they simply check their balance and continue. The best athletes have head game. They know how to keep the pressure from blowing their cover.

We would do well to adopt their strategies on the professional front. Cultivating resilience — remaining poised and controlled, no matter what the stakes — is a sound strategy. Resilience is a practiced mindset, however. Here's how to start.

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Know your truth.

Work is important. It benefits you financially, intellectually, and socially. But work doesn't define you, and neither do your colleagues. You know yourself; you define yourself.

Sometimes it can feel like others are trying to reduce you by talking down to you, taking your projects away, or giving you new projects that seem beneath your qualifications. In those moments, it's important to examine your feelings and try to understand the reaction you're having.

Do you feel insulted? Do you worry that the added work will be too much? Once you understand why you're having this negative reaction, try to explain it to someone outside the situation whom you trust to offer clarity and support. It's a good rule of thumb in the professional sphere not to react to feelings before you fully understand them.

Clarity is key. If you can first understand and then communicate your needs, clearly and calmly, you'll earn a better result than if you try to lead a communication initiative with your emotions. Don't call a meeting with your boss, only to explore your feelings there. If you are planning an important conversation and you need to be heard, clarity and calm will serve you better than emotion and bluster.

Conserve your energy for what most requires it.

In their book The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain that many women tend to drain their energy by overanalyzing. The authors explain: "Women spend far too much time undermining themselves with tortured cycles of useless self-recrimination. It is the opposite of taking action, the cornerstone of confidence. There is a formal word for it: ruminating."

If you're spending your off time worrying about a mistake you may have made or a misunderstanding you may have caused or what a coworker may think of you, then you are burning precious energy on ifs and mights. Don't worry about things unnecessarily.

Think about our athletes. Imagine what it does to their game if they are up all night, worried about how everyone will react to a bad pitch they haven't yet thrown, a missed shot they haven't yet taken, or a balance beam wobble that hasn't yet happened. It would rob them of a night's rest, which is vital to their success. It's vital to yours, too.

Don't rob yourself by ruminating. Emotionally discipline yourself to draw that line. If you feel anxious about work, go to yoga, take a walk, call a friend, work in your garden. Do something that actually serves you, not something that ties you up in knots.

Practice good workplace hygiene.

Run a clean game. Aimless gossip is bad for morale. It's poor professional hygiene, and it wastes your time. Use your time in ways that benefit you better.

Don't vent at work, for the same reasons. People tend to indulge in emotionally chaotic behavior when they think they've earned the right and when they believe justice is on their side. But try to think about the strategy of that. Consider how it impacts your game.

Professionals, like athletes, have to hone soft emotional skills along with their hard physical skills. It requires practice and emotional discipline. But it's worth it because it ups your game.

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