6 Essential Essays on Resilience by Harvard Business Review Summarised

6 Essential Essays on Resilience by Harvard Business Review Summarised

Over the Easter break, I took some time to read a Harvard Business Review (HBR) classic on resilience. The book contains key essays by thought leaders such as Daniel Goleman on the subject and is more timely than ever as the world is facing an unprecedented crisis.

Right now, leaders in business and government are facing the hardest task of their careers. It’s literally about life and death. But also everyday people are struggling, many are self-isolating and craving for human interaction. Others work in the health services and need to fight at the front-lines against this virus.

It’s not just now, life is full of challenges and in the face of adversity, building resilience is crucial. So, what is resilience?

The traditional definition of resilience leads us to a mix of flexibility and ability to recharge or recover from difficulty.

That difficulty doesn’t have to be a Herculean task. We all face challenges in our everyday lives. 

  • How to recover from a lost eBay auction? 
  • How long does negative feedback by a co-worker haunt you? 
  • Have you won that project bid you worked months for, if not, how long until you’re back up? 

When I think about resilience, the classic Frank Sinatra song starts playing in my head. 

I read this little book without expecting too much but now, having read each essay I have to admit, it’s eye-opening.

Here are my number #1 learnings from each of the essays.

1. How Resilience Works by Diana Coutu

People with strong resilience do 3 things. They would often attribute the success stories to luck but are in fact strong signs of a resilient personality and the following three abilities.

A) Face reality as it is or what I like to call be a pragmatic optimist

B) Find meaning in a challenge to build a bridge from hardship to a better future

C) Improvise for new solutions seemingly out of thin air

Takeaway: This is descriptive and doesn’t necessarily help you develop resilience but it can help you avoid traps in your thinking such as being overly optimistic in the face of adversity which leads to getting your hopes up and crushed repeatedly. That will drain your energy. As it says in the book:

“The fact is, when we truly stare down reality, we prepare ourselves to act in ways that allow us to endure and survive extraordinary hardship.”

2. Resilience for the Rest of Us by Daniel Goleman

This essay’s key point is: Meditate. That’s it. The practise of meditation helps reduce stress, that feeling of unease and restlessness. Resilience is built through meditation as it builds our ability to snap back from stressful situations. Picture yourself in the situation of having small things go wrong throughout the day from your alarm not going off, to having run out of your favourite cereal and missing the train by 1 second.

You get annoyed and become somewhat snappy and easily irritated. That’s usually a sign of our brain’s amygdala taking over. It’s that part of the brain that controls fight or flight emergencies situations. By practising meditation you can keep the amygdala from hijacking your brain for too long. You’ll recover more quickly and thus build resilience.

Takeaway: Meditate. This is extremely easy with apps such as Headspace and Calm.

3. How to Evaluate, Manage and Strengthen Your Resilience by David Kopans

Happiness can’t be bought. What you can do is remember all the great things to be appreciative for and happy about. This essay emphasises the importance of building a habit to reflect things to be happy and positive about. For instance, every evening when you brush your teeth or when you make your morning coffee instead of checking your phone and get stressed about something, leave it and think about the things you are grateful for. 

Takeaway: Building a habit of reflecting on positives will lead to you being more positive which is also contagious for the people you interact within your network and that will create a virtuous cycle of positivity of building resilience.   

4. Finding the Coaching in Criticism by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

Feedback. Nobody likes to get feedback. It can be earth-shattering for some. But it’s so important for personal development and this essay frames receiving feed in a great way. 

Your personal growth and ability to build resilience depends on your ability to pull value from feedback rather than getting frustrated, triggered or defensive. The key strategies outlined in this essay are useful in that journey.

The centrepiece of the essay is the reframing of feedback as something that’s not just given but as something that the recipient needs to pull. Pulling feedback out from comments to improve while managing your triggers can be done through a few strategies. Disentangle the who from the what and filter the feedback that’s relevant for you and put it in relativity to other points of feedback you get. It’s incredible how we overstate the negative comments and almost always completely forget the positive stuff. We only remember the little thing someone did not like. Put things on a relative scale will help create balance.

To become better at pulling feedback or giving feedback in a way that can be pulled go for coaching rather than evaluation. What this means is, don’t say “You’re at 7/10”, say “Here’s how you can improve to get to a 10.”

Don’t overcomplicate things either, if there’s one question to ask: “What’s the one thing you see me doing that holds me back?”

Takeaway: Ask a specific question and pull out what’s useful for you from that feedback to improve.

5. Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters by Jeffery A. Sonnenfeld and Andrew J. Ward

Everyone faces challenges on their your career journey and there are failures along the way. Recovering from failures can be a big challenge and this essay suggests two essential points. First, use your network beyond your close friends. The power of weak ties in your network is oftentimes where the best opportunities surface. That’s because acquaintances are more likely to introduce you to new people that you don’t already know.

The second point in the book is that you should always take the way out so you can tell your own story. Don’t sign NDAs for a payment when you’re being kicked out somewhere. Reject it and tell your story, frame the narrative. That’s the only way to recover from a setback.

Takeaway: Leverage the power of weak ties and never agree to something that wouldn’t allow you to tell your side of the story.

6. Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan

The final essay reiterates what every fitness enthusiast knows. Recovery is just as important as training. It’s very similar to resilience. The key is to try really hard and take time to stop to recover properly before trying again. It’s not about grinding yourself to the point of exhaustion. That’s what leads to burnout. Meditation was already mentioned above and another key factor is sleep. A resilient body is a well-rested one.

Takeaway: You have to strategically stop to recharge before trying again.

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