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Recipe for resilience: 5 key ingredients

July 9, 2020 - 8 min read
A graphic illustration of drivers of resilience

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Stress and coping in the COVID-19 era

Take hope: Resilience can be learned

This is the first post in our six-part series on the drivers of resilience, where we examine how these drivers provide a recipe for building resilience for yourself, your teams, and your workforce.

Every day, I hear personal stories about the heartbreaking impacts of the pandemic. Those who have lost jobs worry about finding a new one. Among those still employed, loss of childcare and school closures mean that parents are working in shifts — often with one working from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. while the children sleep. Single friends worry they will lose a year or more of finding their perfect mate. And the trials don’t stop there.

As an adjunct professor teaching in the HR Master’s Program at Georgetown University, I see students calling into class from their beds because their physical environments simply were not set up for virtual classes. Other people I know are dealing more directly with the virus —either having it themselves or taking care of their loved ones. One friend shared she was wrestling with profound guilt for missing her grandmother’s funeral, even though she just didn’t want to put her elderly relatives at risk. Another said a final goodbye to a loved one in their final moments via a video call. So many others are feeling extreme isolation, loss of routine, and feelings of anxiety. 

No matter where you are or what you do, this pandemic is inviting us to re-examine our ability to bounce back — to be resilient — in the face of uncertainty and adversity.

Stress and coping in the COVID-19 era

As an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, I’ve spent the last 20 years studying outcomes such as performance and wellbeing. While working in the Intelligence Community, I became increasingly interested in how organizations respond to change or crisis, or adaptive performance. As a coach and now Vice President of Behavioral Science at BetterUp, this interest has only grown, and finds a welcome home within the evidence-based approach of the company; an approach that’s been really instructive to me, personally and professionally, over these past months. 

For example, in March 2020, BetterUp conducted a study with over 2,100 US workers that looked at work, life, stress, and coping in the time of COVID-19. The results validated what I have been hearing and feeling myself. Today’s workers, people like you and me, are experiencing lower quality sleep, have lower levels of physical activity, and are feeling more pessimistic about the future. In a related study, BetterUp Labs wanted to see what impact resilience had on our members’ ability to not only endure the challenges of COVID-19, but to actually grow and thrive within the adversity. We found that resilient leaders have higher well-being and lower disruption to work productivity. 

These results, however, were not that surprising to us. And that’s because BetterUp has a wealth of data on resilience that we continuously study to further understand this powerful capability. What separates those who have high levels of resilience from those who don’t? How is it that some people are thriving right now while others are really feeling the hardship and impact? And is resilience something that can be learned or are you just born with it?


Take hope: Resilience can be learned

The good news is resilience can be learned, by anybody, at any time. Our research has found that people low in resilience can see a 125% increase with just 3-4 months of coaching. Even throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen our members grow in resilience by 17%, giving us further evidence that it is possible to build resilience when it’s needed the most. That’s exciting, right? I think so, and that’s why I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share our insights with you.

Looking across the dimensions that drive resilience, BetterUp’s research shows that the following five have an outsized impact on our ability to grow: 

  • Cognitive Agility is the extent to which we adapt and shift our thought processes for the benefit of ourselves, our teams, and our organizations. 
  • Emotional Regulation is the extent to which we regulate our emotions to stay calm and collected.  
  • Self-Compassion is how compassionate we are with ourselves.
  • Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future.
  • Self-Efficacy is the extent to which we feel we have control or personal agency over our lives and events.

Drivers of ResilienceSource: BetterUp Labs

When we look at these five drivers as a whole, we can begin to see a recipe for growth — for exactly what you can do, step by step, to become more resilient, in life and work. 

Over the next 5 weeks, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of the individual drivers. I’m going to share real stories of resilience I think you’ll be able to relate to. In each post, I’ll also offer some of the evidence-based concepts and tools that I use—and that we apply here at BetterUp—to help cultivate and nurture resilience. My hope is that together, we can create the kind of positive impact we’re all seeking right now. 

Take a deeper dive into the 5 key ingredients in the rest of the series:

Part 2:  Why cognitive agility matters

Part 3: The role of emotional regulation

Part 4: How self-compassion strengthens resilience

Part 5: How to cultivate optimism 

Part 6: What is self-efficacy?

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Published July 9, 2020

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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