Jan Shine: Building personal resilience

Jan Shine FAUA | People Development Consultant, Paullus People Development (jan@paullus.co.uk)

This is just one of a regular series from Jan, aimed at delivering short, easily digestible and thought provoking professional development tips, ideas and skills. These bite-size articles will encompass all levels and areas of HE professional services activity, offering top tips, developing key skills and suggesting things to consider.

This year’s Conference reinforced for me that resilience is one of the key personal attributes HE professionals will require over the next 12 months. The great news is that we can, by our own efforts and how we interact with our environment, influence our level of resilience.

It may help you to get a sense of your current level of resilience as a starting point. There is a good 50-item resilience questionnaire devised by The Psychometric Project (a collaborative project between UK universities and research students) which is available at psychometrictest.org.uk/resilience-test/.

Here are some useful hints and tips for building and maintaining your resilience capability

It’s not just about ‘bouncing back’
Bouncing back is an important part of being resilient, but it is not enough. We need to reflect on each situation that challenges our resilience and take the learning forward to develop a greater sense of purpose in overcoming adversity. Over time, this will enable us to reduce the number and intensity of dips and build a higher tolerance for risk and anxiety.

Maintain perspective
when faced with challenges, step back from the situation, try not to catastrophise, and ask yourself the following questions: how important is the issue on a scale of one to ten, and how important will it be in six months’ time?” Look for the opportunities and meaning in the situation, and focus on the things that you can change or influence.



Manage your emotions
When faced with challenges, allow yourself the time you need to recognise, own, and process your emotions without being swamped by them. It is not the situation itself that causes stress – it is how we react to a situation. Acknowledge others’ emotional responses by showing support and understanding.

Focus on your purpose
Congruence between our work and our personal values is an important element of resilience. Finding meaning and purpose at work depends on whether our work makes sense to us and we believe it to benefit some greater good. If this is not the case, question whether you are in the right role or environment and decide what to do about it (or make a conscious choice not to do anything).

Stay connected
having support networks in place at work and in our personal lives enables us to develop strategies for dealing with stress. Build wide networks both to provide tangible help and to provide two-way support. Use the AUA as a support network both within your institution and across the sector.

Channel your physical energy positively
Maintain a healthy life balance, take regular exercise, get enough sleep, and engage in enjoyable leisure activities that help you relax. We all need something that helps us ‘switch off’. It’s important to find what works for you.

Be kind to yourself
We are all human, and resilience does not mean we are invulnerable. Develop your self compassion (I recommend Paul Gilbert’s The compassionate mind*) and explore whether mindfulness could help you stay grounded.

*Gilbert, P (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable. 540pp. ISBN 1849010986.

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