Overcoming adversity helps us appreciate what we often take for granted, and the last few years has pulled the rug out from our security and shown many of us how vulnerable we can be in the face of change and uncertainty.

Issues continue — war, inflation, global logistics, The Great Resignation — and we all have to pivot business strategies and test our capabilities to be agile. If we don’t take some time out to reflect on how well we adapt to each crisis, how can we learn from them and as a result become more resilient?

Here, we’ll explore some leading questions to help training professionals and their teams respond to adversity: What works well, what could be improved on and what is needed to build resilience now and in the future? Organizations should be allocating time for training and reflection to ensure resilience lessons are learned and a more agile organization is built as a result.

Resilience: An Essential Skill for the Modern Learning Leader

The requirement to be resilient has become one of the most desired competencies for leaders (including learning leaders) of the future. Research has shown that resilience acts as a buffer against stress and burnout and that resilient people are likely to be more creative, able to adapt to future changes and go the distance in the face of adversity.

However, quickly moving from one challenge to another can chip away at even the most capable of training professionals, as a feeling of helplessness and apathy can set in as anxiety and stress builds. In the current climate of uncertainty, there is a clear and present danger of burnout, further compounding a feeling of helplessness across an organization.

The good news is that resilience can be built across an organization by helping individuals and teams to reflect on pressure points and how they react to them.

The Thrive Cycle of Resilience is a useful structure in which training managers and their teams can identify four psychological stages of coping with change and adversity. Your ability to move through the cycle is dependent on your level of resilience.

Stage 1: Survive

The Survive stage is how one initially responds to adversity. Feelings of fear and anxiety are common in this stage. This is how the brain is wired to respond.

The goal of the Survive stage is to not get stuck there. It’s about finding ways to redirect attention away from fear and anxiety, and toward more positive and constructive emotions, such as acceptance, hope and appreciation.

One way to move toward this is to use positive language so that instead of thinking of the way things could go wrong or what negative things will come from the change, think of what positive things can result.

Stage 2: Adapt

The Adapt stage is where adjustments are made to cope with change and adversity. This stage is often associated with more positive feelings than the Survive stage, such as acceptance, tolerance and compassion.

It’s important to recognize that adapting to adversity is not the same as recovering from adversity. The Adapt stage is a temporary window for coping, allowing an adjustment to change to happen.

Something to be aware of in this stage is to avoid becoming stuck in a state of resigned helplessness and apathy. The key to adjusting and coping in order to move onto the next stage is to manage stress coming from the challenges of our new circumstances.

Traditional stress management techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation can be useful in this stage, as well as the development of new routines. The emotional part of the brain prefers predictability because it provides safety and anticipates danger. However, if it’s unable to predict what will happen next, it will increase adrenaline and vigilance, leading to increased stress and burnout. Creating new routines provides the brain with structure, and therefore the time to rest and recover.

Stage 3: Recover

The Recover stage is where you bounce back from setbacks and adversity. Here, feelings of frustration, boredom and anger are typically present. These feelings can be turned around to motivate positive change and reveal some hidden strengths including determination, courage and resourcefulness, which are all key in developing impactful training during trying times.

To ease the transition into the Recover stage, focus on embracing change. Reframe your thinking to consider what has changed and what action is needed to move forward, even if it’s one step at a time.

Stage 4: Thrive

Finally, the Thrive stage is where growth and resilience following adversity occur. Hope, optimism and self-belief are common feelings in the Thrive stage. These feelings lead to behaviors that help people reflect on experiences, think about the future and become stronger as a result.

The key to truly learning and growing from adversity in the Thrive stage is to allow time to slow down and reflect before another challenge or crisis occurs. Ask yourself the following questions to determine how well you responded to a crisis:

  • How did you respond to the crisis initially? Were you calm, upset, angry or relieved?
  • How did you learn to adapt and cope? For example, did you seek support from others or change your expectations and/or behavior?
  • What personal strengths helped you through the crisis? Did you discover inner levels of resilience, stronger determination or greater flexibility?
  • What did you learn from the experience? How did the crisis make you a stronger learning leader?

Building Future Resilience Through Learning

Self-reflection can feel uncomfortable, particularly if it hasn’t been part of organizational culture before, but it’s vital for longer-term health and well-being. Moving forward from a challenging situation or environment can equip you with greater insight into your strengths and how to overcome adversity. As a result, you will be better able to tackle whatever obstacles come your way and utilize your learning to bring about positive change in your organization — and in your life.

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