Our lives expand or contract based on how much calm, sustained energy we generate. 

“Joshua Tree Rocks Boulders and Sky” by Michael Kirsh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The world belongs to the most resilient. As we convert the losses of 2020 to the learnings of 2021 and beyond, resilience is the very energy that fuels sustainable growth and value creation.

As I reflect on the past 18 months with all its losses, and hopefully learnings, we all have a resilience story to tell. Why? You are among the living. This is not to minimize the suffering we have all faced but to elevate the significance of life itself. Personally, I came face-to-face with death in 2020 complete with 22 fractures of the neck, spine and nearly all my ribs on my right side. Amidst all the darkness all around, it tested me to the core and beyond. BUT: We are here…we LIVE. But it is not enough to live, we are not obligated to merely survive we exist to multiply our precious energy on-purpose. Pausing on the past 18 months, I’d like to share some principles to energize ourselves and others as we progressively move forward:

Resilience Mastery Practice One: Be On-Purpose, but Be Aware.  Of all the points of resilience, clarifying our purpose is one of the most important. It is our centered position of strength. When we are on-purpose, it is difficult for others or for circumstances to knock us off- balance. While we are caught up in the activity of our lives, we seldom ask ourselves, “Why?” As Thoreau reflected, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” Rather than simply amassing a great pile of achievements or experiences, our lives can be about burning a passionate fire that illuminates our way. But we have to be mindful. As our passionate purpose burns strongly, our devotion to it can also become so single-minded that our mission causes us to ignore the rest required to sustain our purpose.

Resilience Mastery Practice Two: Fostering Your Energy vs. Managing Time. Time management is a function of the clock. It is outside of us. It is the domain of management. Energy management is the domain of leadership. It comes from within and has the capacity to increase and help us optimize our potential. Therefore, doing everything possible to keep our calm, balanced energy more abundant than the challenges we face is the key to resilience. When energy is low, life and leadership are a drain. When our energy is strong, we can face tremendous pressure and challenge, and we can thrive despite them. If “the world belongs to the energetic,” as Emerson said, then let’s find all the practices necessary to enhance a more sustainable energy level. What practices have you abandoned that were your energy boosters? What people in your life generate energy? What people deplete your energy? What fitness, fun, or spiritual practices give you the greatest lift? Put together an energy plan; include only the practices that you really love. These are your sustainable energy builders.

Resilience Mastery Practice Three: Learn to Exercise with Ease. Unknowingly, most people do not exercise enough and when they do, they punish themselves; not a recipe for a sustainable practice. The “no pain, no gain” mentality usually creates more fatigue, stress, and risk for injury than any real type of fitness. We really need to rethink exercise as a lifelong, sustainable practice. We need to go to a deeper level and ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of exercise?” Certainly losing weight, looking good, or setting a new personal record are some superficial purposes, but they’re not the most profound, compelling ones. If you are a professional athlete, the purpose may be to kinesthetically express your spirit in the physical realm as no one else has done before. Isn’t it about rejuvenating ourselves, about bringing more vitality, energy, and joy of movement into our lives? For me, the purpose of exercise is to strengthen our vehicle so it can more effectively deal with the life-threatening vigors of life! It’s about being present and in joy, “enjoying” the movement of body and spirit. A pretty heady framework for push-ups, dumbbells, and sweaty runs, isn’t it? 

Activities you tend to enjoy bring energy and resilience. Activities you dislike create energy drain and imbalance. The joy of the activity itself is as health-giving as the aerobic effect. Besides, if you don’t enjoy it, but you force yourself to do it, you will either “succeed” in becoming disciplined and rigid, likely quite or get injured at some point. We stay with what we love. Find ways that you love to move your physical being to generate renewed energy.

If you are having trouble finding time to keep active, remember, Thomas Jefferson believed in getting two hours of exercise every day. If someone who wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence, became president, and was secretary of state could find two hours a day, you can find twenty or thirty minutes a few times a week! Try two twenty-minute walks per day. Use them as your breaks. Or, like the new breed of executive, take outdoor walking meetings sometimes, as opposed to feeling that you are confined to an office or conference room. Clear your mind and get some cardio at the same time. Check with a physician before you begin any exercise program.

Resilience Mastery Practice Four: Deal with Life-Damaging Habits. Poor lifestyle choices account for more misery, suffering, death, and imbalance in our society than any other single biological cause. The choice to smoke cigarettes, for instance, is the cause of more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States and 6,000,000 globally. This represents only one lifestyle choice and does not even factor-in the impact on our immune systems and overall resilience. What about the abuse of alcohol and drugs, as well as poor choices in the areas of food, relationships, and exercise? It has been estimated that more than 70 percent of all disease has a basis in poor lifestyle decisions. It may sound dramatic, but lifestyle decisions can lead you in one of two directions – life or death.

It’s hard to fathom how much imbalance life-damaging habits cause. Most of us don’t engage in behaviors to harm ourselves. The problem is that we have mistaken certain habits for happiness. We unknowingly exchange a short-term fix for long-term damage. How do we retreat from behaviors we know are hurting us? Mark Twain captured the challenge of moving away from certain behaviors when he said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” Here are some steps for coaxing them downstairs:

  • Admit that the habit is damaging to you and possibly others. Go deeply into all the negative effects this habit is having on you. Unit you acknowledge the problem, you won’t have any genuine motivation to change.
  • Examine the ‘up-sides’ of dropping this habit. How will you feel? How will it positively impact others?
  • Get professional and peer support to help you. It’s unlikely you can do it on your own, or you would have done it already.
  • Continually repeat the first three steps if the habits take hold again or new ones appear.

Resilience Mastery Practice Five: Avoid Taking Yourself So Seriously. Humor and lightheartedness energize mind, body, and spirit. The more rigid and self-centered we are, the more out of balance we become. Imagine yourself in your most secure, strong moments. Aren’t these the times you can laugh at yourself and observe life in a playful manner? Letting go of our own rigid, external mask brings joy and energy into our life. Harriet Rochlin wrote in The Reformer’s Apprentice, “Laughter can be more satisfying than honor; more precious than money; more heart-cleansing than prayer.” Take service seriously and your self lightly.

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink writes about Madan Kataria, a physician in Mumbai, India, who started laughter clubs, believing that laughter can be like a “benevolent virus—that can infect individuals, communities, even nations.” With the proliferation of laughter clubs, Dr. Kataria hopes to inculcate an epidemic that will “improve our health, increase our profits, and maybe even bring world peace.” Pink also wrote, “Play is emerging from the shadows of frivolousness and assuming a place in the spotlight. . . . Play is becoming an important part of work, business, and personal well-being.” I love to watch our Golden Retriever, Leo, let loose on an open field, his pure joy and exhilaration evident in the way he prances, stretches his boundaries, and immerses in his freedom. It’s wonderful to witness. Maybe it’s time to set some seriousness aside and take a joyous run into your open field!

Treat life like a play. Be concerned about the plot, your fellow actors, and the needs of others. But don’t take yourself too seriously. In the broader scheme of things, it’s just a role in the cosmic play. Transformative leaders have clear perspective: they are serious about mission, strategy, execution, and serving people, but not about their role, image, or themselves.

Resilience Mastery Practice Six: Develop Mind-Body Awareness. Most of us to over-practice critical thinking and eventually get stuck in our heads. We need to pay more attention to our body’s messages. Our body reflects everything that’s going on in our lives. It is our primary feedback mechanism to reveal the positive or negative impact of our thoughts, emotions, or choices. Start listening to the wisdom of the body. It speaks through energy: Do more of that! It talks through fatigue: Cut down on that and give me more rest! It sends painful messages: I’ve been warning you gently, but because you ignored me, I will talk a lot louder. Stop doing that! Developing awareness of how the mind affects the body and how the body affects the mind is a crucial skill. Fostering mind-body awareness can be one of our most healing and energizing inside out leadership skills.

Resilience Mastery Practice Seven: Manage Stress More Effectively. Stress is primarily a subjective reality. If two people are stressed the same way, one may collapse and the other may thrive on the challenging opportunity. Stress is determined by how we process our world. I recently experienced this firsthand while on a consulting trip to London. I arrived at the airport late for the flight and got onto the plane as the doors were being sealed. To collect myself, I went to the restroom; it was occupied, so I stood outside, took a deep breath, and paused. Suddenly inside the tiny restroom, I heard a tremendous commotion going on, with crashes and pounding noises . My first thought was that someone was having a seizure or heart attack. Just as I was about to get some help, the door flew open. A man, severely physically disabled and with crutches attached to his arms, stood before me. Because his legs were paralyzed, they swung around following the movement of his contorted upper body. In the midst of his noisy struggle to exit the cramped quarters, he looked at me with a composed, knowing smile and said, “I’m just a butterfly freeing myself from my cocoon!” It was a wonderful moment that I will never forget. If only we all could “process our world” with similar dignity, heart, and resilience. 

Each time you face a stressful situation or event, achieve balance by asking yourself, “What can I control in this situation? What can I do to influence this situation? What do I have to accept here?” Distress is usually the by-product of wasting energy by trying to control things we can only influence or accept, or accepting things we could influence or control. Take action on what you can control or influence, and more clearly face what you have to accept.

Resilience Mastery Practice Eight: Nurture Your Close Relationships. Few things in life can instantaneously balance us as quickly as love or connection with a close friend. A difficult, stressful day can quickly be put in perspective by the innocence and pure love of a child. Few people can help us sort out a difficult situation as well as a supportive spouse or friend. Close relationships can be our anchors in the sea of change. In fact, according to Robert Waldinger, director of the seventy-five-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most important factor in having a fulfilling, happy, healthy life is the quality and depth of our relationships.

A CEO was given this advice by his wife, to better understand the value of life’s most essential relationships: “A few years after you leave your career, most people will forget you, but your family will remember you.”

Resilience Mastery Practice Nine: Integrate More Reflection and Introspection into Your Lifestyle. As leaders, how often do we take time to reflect? In spite of the fact that we are the strategic thinkers behind our organizations, how often do we really step back to rethink ourselves, our lives, and our organizations? On this subject, Larry Perlman, former Chairman and CEO of Ceridian, explained, “I would rather have a senior executive go on a weekend of personal reflection than go to another leadership seminar. Leadership is not about learning theory. It’s about finding out how you are going to bring yourself into your work and into your life to make a bigger contribution.”

If we aspire to do more, then we must be more. Taking time to reflect – taking time to be – is crucial to leaders. It is the still point that everything else revolves around.  The more dynamic and effective we want to be in our outer life, the more still and composed we need to be within. The more dynamic the system in nature, the more silent the interior. The eye of the hurricane is silent and still – the center of all the energy.

Our lives expand or contract based on how much calm, sustained energy we generate. Find and practice your unique energy formula to multiply vitality in the lives of others on-purpose.