Resilience and Self Sabotage

I’ve spoken and written about resilience a fair bit over the last few years, always with the proviso that I’m not enabling the poor behaviours or accepting structures that diminish resilience. I’m very aware of the backlash against “resilience training” as an alternative to addressing institutional problems. Having said that, I recognise two things – that some of our resilience challenges ARE about personal choices and habits and are possible to change, and that improvements to our research culture are happening slowly, so we have some responsibility to supporting people whilst this is happening. I rather hope that by helping people to be more resilient, they are actually more likely to engage in the process of change, but that may be naivety.

So, I’ve run another workshop on resilience, but with an added flavour of avoiding self-sabotage. This was for the UKRI FLF Development Network again, for which I’m the Director. In the spirit of sharing the resources produced by the network, this blog post is open to all and a full recording of the session will be posted on the network website.

Slides: Bridging 4 – Resilience and Self Sabotage

I referred to a number of resources that feature in all my resilience sessions:

Wellbeing and Resilience plan

The Institute of Physics Resilience Toolkit

Judy Ringer’s Guide to Difficult Conversations

Athene Donald’s blog on Imposter Syndrome

A significant part of the session was a re-run of a workshop from early lockdown – A Fresh Look at Resilience  so here I’ll focus on the new aspect of self-sabotage.

This echoed an approach I’d taken in the Time Management session which I’d recently run for the same network. In this I talked about the process for forming new habits and making better decisions. A lot of self-sabotage-avoidance advice takes the same approach:

Recognising that self-sabotage is a result of fighting against a goal you had set yourself. Is there something about the goal that is wrong? Is there something about the way you’ve decided to achieve it that’s wrong?

Then you characterise the things you’ve done which have derailed the goal. I liked a term from the “Greater Good Magazine” blog on self sabotage which described these as ” seemingly irrelevant decisions”. My life is full of these and I usually don’t notice them, but starting to notice where my bad habits are rooted has helped me spot these “SIDs”.

Another blog from Entrepreneur Europe suggested the strategy of making small changes and steps. In most of my sessions which relate to behaviour change I talk about 5% improvements, often inspired by the great Twain quote:

Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. Mark Twain

(not this Twain quote, if you were wondering…)

I find it useful to share challenges and how I’m trying to address them, but am aware that it can be difficult to show this vulnerability and I might think twice if I was at an earlier stage in my career. Watching the Brené Brown TED talk on vulnerability and the longer Call to Courage show on Netflix has helped me with this. As a manager I would rather know about these challenges early so I can work with my colleagues to help them get through them.  (In looking up the links for the Brené Brown videos I also found some short animations from the RSA on empathy and blame which are only a few minutes long…)

Finally, in the chat at the end of the session we explored some common triggers of dropping resilience and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the challenges of orientation to a new organisation (exasperated by lockdown) were a problem for many. I am thinking about how to support the FLF community with this, but at Edinburgh we have a range of resources:

A guide for new researchers which was a side product of a project to explore resilience a few years ago.

The virtual version of our Get Connected event for new research staff.

Guides and resources from our HR colleagues.

If you’re reading this from outside Edinburgh, I hope this helps you understanding what might be on offer in your organisation – we’d be very happy for them to create materials based on ours with relevant local information.

As always in a session on resilience a lot of the value came from the attendees being open and honest about their challenges. They aren’t alone in finding things hard at the moment and neither are you. I hope the resources here help you to see that, then to start to build your own resilience plan.

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