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Resilience Reimagined: Cultivating Psychological Flexibility

Updated: May 27

Written by Anny Bodenstein and Michelle Smoriftt


Introduction

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the constant changes and uncertainties in your personal and professional life? You're not alone. In today's world, stress has become an intrinsic part of our lives, and it's essential to develop the skills to cope with it effectively.


We live in a world that is brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible (BANI). The rapid advancement of technology, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the pervasive influence of social media have transformed the way we work and live. The shift to hybrid working models has blurred the lines between personal and professional life, while the cost of living crisis has added financial strain to many households. To navigate this landscape effectively, we need to develop a mindset that is adaptive, resilient, and purposeful. Resilience can be cultivated through understanding how our minds and bodies adapt to stress.

Neurobiology of flexibility

Our ability to cope with stress is directly linked to our flexibility and adaptability, both on a neurobiological and psychological level. The mind and body are intricately connected, with our thoughts and emotions processed through our brains and communicated via the nervous system. When faced with a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system activates, preparing us to fight, flight, or freeze. Once the threat subsides, the parasympathetic nervous system brings the body back to a state of homeostasis, or "rest and digest."


Researchers have explored the relationship between our biological stress response systems and our psychological flexibility. Studies have shed light on the neural mechanisms underlying resilience, highlighting the importance of emotion regulation and social intelligence in navigating life's challenges.


Psychological flexibility

Psychological flexibility, a construct originating from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), refers to processes that develop over time to create agility and responsiveness while aligning with values and purpose. It is developed by six core processes that are distinct but interrelated.


These six processes are often organised into three dyadic processes or pillars, which we refer to as Wake up, Step up, and Loosen up. The Wake up (Aware) pillar includes contact with the present moment, paying attention non-judgmentally to thoughts and emotions, and self as context, noticing narratives about oneself rather than identifying with them. Loosen up (Open) refers to acceptance, openness to all emotions and sensations, even uncomfortable ones, and defusion, the ability to detach from these. The Step Up (Engaged) pillar contains values, clarifying what brings personal meaning and purpose, and committed action, taking purposeful, values-aligned action even amidst discomfort.


Psychological flexibility is widely recognised as a holistic approach to mental and emotional well-being and a desirable quality in the workplace and complex leadership contexts. The development of psychological flexibility can lead to a more balanced and adaptive stress response, promoting resilience.


Learning and developing flexibility

Resilience is not just an innate trait; it can be cultivated over time. Just as you wouldn't expect to excel at a sport without training, you should also 'take your brain to the gym.' Here are some practical suggestions to help you get started:


  • Gain insight into your current resilience levels by taking the Resilience Quotient Inventory (RQi), one of the world's leading resilience psychometrics. Understanding your strengths and areas for improvement can help you create a targeted plan for growth.

  • Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine to cultivate present-moment awareness and acceptance. Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

  • Take time to reflect on your core values and identify what truly matters to you. Use these values as a compass to guide your actions and decisions, even when faced with challenges or discomfort.

  • Build a robust support network of family, friends, and professionals who can offer guidance, encouragement, and a listening ear when you need it most. Remember, you don't have to navigate life's obstacles alone.

  • Make regular physical exercise a priority, as it has been shown to enhance resilience and overall wellbeing. Find activities you enjoy, whether it's walking, yoga, or team sports, and aim to incorporate them into your schedule consistently.

Conclusion

In a BANI world, cultivating psychological flexibility and resilience is essential for navigating the complexities and uncertainties we face. By understanding the neurobiology of flexibility, embracing the principles of psychological flexibility, and actively developing our resilience, we can foster a mindset that allows us to adapt, grow, and thrive in the face of adversity.


 

The Resilience Quotient Inventory (RQi)

Why not start by understanding your own resilience levels. Our latest offering is the Resilience Quotient Inventory (RQi), one of the world's leading resilience psychometrics.


  • Find out more by listening to our podcast by its founder: Resilience & the RQi with Dr Matthew Critchlow

  • Find out your and your team's resilience profile by doing your RQi (contact: michelle@shine.global)

  • If you are interested in becoming a practitioner sign up for our upcoming RQi Practitioner Training (24 & 25 October 2024)


References and Additional Reading

Epel, E. (2022). The Stress Prescription. 7 Days to More Joy and Ease, New York, Penguin Random House.


Hayes, S. (2019). A liberated mind: The essential guide to ACT, Random House.

Porges, S. W. (2011). Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. New York, NY: Norton.


Russo, S. J., Murrough, J. W., Han, M. H., Charney, D. S., & Nestler, E. J. (2012). Neurobiology of resilience. Nature neuroscience, 15(11), 1475–1484. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3234


Profiles

Anny Bodenstein is a partner in Shine, Channel Islands, UK and Europe. She is an internationally experienced EMCC senior coach practitioner, ICF professional certified coach, coaching psychologist, coach supervisor, mediator, and facilitator with more than 25 years’ of leadership experience. Leveraging psychology and evidence-based coaching, Anny develops psychological flexibility in leaders and organisations adapting to complexity, enabling them to thrive in challenging environments. Anny holds an MSc in Coaching & Behavioural Change from Henley Business School and a Certificate in Advanced Coaching Supervision from Oxford Brookes University. She is about to commence her doctoral research in coaching and mentoring at Oxford Brookes University.


Michelle Smorfitt

Michelle Smorfitt is a well-being practitioner, who is passionate about empowering people with simple, practical tools to improve their overall health. She is trained as a social worker, LDD conflict resolution facilitator and a mindfulness teacher. She has experience in HR consulting, facilitating, strategy, and well-being interventions in the private sector. She has also worked in the NGO/NPO field working with diverse marginalised groups from refugees to disabled children with counselling, group work and community development. She is a young dynamic social change agent and is passionate about development in individuals, teams, communities and organisations. She has her MSc. in Integrative Health and Well-being from the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. She now embarks on her PhD on resilience, studying the RQi.


 

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