Developing Your Personal Resilience

Jo Geary, Head of Business & Management Services at Newcastle University Library discusses personal resilience.

This blog can otherwise be known as: How to avoid being a (squashed) bunny caught in the ‘to-do list headlamps’.

My to-do list was paralysing me. I needed a lesson in how to respond better in the face of an overwhelming workload. Luckily, Mandi Sherlock-Storey and my network of NU Women colleagues turned up to help me develop some personal resilience!

Mandi started her Personal Resilience Workshop by asking us what we would look like at our absolute best, at our peak in terms of resilience. She defined resilience as “successfully adapting to adversity and bouncing back as an even better, more capable person”. Resilient individuals have a bag of tools to help them become more flexible to life’s changing demands.

The toolkit starts with an optimistic thinking style. Mandi acknowledged that our thinking style is, in part, linked to a much deeper psyche, developed over years as a result of upbringing, experiences and relationships. But it’s not something that’s completely outside our control either.

We looked at a variety of different negative thinking patterns. This included black and white (all or nothing) thinking, unrealistic expectations of self, selective thinking, such as only focusing on the risks of a situation rather than the potential positives, catastrophising (my personal nemesis!), automatic negative thoughts, mistaking thoughts or feelings for facts, and the famously gendered issue of minimising our successes whilst maximising our failures.

Mandi shared coping strategies for banishing these negative thinking styles and replacing them with positivity. This article shares similar thoughts and was useful in helping me to see that these unhelpful ways of thinking can be turned on their head. Another article focuses particularly on the automatic negative thoughts.

A great technique I learnt at the event is considering the “circle of concern/influence” when you’re feeling overwhelmed by something specific. Developed by Stephen Covey, the circle of concern relates to the big circle (all of the stuff that worries us). The smaller circle of influence contains only the stuff that we can actually control. The point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your circle of influence.


The next tool in our box is to be aware of and use our strengths. We had to pick up to seven (7!) character strengths from a list of examples and discuss how these related to us. Hearing other people talk about their strengths surprisingly didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, and Mandi encouraged us to undertake the free VIA strengths assessment if we were struggling with owning our own strengths.

Simply being at an NU Women event massively improves our personal resilience as we are staying connected to others. Mandi gave us permission to be sociable at work, and told us that we maximise our well-being and resilience when we build and maintain supportive relationships. We should recognise our own roles as part of other people’s support networks and take the time to contribute to creating a positive environment at work. Make someone’s day!

My favourite part of the session was the emphasis on self-care. We need to make sure that we have a life outside of work, to engage with our communities, connect with our kids, partners and friends, and find other ways to build meaning into our lives outside our jobs. We should make sure we were active but it doesn’t have to be anything strenuous. Mandi also told us that we need to keep out brains fresh by being open to new learning and experiences and having a can-do attitude.

Finally, we were told that resilient people set themselves meaningful goals. Mine: get more sleep and be more realistic about what I can fit into a day.

So, if I woke up tomorrow at my absolute best, at my peak in terms of resilience, bouncy and full of vigour – how will I look? Well, I’ll be the one having lunch with my friends in McKenna’s (after my run!), telling them how clever and amazing they are at their jobs and how good I am at parts of my own, asking for their help on a big piece of work I have going on. I’ll then break down my workload into manageable chunks and do a spot of work for my Age UK Newcastle trustee role before rolling into bed for an early night!

Bunny? Headlamps? Not me!


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