How to Build Resilient Habits into Your Daily Life
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Leadership Jul 7, 2020

How to Build Resilient Habits into Your Daily Life

Life today is complicated. Here are some simple ways to stay energized and motivated.

A leader is resilient in face of adversity.

Lisa Röper

Based on insights from

Fred Harburg

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles based on Kellogg Executive Education webinars focused on COVID-19.

Back in March, many of us hoped that we were about to weather a temporary crisis. But, as the months have dragged on, it’s clear that we’re in this for the long haul.

Each Thursday, Kellogg faculty are offering free webinars on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses, markets, and careers. You can sign up for upcoming sessions, hosted by Kellogg Executive Education, here.

So how do leaders sustain energy and motivation through our overlapping public-health, economic, and social crises? In other words, how do they stay resilient?

By being deliberate about cultivating resilient habits, explains Fred Harburg, a clinical professor of executive education at Kellogg and the former director of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute.

These habits will look somewhat different from one individual to the next. So cultivating resilient habits should begin with self-awareness: we each need to understand the things that can move us from a feeling of helplessness or anger to one of purpose and confidence, Harburg says.

“Resilient people understand the practices and the mindsets that deliver resilience, and they focus on that,” he says.

Harburg offered advice on how to hone those behaviors during a recent webinar from Kellogg Executive Education.

To start, it’s important to be able to recognize what you’re actually feeling. He calls this “the Rumpelstiltskin Effect: if you can name it, you can tame it.”

His advice to leaders is to first focus on themselves: zoom in on the emotions that you are feeling, which may be anger or grief or incompetence in the face of mounting obstacles. Then, zoom out to figure out how other affected people are feeling—people elsewhere in your organization or in society at large.

“You’ve got to be able to zoom in then zoom out to get perspective,” he says. “And that perspective-getting is so crucial, especially in times like these where we’re in crisis.”

Another strategy is much simpler and more internal: practice breathing slowly and deeply in moments of stress. Harburg, who is also a former instructor at the US Air Force Academy, learned the importance of this as a pilot. His students would often start breathing very rapidly when coming in for a landing. Yet breathing slowly calms you and opens up your field of vision, which is obviously crucial in such moments, so he’d coach them on taking deep breaths.

Now he coaches the executives whom he works with to breathe deeply when they’re anxious or stressed. Luckily, deep breathing is something any leader can use anytime. You might not bust out a yoga pose in the boardroom, “but it is a time when you can breathe deeply,” he says.

Other advice likely sounds familiar to anyone who has tried their hand at a self-improvement regime, or simply gotten a talking to from their doctor: sleep enough, eat well, exercise, connect with friends and family, get outside, etc. The idea is that all of these behaviors help us pull ourselves away from negative emotions toward more positive ones, which builds resilience.

But how can you start integrating those good practices into your day? After all, if it were easy to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy foods, we’d all be doing it already.

“Don’t set impossible goals,” Harburg says. “Lower the bar to very small things and let success build on success.”

You can watch the full webinar here and see previous articles from this series here.

Featured Faculty

Clinical Professor of Executive Education

About the Writer
Emily Stone is the senior editor at Kellogg Insight.
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