A number of my clients are what might be described as ‘Type A’ personalities. They are restless high achievers, drivers of projects, relentless seekers of deep and long-lasting business impact. They have a direct, results-oriented style and hold themselves to very high standards. In the right role and right organization, this personality type can serve them well – as long as they continue to achieve and don’t drive over colleagues. However, they can severely struggle with resilience once they encounter failure or extreme stress – as I was reminded of recently.
One of my Type A coaching clients (let’s call her Jane) is struggling with resilience after a major setback of her own. She holds an executive position at a global multinational company, and during an overseas assignment she witnessed significant illegal activity being conducted by a senior executive working above her. After careful consideration, and in keeping with her values, she blew the whistle. Shortly afterwards – and despite a long, storied, and documented track record of success at the company – she arrived at the office one morning to discover she was being terminated. No justification was provided, and no discussion of her performance ever occurred. Needless to say, her world came crashing down that day – and now, the crisis is becoming more complicated as she contests the termination.
Through our work together, Jane has recently become aware of how much of a challenge resilience is for her. She is in the habit of driving herself, working hard to accomplish major objectives every day – but she doesn’t have the stamina she once had a few weeks ago. She criticizes her “laziness”, “sluggishness”, and “inability to get anything done”. With time, though, she is beginning to see clearly how the high bar she continues to set for herself is making things worse.
So what can Jane do? Here are 5 steps she is taking to help her develop resilience in this situation:
- Taking care of body and mind. Jane is making it her top priority to ensure she’s getting a full night sleep (minimum 7-8 hours) and exercising daily. It sounds like an obvious step, but like many Type A executives, she struggles with basic self-care like this. Her purpose isn’t to boost overall health – it’s to enable her to clear her mind and enhance her ability to think more effectively while under stress.
- Watching for judgmental self-talk. We have a tendency to hold others to the same standards as ourselves, and like many Type A executives, Jane has habitually high standards that can lead to her placing greater stress on herself and others during periods of personal crisis. She is working to be mindful of negative self-evaluations or self-judgments she makes while speaking or while in thought.
- Treating yourself as you would treat your dearest friend. When Jane notices herself thinking or saying a self-judgmental thought, she imagines that the person experiencing the crisis were her dearest friend, and she ponders what she would do to console her friend in that situation. She then asks herself how that behavior compares with how she treats herself. Jane’s intention is to evoke the compassion she has in her heart for her friend, and to direct that to herself.
- Choosing to take a learning stance. Jane is choosing to take the perspective that she has something to learn everyday during this crisis. For her, as for many Type A executives, this means learning to take care of herself – and prioritize doing so every day in order to develop new habits. She’s becoming clearer about what new habits she needs to learn or unlearn (like old, habitual patterns of thinking and feeling), and what she needs to do differently to learn them.
- Expressing 5 minutes of gratitude every day. Many people find that crises end up revealing what’s ultimately important to them. For Jane, she has become more aware of how grateful she is for her family, for her health, and for her current financial position. Taking time every morning to remind yourself of what you’re grateful for has been scientifically proven to improve physical health, psychological health, sleep, self-esteem, and mental strength. To get these benefits, though, you can’t just think these thoughts of gratitude – you need to feel them. In Jane’s case, during her daily 5 minutes of gratitude, she recalls her favorite moment with her kids from the past few weeks – which triggers the emotions she experienced at the time, making the feeling of gratitude more real.
Jane is still working through her crisis, and she’s not yet clear what her next steps will be. But I’m encouraged that she’s beginning to take care of herself in a new way – a way which will help her develop new resilience skills that will last far beyond the end of this crisis.