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How To Become The Best At Bouncing Back (And Forward)
Illustration by LUCIE BIRANT
How To Become The Best At Bouncing Back (And Forward)
Illustration by LUCIE BIRANT
Stay flexible and move forward from executive coach and master in bouncing back Nicola Blea

Given what's happening in the world right now and with everything we’re being asked to do, it feels like we could all do with a big dose of resilience. And so, for our latest Digital Sisterhood live event, I decided we needed to call in Nicola Blea. 

Many of you will recognise Nick because she's done an awful lot with us at the AllBright Academy, helping women elevate their potential to the next level. She is an executive coach, and she's a founding member of AllBright, and personally, she’s someone who I turn to when I am not feeling my strongest. 

Read on for her tips on how to recognise when you’re lacking resilience and how to foster a sense of resolve when you’re struggling to move forward.

“Resilience is less about bouncing back up, it’s about bouncing forwards,” says Nicola Blea, waving her bandaged hand (the product of an at-home workout mishap) at me through the camera with a grin. As well as a dear friend, she’s someone who knows a thing or two about bouncing back. A work burnout and a family member’s terminal illness tested her in ways that taught her plenty about navigating tough situations. 

“If your expectation is to go back to normal [after Covid-19] you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed.” She advises that we hold this in mind; knowing that we will be able to make a comeback, just in a different way, will lead to greater resilience. 

I’m a naturally resilient person but over the past few weeks, like many of you, I have had a few knocks. Both my husband and I have had coronavirus, we’ve had to close three of our AllBright clubs. We’ve had to make some very difficult and heartbreaking decisions to furlough many of our amazing colleagues. It’s been really upsetting and I’m sure that many of you have had equally difficult or even worse weeks.

Nick says that at testing times like this, it’s important to keep on top of how you’re feeling by watching for any out-of-character behaviour. “That’s often a clue that something’s going awry. Right now, people are really digging into emotions they wouldn’t ordinarily have.”  

She says acknowledge if you start to feel disconnected from yourself and “the key stuff that keeps you on track, be it baking or exercise”. On the flip side, over-reliance on something can also be a red flag. “Everyone needs a bit of a pick-me-up, but if you’re randomly ordering all of Asos or ploughing into your third glass of wine on a Monday night, you need to ask, ‘Hang on, what sort of emotions am I avoiding by treating myself this way?’” Nick explains that when resilience wanes, we lose the ability to see round a problem. “Really, resilience is about flexibility,” she says. “So when you find yourself in a fixed place, it's time to ask, 'What’s really going on here?'” 

At the moment, I feel I usually start the day well, but by lunchtime I often feel more uncertain. Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution. “It's not like you can say ‘I've ticked those boxes, I’ve got my certificate in resilience,'" Nick laughs. “You can feel like you’re in a great place and then get blindsided by a life event you never could have prepared for. It’s something you need to be constantly work on.” 

"Keep a list, not to say, ‘This is what I need to achieve today,’ but, ‘This is what I have achieved today'"
Nicola Blea

Something Nick says her clients find helpful is to realise that in a crisis, they might not be able to control external factors, but they can control their own behaviours and reactions. At the moment, that might simply involve having a schedule of your day. “It’s important to create just a shell of the structure that you need to keep going, day by day. It’s about having an emotional toolkit: what do you know you need to do to keep on the straight and narrow?” For me, it’s Pilates, for Nick, it’s running. “It’s doing the things that when you don’t, you feel rubbish without it.”  

I’ve finding my daily rituals extremely important. The day is long and you’re not seeing anyone, you’re not doing normal things, you don’t have a social life apart from online. Rituals can be small things like going outside once a day and sticking your face in the sun, taking the time to read a book. Meditation is a ritual we’re doing every day on AllBright Connect.  

At the same time, it’s important to be kind to yourself. I know many of my friends have felt stressed working from home because they haven’t achieved what they thought they would. But stop judging yourself, keep a list not to say, 'This is what I need to achieve today', but, 'This is what I have achieved today.’ 

Nick says this is something she hears a lot from her clients. “When everything’s thrown up in the air and you’re in a big period of change, that negative inner voice can get really loud because it comes from a place of fear.” If you devote all your attention to the things you haven’t done or could do, it’s going to drain your energy. “In times of real crisis, you need to step away from this criticism and lean more towards compassion, both for other people and for yourself.” 

She says we're particularly susceptible when it comes to our careers. “No matter who we are or what we do, we’re more than just our role in work, just like we’re more than our role as a mother, a sister or a wife,” Nick emphasises. Critical thoughts will only hold us back. “Think about how you would speak to a friend who was having a tough time. That’s how you’re aiming to speak to yourself. You’ll feel more capable and more resourceful if you treat yourself with compassion.” 

For most of you as managers or women running businesses, like me, it’s probably almost part of your personal brand to you define yourself as resilient. It’s something I feel proud of. But just because you’re someone who is normally the ‘fixer’ for your team, your family or your friends, that doesn’t mean you can’t also say, “I’m having a challenging time and I need help.” 

“I think, as women, we are a bit more like, ‘It’s fine, I’ll just carry on,’” Nick says. “But this country is run by capable women who solve everyone else’s problems with their heads hanging by a thread,” she laughs. “But then your head actually bounces off and you don’t notice and then you’re in bed for six months.” She turns serious, “I get it, no one wants to dissolve into tears in front of their team, but you have to be able to plug into what you need.” 

She continues, “The reality is, most of you will be able to get through most things, but sometimes you need to know when enough is enough. Only you can judge when that is.” Life isn’t always glorious and powering through is something we’ve learnt to be good at. But for those times when battling your way through just isn’t working, stopping and asking for help is OK too. 

Anna Jones. Photo courtesy of AllBright
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