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Resilience and Self Sabotage (Dr Sara Shinton)

I’ve spoken and written about resilience a fair bit over the last few years, always with the proviso that I’m not enabling the poor behaviours or accepting structures that diminish resilience. I’m very aware of the backlash against “resilience training” as an alternative to addressing institutional problems. Having said that, I recognise two things – that some of our resilience challenges ARE about personal choices and habits and are possible to change, and that improvements to our research culture are happening slowly, so we have some responsibility to supporting people whilst this is happening. I rather hope that by helping people to be more resilient, they are actually more likely to engage in the process of change, but that may be naivety.


So, I’ve run a workshop on resilience, but with an added flavour of avoiding self-sabotage. If you weren’t able to join the workshop you’ll shortly find a full recording of the session posted on the FLF Development Network website.


Slides: Bridging 4 – Resilience and Self Sabotage


I referred to a number of resources that feature in all my resilience sessions:


A significant part of the session looked at resilience more generally, but in this blog I’ll focus on the new aspect of self-sabotage. This echoes an approach I’d taken in the Time Management session which I’ve recently run for FLF Dev Net. In this I talked about the process for forming new habits and making better decisions. A lot of self-sabotage-avoidance advice takes the same approach:


Recognising that self-sabotage is a result of fighting against a goal you had set yourself. Is there something about the goal that is wrong? Is there something about the way you’ve decided to achieve it that’s wrong?


Then you characterise the things you’ve done which have derailed the goal. I liked a term from the “Greater Good Magazine” blog on self sabotage which described these as ” seemingly irrelevant decisions”. My life is full of these and I usually don’t notice them, but starting to notice where my bad habits are rooted has helped me spot these “SIDs”.


Another blog from Entrepreneur Europe suggested the strategy of making small changes and steps. In most of my sessions which relate to behaviour change I talk about 5% improvements, often inspired by the great Twain quote:


Image of Mark Twain with quote text overlaid: Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.

(not this Twain quote, if you were wondering…)


I find it useful to share challenges and how I’m trying to address them, but am aware that it can be difficult to show this vulnerability and I might think twice if I was at an earlier stage in my career. Watching the Brené Brown TED talk on vulnerability and the longer Call to Courage show on Netflix has helped me with this. As a manager I would rather know about these challenges early so I can work with my colleagues to help them get through them. (In looking up the links for the Brené Brown videos I also found some short animations from the RSA on empathy and blame which are only a few minutes long…)


Finally, in the chat at the end of the session we explored some common triggers of dropping resilience and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the challenges of orientation to a new organisation (exasperated by lockdown) were a problem for many. I am thinking about how to support the FLF community with this and there are a range of resources already available online, such as these from the University of Edinburgh:

  • A guide for new researchers which was a side product of a project to explore resilience a few years ago

  • The virtual version of Edinburgh's Get Connected event for new research staff

  • Most organisations will have induction information for staff. If you’re struggling to find yours it might be referred to as "on-boarding"


As always in a session on resilience a lot of the value came from the attendees being open and honest about their challenges. They aren’t alone in finding things hard at the moment and neither are you. I hope the resources here help you to see that, then to start to build your own resilience plan.



This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0


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