772: How to Build Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty with Gemma Leigh Roberts

By June 2, 2022Podcasts



Gemma Leigh Roberts shares recent science behind resilience and how to bounce back from whatever the world throws at you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t confuse grit with resilience 
  2. The challenges worth seeking out to build your resilience
  3. How to build resilience into daily routines 

About Gemma

Gemma Roberts is a chartered psychologist who has spent most of her working life teaching, writing, and speaking about what it takes to navigate challenges successfully, build resilience in the face of adversity, and create environments where each individual can thrive and perform at their peak, in their unique way. 

Her book, Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty, which will be released in May 2022, came from her Mindset Matters newsletter on LinkedIn, which now has 500,000 subscribers. 

She is also a LinkedIn Learning instructor, with her courses garnering over 3 million learners. She also hosts the We Got This: Work+Life audio series on LinkedIn.

Resources Mentioned

Gemma Roberts Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gemma, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Gemma Roberts
Hello. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d like to start in March 2020 and hear your story right at the beginning of pandemic times, you start your Mindset Matters LinkedIn newsletter and things really take off. Can I hear the story?

Gemma Roberts
Yes. Well, I guess a lot changed in life around then. So, we had literally just gone into lockdown in the UK, the first lockdown that we went into following the outbreak of COVID-19, so it was a really scary time for lots of us, really challenging, I think, for most of us, it ended up being. And my research area is resilience, so that’s the area that I’ve worked in for the last decade but it was the area where I’ve been doing doctorate research.

So, I thought at that time that, actually, there’s so much that I could be sharing to help people navigate uncertainty, and I had access, kind of early access to LinkedIn newsletters because I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor. It’s kind of the perfect time to share some of that advice, some of the edited space stuff that we know works, because what I was seeing is, actually, there was a lot being published or lots of people talking about resilience but it wasn’t necessarily accurate and it wasn’t necessarily that helpful because if we think about psychology, if we’re not careful, sometimes we can do more harm than good.

So, I actually thought of it as an obligation to put some helpful evidence-based useful information out there that, hopefully, would help people navigate uncertainty. I mean, at that point, we had no idea what we’re about to go through in the world, either the following two years. So, I had no idea how that was going to pan out. So, the newsletter grew quite quickly on LinkedIn Learning and I think, within 11 months, there were 250,000 subscribers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. And today, kind of two years on, it’s like 550,000 subscribers maybe. So, it really gained momentum quite quickly. And I honestly think that’s because of the topic because I talk…the newsletter is called Mindset Matters. And I think, at that point in time, myself included, we were all looking for advice about what to do in this new working world, what do we need to think about what’s going to help us thrive, or even just sometimes survive some of these challenges and changes that were going on.

So, the newsletter took off, which was amazing, and it actually turned into a book, which had literally just been released, which is very exciting. So, the book is also called Mindset Matters and I wrote that thinking about those people that were reading the newsletter. So, thinking about people who want advice on these key areas of psychology, or think about how we think about things, how we process information, how we can use that to our advantage in the working world, and kind of built out the five key topics that I talk about.

I guess I got it in the book, I got to go into a bit more detail, really, around what those topics are. I explore a bit more in terms of research and case studies but, ultimately, it’s a coaching manual. So, for each topic I talk about, there are coaching exercises in that, and I want it to feel, like for people who read it, I want it to feel like as close it can to having a coaching conversation with someone, and sitting down and testing out some strategies, seeing what works, tweaking things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for the story, and that sets things up nicely. I’m curious, when you said information going around is not accurate, well, can you bust a couple myths for us right off the bat here?

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. So, a lot of how we traditionally think about resilience is kind of pushing through. So, perseverance or grit or mental toughness, whereby we face a challenge and we need to kind of push through, get to the other side, make it through, get past it, but actually that’s not really what resilience is at all. It can be sometimes but that’s not entirely what resilience is.

So, resilience is positive adaptation following adversity. That’s the kind of broad definition, and sometimes we do need to push through, sometimes we do need to kind of figure out how we can take those next steps and just keep going. But, also, sometimes we need to stop, sometimes we need to accept what’s going on and we can’t change it, sometimes we need to rest, we need to build our resilience reserves up again, and sometimes we need to kind of break down to be able to build ourselves back up again as well. But that’s not really the bit of resilience that we hear about.

The other thing about resilience is we have been told, I guess, that it’s up to us, as individuals, to work on ourselves to become more resilient, and some of us have it and some of us don’t. Again, that’s not accurate. There is so much, in terms of context, that goes into resilience. There are things like support systems around you, or organizational context where you work, the business culture, line managers support, policies, processes, big changes going on in the world, like COVID, for example, changing a lot of our lives.

So, again, yes, I focus a lot on helping people to become more resilient themselves to things that they can do, but it’s also very important to take into account kind of what’s going on around you as well, and try and think about kind of the broader picture, which is not something that we were hearing a lot about at the start of the pandemic. And I think partly that’s because that’s where research is going. We’re still kind of getting there with resilience research. So, it’s not grit, resilience is not grit. It’s not pushing through. Sometimes it could be, but other times it could be something completely differently you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for that clarification, that distinction there. So, positive adaptation following diversity. Yeah, lay it on us, how do we get more of that going?

Gemma Roberts
Well, there’s another little myth with resilience. So, not a myth necessarily but it’s kind of something that’s a bit unfortunate but it comes to building resilience. So, when I work with people, strictly to coaching context, quite often people want to build their resilience but they don’t want to face challenges because, ultimately, who does? Who wants to wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I can’t wait for this great big challenge that’s going to come my way, and I’m not going to know what to do with it”?

Most of us, we might appreciate some more challenges but big ones can sometimes feel overwhelming. But the truth of it is that we need that adversity, we need challenges if we’re going to build our resilience muscles, if we’re going to learn the skills that we need to get through challenges. In a way, that’s very healthy for us. So, if we’re going to learn from the situation, so learn what we’re capable of, learn how it works for us when we react in different ways, and would we do that again, what different tools or strategies can we use in the future.

So, if you want to become more resilient, and I do recommend that for all of us because, I’m going to be honest, challenge, change, complexity, none of that’s going away in our lives. We will have to deal with that at one point or another. So, if we want to be resilient, which means we can deal with those situations more effectively and in a way that’s healthy for us, then we need to face challenges, we need adversity.

The key thing is if we had a choice, which we don’t, but if we had a choice, it’s we want challenges that stretch us, they stretch our abilities, they can be really uncomfortable, take us outside of our comfort zone, but aren’t necessarily overwhelming. Because once we get to that overwhelming phase, it’s quite difficult to focus on building those kinds of personal tools that we need to be resilient and, actually, we get thrown a bit more into survival mode.

But the key is looking out for those, I guess, stretching challenges in our lives that are going to help us to develop, help us to grow, help us to learn something about ourselves and the environment around us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re on the lookout for the stretching challenges and, ideally, that’s the nature of the challenges we get. This reminds of that Stephen Covey chart, in terms of the comfort zone, growth zone, panic zone. So, got that in my mind’s eye. And so, I’m curious, like sometimes in my own experience, sometimes even the same challenge in, I guess, a different context, I don’t know, in terms of there’s more stuff going on, I’m kind of sick – I’m a little sick right now – it can be like overwhelming, exhausting, it doesn’t feel like a positive adaptation has happened afterwards.

Just like, “Aargh, I barely made it through that thing, and I just want to sleep for days now,” versus, “Okay, victory. I’m stronger now.” So, can you zero in on what are some of the, I don’t know, levers or adjustments we can make so that we more often find ourselves in the, “Yes, that was a positive adaptation following the adversity zone,” as opposed to, “Aargh, that almost killed me, and I just need to sleep forever now”?

Gemma Roberts
That, Pete, is a really key point because this all comes back to that context part and resilience changing over time. And resilience is a process. It’s not a thing we have or don’t have necessarily. We can have skills that help us but the resilience process is dealing with that challenge or dealing with that adversity, and it doesn’t always happen quickly. Sometimes we look back years down the line, I think, actually, “Yeah, I guess I kind of learned something from that.” We don’t necessarily do learning, if at all, but if we’re consciously trying to learn from the situation, we don’t always necessarily do it straight away.

So, there’s kind of two things that you mentioned. So, one of them is, “Why is it that some days we feel like we can deal with challenges, and, on other days, the exact same challenge will feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and it’s the thing that sends us over the edge?” And the answer to that is that, again, it’s contextual.

So, some of it has to do with us as individuals, so what’s going on with us. How many other challenges are you dealing with at once? Are they big challenges? Are they reoccurring? Have you got lots and lots of little things going on that you’re struggling to kind of switch your attention between? Or is there one huge thing going on in your life which is taking over everything else?

Because when we’ve got lots of things going in our lives, and we’ve got one big challenge going on in our life, it can make other smaller things, sometimes, feel a lot bigger, or we’ve might’ve used all of our resilience reserves, all of our energy that we’ve got dealing with those things, and we just haven’t got any left when other things strike. So, that’s why we respond to challenges, the exact same challenge, in a different way on a different day. So, that’s something to keep in mind.

But also, the situations around us are changing all the time as well, so, yes, there could be stuff going on with us, our energy, our mood, our health, things like our physical health, like you might be finding at the moment. So, sometimes when our physical health is impacted, or things like we haven’t had enough sleep, or our nutrition is not so great at the moment, we might find that kind of psychologically responding to things, we just haven’t got that resource. You kind of feel like you’ve got an empty tank, you’re running on empty so that can happen. But this is why it’s so important.

So, when I talk about resilience, it is a complex topic because it’s a process. It’s how we do the thing, it’s how we overcome adversity, and turn that into a positive adaptation, either now or the future. It’s not a thing you have inside you where you can tick off the list, and say, “Yes, I’m resilient 100% of the time.”

And I often say to people that thinking about resilience, that the goal really shouldn’t be wanting to be more resilient or wanting to be resilient because, firstly, how do you measure that? I don’t know because I’ve not faced every challenge I’m going to face in my life. I don’t know if something, it comes my way. Think about the pandemic, for example. I don’t know how I’m necessarily going to react to that.

But, also, it’s never done. You’re never…it’s not like, I don’t know, having…I’ve got brown eyes, for example. Yup, frankly, I’ve got brown eyes, that’s done. That’s probably not going to change my life now unless I wear contact lenses. The goal really should be learning about yourself, so learning about how resilience works for you because, again, it works differently for all of us.

So, what I need today to be resilient, even if I had exactly the same situation as you, will be different to what you need today to do that. So, it’s first about we learn what we need but it’s, secondly, about learning tools, strategies, techniques that we can use at different points in time when we need them. So, the goal really should be learning about your own resilience and learning tools and strategies and keeping them in your back pocket for when you need them to cope with different challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s cover those tools, strategies, and techniques both in the moment as well as preparatory, like you mentioned sleep and nutrition. Like, if I wanted to be maximally equipped to take on a big old challenge, what are some of the things I should do in advance? Like, I’m thinking of a training montage or key practices and habits. So, it’s like, when that thing comes up, “Oh, what do you know? I have built a deep reserve and capability to not be just sort of wiped out by that.” What are some of those key levers there?

Gemma Roberts
Of course, there are things like sleep and nutrition, for example, which I know I’ve already mentioned. But I’ve got two young children, so telling me that I need more sleep to be resilient, I know that. I cognitively am aware of that. Equally, I may not be able to prescribe that for myself every day because it’s not always in my control.

So, it’s having a bank of things to think about. So, sleep, nutrition, exercise, they’re good for any kind of health we’re talking about, whether it’s physical, whether it’s psychological, for sure. When it comes to building resilience and the actual act of dealing with challenges or overcoming challenges, it’s really important that you have taken some time to think about the challenges that you have faced in the past, so this is a little bit of building self-awareness and also some reflection as well.

So, either at the time where that challenge is happening, or you can even think back to where challenges have happened before, think about how you dealt with it, what was helpful for you, what wasn’t helpful for you. Ask yourself questions, like, “Would I do the same thing again? Would I change anything? Like, if I was in exactly the same situation again, what would I do differently?” And that’s not about regret. It’s not about regretting, necessarily, how you handled that situation. It’s about saying, “What did I learn from that? And what would I take with me? And what would I leave behind when it comes to facing challenges again?”

So, this reflection is really important. And, again, like I said earlier about resilience, that reflection is never done. We have to keep doing this. But when it comes to our minds and how they work and mindset, we have to keep doing the work. But there’s also some really handy tools that you could use, some coaching techniques. Things like gratitude, for example, has been shown to help to boost resilience.

Because if you imagine that whether facing a huge challenge or lots of little challenges, sometimes that becomes overwhelming, and sometimes it takes our thinking and we can’t rethink outside of that. But even doing something really simple, like reflecting, either talking about, writing down something or three things that you’re grateful for that day can help you to shift that mindset. So, it shifts you just for a moment away from looking at what’s not going so well, towards actually something that could be going well in your life.

And these could be super simple things. It could be a phone conversation with someone you care about, or great coffee on the way to work, or a walk out in nature, or watching some TV program that you want to watch. They don’t have to be huge. Or, bedtime story with your children. So, there’s techniques like that that can help. And, also, another thing that I always recommend people focus on if you want to think about, “How do I equip myself to face future challenges?” there is a really underrated part of resilience which we rarely hear about that comes out of research and it’s part of my research as well and it’s in other published research, and that’s support, so people around you.

And I think, today more than ever, after going through a period of time where lots of us haven’t been out be around people we care about, necessarily, kind of face to face, and there has been some distance at times, I think we’re craving that even more so than ever. And, actually, in my book, some of the coaching strategies that I go through, I talk about support.

So, a really simple one, for example, is thinking about creating your own board of supporters. So, this means, imagine you’re running a company and you’ve got a board of directors that advise you on different parts of that business, they’ve got different areas of expertise. In the resilience world, we want a board of supporters, so you want to imagine your own table and you’ve got so many seats, whether that’s five seats, 10 seats, you can choose. I tend to work with ten. And you want people on that table that you trust and they support you in different ways.

So, for example, you might have someone who has expertise in something that you’re doing in life, whether that be starting a business or the industry you’re in, and they can advise on that. You might want people on there who are great at listening. So, they don’t necessarily offer advice but they listen to what you’re saying and they make you feel heard and validated. You might have people on there who are really good fun and they’re the people you go to when you kind of what to forget the challenge a little bit sometimes, and just go and concentrate on something else. And you’ve got people on there that care about you, that will offer some kind of support, and it’s very different for all of us.

But ultimately, when it comes to building our resilience, and getting us in a position where we feel like we could deal with challenges that come our way, to give yourself a better chance of being able to do that, having this group of people, whether it’s explicit and they know who they are, when you have that special, or whether it’s not, and you just know who they are…

Pete Mockaitis
You get to have quarterly meetings.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah, you could have quarterly meetings if you want to. I’m sure if you offered up a nice…some beverages and snacks, I’m sure people will come along, but it’s kind of just knowing as well yourself that you’ve got that support, and also identify in us. Because how often do we sit down and think, “I’m so grateful for that person, the advice they give or the support they give”? And on the flipside, think about who you are a support for as well because that also helps to build resilience when we are supporting someone else through their challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
And it gets me thinking about, you know, dig the well before you’re thirsty, like the basis sort of networking relationship principles. Like, you would be more capable of tackling big things if your board of supporters, if those relationships were in a good spot, as opposed to, “Oh, the last time I talked with this guy was three years ago when I was struggling with another business issue, and I’ve been doing a lot of taking and not a lot of giving.”

And so, that’s just sort of what’s leaping to my mind here, is to just go ahead and proactively, just as we would do some sleep…ideally, sleeping well, eating well, exercising well to build up a physical wealth to be ready to handle stuff, so, too, we would like to build up a relational wealth to be able to deal with stuff so that you do feel fully comfortable reaching out, as opposed to, “Oh, maybe I should…maybe that’s not appropriate, maybe I’ve been all take, take, take with this person over the last couple of years, and I don’t feel as good about reaching out now.”

Plus, I think there’s some research about loneliness stuff. It’s like when you most need to reach out to somebody, often it’s when you least feel like it, so you got those things to contend with. So, anyway, it’s what’s leaping to mind for me here, Gemma.

Gemma Roberts
And I think it’s quite like maybe we do need an audit. Maybe sometimes we do need to sit down and think, “Actually, have I checked in with that person lately, sent a message, or had a quick chat?” I think we’re all guilty of that sometimes, of some those things slip a little bit, or it’s very difficult to keep on to of it, but it is important. It’s important to check in and to make sure that we’re keeping that board of supporters there that’s going to help us, those are genuinely, because, again, I talk about this in the book as well, because connection is really important for us.

It’s really, really important that when we hit a challenge or when we go through a period of adversity in our life that we are connected to someone or people or a community that we feel like they’re going to help us. It’s very important for us to be connected to help other people as well because, again, there’s research that shows that if we’re supporting others, we generally feel better about it in our lives and we often feel better about the challenges that we’re facing as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, when it comes to gratitude, there is a number of different approaches to a gratitude practice, and I’m thinking of Shawn Achor and Dr. Andrew Huberman here in terms of different flavors and approaches. Could you maybe list a few of them or identify your favorite in terms of, “Ooh, this has a great research base or a tremendous ROI in terms of a resilience per minute required of us”?

Gemma Roberts
The truth of it is we don’t entirely know exactly like the best full map for gratitude. So, Andrew Huberman, for example, in his podcast, has talked about gratitude from a neuroscience perspective, the most effective way to practice gratitude is actually not to think about the things you’re grateful for but think about stories where someone has thanked you for something, or think about stories where they thanked someone else. From a neuroscience perspective, that has shown the most promising results.

From a psychology perspective, there is research that shows that, actually, just everyday gratitude, so you actually being thankful to other people, can also provide great results for you as well. So, my advice for this is find what works for you and do it in a way that works for you. What we know across various studies, whether that be the new science world or in the psychology world, is that consistency is key. Like, that’s quite important, the consistency part. So, it could be that you do this every day or every evening at dinner, or every night before bed, or every morning, for a period of time.

I’m not saying you have to do this the rest of your life necessarily, although it’s quite a nice habit to get into, but it’s doing it for a good chunk of time. So, give yourself a month, for example, to do this. What’s really important is that you are very focused on the process of practicing gratitude when you’re doing it. So, you’re not thinking about something else at the same time and it has to be genuine as well.

Like, our brains know if we’re not being genuine. We can’t trick ourselves. You can’t just think, “Oh, I’m going to make a note of it. I’m just going to have a nice cup of coffee today, I’m not going to be bothered but, yeah, I’ll just jot that down.” It’s not going to work. You’ve got to be in the process and you’ve got to be really thinking about that interaction with someone or the thing that was really important to you.

So, the way that I tend to do it is I’ll pick a time of day, so whether it’s first thing in the morning, kind of set myself up for the day, or just before I go to bed, I’ll think about it. I’m actually starting to try and do this a bit with my children as well even though they’re quite small but they don’t really know what gratitude is yet, so they’re two and four. So, we’re just focusing on one fun thing that happened today, or one thing that was good today, that you mean somebody, ours is a very random, especially from the two-year-old.

But the point is we’re starting to focus on…because they do a lot of talking about some of the things that haven’t gone so well, like scrapes and cups and bangs and sisters fighting, and who did what. Actually, I’m trying to shift that focus a little bit to focus on, “Okay, yes, we have to…” And the other thing with gratitude is it’s not saying the challenges aren’t happening and it’s not ignoring them or not acknowledging them. It’s saying, “Yes, those things are happening but this stuff is also happening as well.” So, it’s kind of providing a bit more of a balanced view, even just for a moment. That’s often all it takes.

So, the truth is there is no one way of doing this. My advice is, and my advice, actually, most of the coaching strategies that I talk about in the book, is that test it, see what works for you, see how it works for you. Does it work jotting this down? Does it work doing this on a Friday as you’re wrapping up for the week? Does it work doing it on a Monday morning? Does it work doing every morning for you? Does it work at certain points in time? So, when you might start to feel that stress in your chest or you know sometimes that anxious feeling that you might get. Is that the time where it works for you?

It’s testing this stuff and, again, reflecting on “Has that been helpful? Has it changed my thinking process? Has it changed how I interact with the world or others in a more positive way?” and tweaking it where you need to, and kind of keep reflecting on that, making that reflection part of your kind of at least weekly life, I’d say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. And I guess, as I’ve been doing so, that reflection, one little nuance I’ve discovered is that when I re-read the list of gratitude bits, it’s a lot more powerful on the reflection if those pieces are somewhat unique. Like, in the same day, for example, I might feel gratitude that my wife made a sandwich, like, “Oh, good. I was hungry and here’s a sandwich. That’s great. Thank you.” So, I do have gratitude there.

But if I write that down, and then later I read it, I don’t as much feel a resurrection of the gratitude vibes, like, “Oh, yes,” because it’s not that novel. It’s like, “Yes, I was hungry and then I ate. It happened. It’s happened thousands of times over my lifetime,” versus, on the same day, maybe I did a puzzle with my kids. They’re three and four, so also young. And then Mary immediately says, “Dance party.” She just wants to celebrate having finished the last piece of the puzzle, and just immediately says, “Dance party,” and start doing her thing.

So, I’m very grateful that that occurred, that I had that moment and that memory. And I guess that’s sort of my distinction, I guess, in terms of I’m grateful for this thing and it’s like it “qualifies” as a memory. And in subsequent reflection, I go, “Oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely. And, oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely.” And it gives me more of a jolt than if it’s just a very ordinary, like, “Had a great coffee. Had another great coffee.” So, that’s my experience. I don’t know if there’s research on it or maybe that’s your whole point, reflect on what works for you.

Gemma Roberts
Hundred percent, that’s the point, I reflect. And the novelty part, so I talk a little bit in the book about novelty as well. That’s how our brains remember things, and, also, we really seek novelty. That’s interesting for us, that keeps life ingesting. It keeps us learning. We learn these things through novelty. So, we’re kind of hardwired for curiosity and novelty, so we want to embrace that as much as possible. So, I think most people will find that if there’s something to be grateful for that is kind of out of the ordinary, that’s the stuff we’re going to remember, that’s the stuff that’s going to make a big impact.

However, we’re not going to have that every day potentially. And it’s also really important sometimes, again, talking about mindset perspective, because perspective is a huge part of resilience, sometimes we kind of need to remind ourselves about those little things as well. And even though making a sandwich, for example, or my husband making me a nice cup…he’s like the chief coffee-maker in our house. And sometimes I have to really think, because sometimes I’m like, “Oh, thanks. That’s really lovely.” And I do appreciate it. Sometimes I have to really sit down and think, “Actually, that’s really kind that he does that all the time, like way more than I do. And, actually, maybe I should be a bit kinder in one way or another.”

But sometimes we can miss those kind of everyday normal things to be thankful for. So, I definitely think there’s a place or room in our lives to reflect on some of those things as well. But I know that’s hard because it feels so normal, it feels so every day, that sometimes we don’t appreciate some of those things until they’re not there anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. And that’s where I was going to go, is when you reflect upon the absence, or, “Hey, there was a time in my life when this did not exist. Remember that? See how this is so much better? Huh? Yeah, that is cool having a chief coffee-maker right there.” Well, your book is called Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty. We talked about resilience. What’s mental agility and how do we get more of it?

Gemma Roberts
So, mental agility has a lot do with kind of being flexible in how we look at the world and how we process information. And, I guess at the heart of it, it’s not being wedded to one way of doing things or one way of thinking. So, there’s a lot in there about, I talk a little bit about curiosity. So, being curious, nurturing curiosity, remaining curious even when things are really challenging, and there are some things you can do around that. Like, pretty simple things.

For example, let’s say that you commute every day and you get to board a train into the city and you walk the same way every day to work, pick up your coffee from the nice coffee shop you always go to, or pick up breakfast from the place that you love. That’s amazing but sometimes you can force yourself to go a different route and stumble across a completely different street or another little coffee shop that you haven’t seen before. Especially, I used to do a lot of work in London, for example, less so kind of commuting since the pandemic. But, especially in the city, there are little tiny windy streets, you could get to the same place in a completely different way at different times.

Or, it could be things like going to an art gallery. Like, I’m not really into art galleries, if I’m honest. I’m not really into museums, particularly, unless it’s about a topic that I love. But sometimes it’s about kind of forcing ourselves to go and experience these things just because you might learn something, you might pick up something over here, an idea that later on down the line connects to something completely different to what you’re doing. So, that’s part of mental agility, this idea of being curious, but also being able to challenge your perspective and also broaden your perspective.

So, I guess, when I first started out as a psychologist, when I was doing my undergraduate degree, I thought I was going to university to learn how people think and be able to help people think in the best way for them. And I thought I was going to go and do my undergraduate degree and find out the best way to think about challenges, or the best way to think to create success, and I had a complete shock when I found out that doesn’t exist.

And, actually, I remember the feeling. I remember coming away from a lecture one day, and thinking, “I feel like my world is like crashing down here,” because everything I thought, there was a right way. I thought there was a right way of thinking, I thought there was a right way of doing things, and I’ve just been told that, actually, there are a whole bunch of completely opposing theories, ideas, ways of doing things that can all work for certain people at certain points in time, potentially, and there’s no answer.

And I remember my perspective of the world being a little bit shattered. It sounds very dramatic but it did take me a while to kind of get my head around what being a psychologist was going to mean. But that’s the key point, is that I come to a situation with a perspective, I’ve got one perspective; there are hundreds of other ways to see that situation. So, mental agility, part of that, is training ourselves, firstly, to acknowledge that you got one perspective and there are loads of other perspectives out there. And, secondly, to seek out those other perspectives. Like, you, ideally, want to.

And it’s not that diagnosing other people, or how they look at the world, or being able to put them in a box and you’re in a different box. It’s not that. But it’s about thinking how else could you look at this situation, how else could you look at this problem or this challenge, how do other people look. Ask them. Find out those questions. It’s things like consuming your news from different sources, not just one source. Or, if you’re a fiction reader, generally, read a nonfiction book, or vice versa.

And also, particularly in those heated situations with someone where you’re coming in strong with a perspective. Where you can is taking that time to take a step back and remember that you’re not necessarily right. You might be. Or there could be lots of rights. There could be ten different right ways to look at this. So, that’s part of mental agility is, first, being able to kind of move between ideas quickly, so you’re broadening that perspective, so you’re keeping that curious mindset, but also being able to see other perspectives as well, and training yourself to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that sounds handy, both in terms of problem-solving in the context of, “Hey, here’s a big tricky thing. Oh, because I have multiple perspectives, I have a greater chance of being able to crack it,” as well as, I’m imagining just like emotionally realizing that when you’re in a moment of, “This sucks. I hate this. I’m suffering. I want to stop immediately,” if you’ve got some great mental agility, you can say, “Well, actually, this might sort of be helpful in some ways, like, A, B, C. I’d still rather not deal with it but it’s not totally worthless.”

Gemma Roberts
Yup, hundred percent. It changes the way you look at challenges and the situations. And, honestly, let’s be honest, some of the big challenges we have to deal with in life, we would never want to face those, we would never wish them upon people, and we’ve got to be a little bit careful in the resilience world in that, I don’t want to be like, “Oh, it’s amazing. The more challenges, the better for all of us,” because obviously, challenges can bring pain, and they can bring discomfort, and they can bring upset, and you can feel unsettled or overwhelmed or anxious.

And that exists. We can’t deny that. But we can’t change that, so the only thing that we can do is find ways to look after ourselves and to deal with those situations in the best way that we can. And, by the way, it is completely acceptable to fall apart when things are not going well. It is completely acceptable to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, depressed, all the things. That is okay. It’s not necessarily about denying that or changing that straight away. It’s about moving things in the direction that works for you over time. You don’t have to do that straight away.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gemma, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gemma Roberts
I understand the concept of resilience is complicated. I do understand. Like, there’s a reason I’m doing doctoral research in the area because there’s still a lot of stuff that we’re still learning as well as psychologists. But my biggest hit, if you’re thinking about yourself and how you cope with challenges and uncertainty is, firstly, get to know yourself, get to know what’s happening to you, reflect on that, build your self-awareness.

Again, it’s never done. I still have to do that always. I still sometimes have to sit back and think, “Why did I react like that? That was completely like not appropriate response considering the challenge.” Like, in my head, it does not really matter but that’s how I feel about it. So, get to know yourself. And, also, just keep testing. Just keep testing what works for you. All we can do is try. And my intention is always to get better at this stuff, to grow, to develop, to learn. And I think that’s all we can have in these situations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gemma Roberts
So, one of my favorite quotes is “You can’t stop the waves from crashing but you can learn to surf.” And lots of people have used this, and so it can’t be attributed to one person but, basically, that’s what resilience is. We can’t stop the waves. We don’t know how big they’re going to be, but we can learn to use it in one way or another. You may not want to be surfing. You might rather be out in the water. I don’t really want to be surfing. I’m not a natural but, equally, I know that I can learn to do that if I need to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Gemma Roberts
Well, this might be a bit of a strange answer, I guess, but probably my research. Essentially, my piece of research is looking at the factors that impact resilience for leaders. So, how much of it is down to the individual? How much of it is down to the environment? How much of it is down to the teams they work with?

it’s been a real kind of privilege to delve deep into that, to understand a bit more about how resilience changes for each of us at each moment in time, and why, and what we can do about that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Gemma Roberts
A favorite book, well, my most gifted book, it must be one of my favorites is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. So, the whole point of the book is that it focuses on how our minds work, how we talk to ourselves in our minds. And it uses kind of quite a comical tone in some places. It talks about some complex psychology. So, it’s easy-ish, I’d say it’s quite easy to understand. It’s quite accessible but also quite amusing as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Gemma Roberts
I’m not sure I am awesome at my job. Certainly not every day, that’s for sure. My favorite tool is probably getting help where I need it, and that’s taken quite a long time to get in place. So, I have various people that support different parts of my business and different parts of my work because I’m not an expert in everything.

And I think, over time, I’ve got to know the bits that I’m good at – so explaining complicated things, turning into tools that are very accessible, like research, making it practical. But I’m not so great at marketing, or, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of something else I’m not great at, managing my diary, it’s like that, so I’ve got people around me. Over time, I’ve built that out. I guess it’s a little bit like my board of supporters but it’s in a work context, but it’s getting the support where I need it.

And, also, sometimes I find that quite overwhelming because I think to myself, “I’ve got to do this new thing,” or, “I need to outsource something,” and I just don’t know where to start. And I’ve slowly started to get into the process of thinking actually, I always find that support when the time is right and when it’s the right person. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait for the right person to kind of show up to help with that. So, that’s got a little bit easy. I also find it very hard to let go of some of this stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Gemma Roberts
the point that resilience changes over time and it’s different on different days, that’s the stuff that I hear time and time again, whether working with individuals or when working with groups of people. I think it’s quite comforting that there is no…the end goal is not to be resilient. I think that’s probably one of the key things that I talk about. It is giving yourself the tools to be able to deal with challenges that can help you to be resilient but it doesn’t make you resilient.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gemma Roberts
Probably my website, so GemmaLeighRoberts.com because everything I kind of do is on this. Like, courses and books and all of that jazz is on the website.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Gemma Roberts
Yes, I do. So, challenge yourself, at least this week, and try and build this into every week if you can. Take 20 minutes at the end of each week to just do a little bit of reflection. I know I keep talking about it, but this honestly helps you to get better and better. So, think about that continuous improvement over time. If you can get 1%, even half a percent better at what you do each week over time, you’re going to see big results.

So, there’s three things that I would focus on. First of all, you review how that week has gone for you. So, you literally, “What’s gone well? What hasn’t gone well?” That’s it. And then you think about refine, “Okay, so how can I refine some of that stuff that didn’t go so well? What could I do a little tiny bit better, just a tiny bit better?” And the third step is repeat. You just keep doing this over time. It comes back to that reflection so you’re very conscious of what’s going on, you’re very aware. Tiny, tiny, tiny tweaks to make things slightly better, and just keep repeating. That’s the consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gemma, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and mental agility and resilience.

Gemma Roberts
Thanks very much.

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