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Building Personal Resilience for More Successful Leadership

In her Monday morning workshop at Sustainable Brands’16 San Diego, psychologist Laura Delizonna, PhD, provided an introduction to positive psychology, how it fosters success, and how it can be leveraged in the workplace.

“Positive emotions help us broaden our vision, build resources, and grow as individuals,” Delizonna explained. Practicing mindfulness and building emotional intelligence, she added, have been proven to boost memory, ability to collaborate, and altruism.

“Positive emotions are like the wind that propels us towards our goals,” she said. “Negative emotions are like a hole in the boat: you need to fix the boat or the vessel will sink.”

PREMA: How to begin to leverage the power of positive psychology

It starts with PREMA: Positive emotion; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishment. Delizonna had participants privately score themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these 5 areas, without thinking too much about the past or future. Focusing on the present moment, how satisfied are you with these aspects of your life? Those who are the most satisfied in these areas – who are able to think positively, who feel engaged, who have happy and fulfilling relationships, who feel their life has meaning, and who feel accomplished – are the happiest and more successful in both their personal and professional lives. Performing a self-evaluation like this builds self-awareness and emotional intelligence in itself, while providing a starting point for improving in these areas.

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A few volunteers shared related stories of how they connected with the PREMA areas. Danielle Lanyard spoke of a trying time that resulted in somewhat of a positive emotion rebirth: After becoming home-bound for about a year due to a severe injury, she used mindfulness and positive thinking throughout her healing process. She ended up starting her own online, home-based business, Big Deep Digital, a boutique ‘do it all’ agency for impact-driven ventures.

Tom Drucker of Consultants in Corporate Innovation and Transitioning to Green shared another powerful example. He was approached to help design a veterinary hospital that would help prevent opiate abuse by staff. He learned that although it is rarely known or discussed, it is a significant problem within the industry that many employers would like to address. Drucker described the experience as bringing significant meaning to his work and life.

These examples were powerful ones, but Delizonna notes that small actions can also be significant. For example, building relationships with coworkers can be effective – people with at least one friend at work perform better (as evaluated by themselves and their managers).

Mindfulness and Grit: Powerful tools in the pursuit of success

“Your body is present. Is your mind?” asked Delizonna. Humans have a tremendous ability to imagine, she continued, “and yet, it can also be to our detriment. How often are you in the present moment?”

Encouraging yourself to experience the present, taking a moment to pause your busy mind – a “mindful moment” – can be extremely helping in building focus. To do this, attempt to neutrally observe your breathing and senses. Attempt to do so without analysis – without bias, assumptions or judgements – a sort of “radical objectivity,” Delizonna says, despite that “our mind wants to fill in the blanks.”

“There is no beginning or end to this practice,” she added. “We cannot suppress thoughts, we cannot make the mind be quiet, we cannot stop the mind from wandering.” We can only redirect it.

Even a “micro-moment of mindfulness,” 30 seconds, a minute, or just three breaths before walking into a room, can be helpful in combatting frustration and encouraging measured responses rather than impulsive reactions. Pause and reflect for a moment before responding. Even these small meditation practices can help build focus, reduce stress, and improve wellbeing and physical health.


The biggest predictor of success though, is grit: the passion and perseverance toward a goal, says Delizonna. Once you get in touch with your purpose, you need the resilience to pursue it. She asserts that you can allow yourself to be “a little obsessed” about something that is meaningful to you.

Regarding how to stay gritty amidst tough challenges, Delizonna re-emphasized the need to respond effectively rather than react impulsively. Her advice is to try not to over- or under-react, and reframe mistakes and failures. A failure means you failed; failing does not mean that you are a failure.

Building on this, Delizonna recommends following some of the mantras popular in the startup world, such as ‘done is better than perfect,’ ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid?,’ ‘move fast and break things,’ and ‘fail fast.’

“We don’t want to glamorize failure, we want to learn from our failures and those of others,” she said, with a reminder that mistakes often lead to interesting feedback and act as course-correctors, which are necessary for success.

Reframing can be valuable in other aspects of building resilience, as well. For example, Delizonna recommends reframing questions to use conditional language in problem solving. “Can I…” begs a yes or no response, whereas “How can I…” forms a process-oriented and more effective question for identifying options and creating opportunities.

Delizonna concluded her workshop by reminding the audience that personal resilience requires strong relationships, as noted in the discussion about PREMA. Trust is essential, empathy is powerful, and collaboration can help everyone thrive, together.


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