Gray Matter & Leadership: Fostering Resilience – Part 1

Recovering from failure


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as the process of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, particularly through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands. 


Resilience also refers to the outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences. APA suggests that research in the field of psychology reveals that the resources and skills associated with greater positive adaptation, such as resilience, can be developed and improved through practice.



Let me give a simple example of cultivating resilience. Having strong ties with our immediate family members, friends, and other people is essential for our mental well-being. Resilience can be strengthened by allowing ourselves to get assistance and support from others who care about us and are willing to listen to us. 


My family and I, and by family I also mean my team, meet every week to discuss how we can do better and how we can put into practice the values that we advocate for. While tackling the issues that arise on a daily basis, we should hold ourselves accountable for the actions we take and keeping the promises we make. The occurrence of highly stressful events is not something that can be altered, but how we understand and react to these occurrences is something that we can control. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from failure and prevail over adversity in order to maintain focus on the shared goal. 


I wouldn’t want to be a disappointment to myself or to others, and I certainly wouldn’t want to give the impression of being incoherent or immature by failing to consider the possibility that the circumstances of the future may be more favorable than those of the present. That is how each individual member of the family considers the group’s best interests. If one member of the family falls, the others will soon follow. 


Emotional Equilibrium


The field of neuroscience has demonstrated that our brains are equipped with a kind of radar that can detect potential threats and set off a psychological reaction that is known as the fight-or-flight response or the stress response, so we can protect ourselves. This stimulus sheds light on the options that our ancestors had to consider when deciding how to react to the perceived danger to their survival. 


It’s called the amygdala, and it is a mass of gray matter located within the temporal lobes of the brain’s cerebrum. It is about the size of an almond and functions as a kind of satellite. It might have saved the lives of our ancestors, but it is now the cause of the emotional sabotage the new generations experience because its perception of the threat has shifted over time.



Around three thousand years ago, the amygdala was able to recognize the potential threat posed by a tiger attack and send a warning signal to the human brain, instructing it to either fight or run away. The amygdala can now perceive environmental stressors as potential threats to a person’s life, which causes the brain to become involved in a survival protocol. For instance, a bad email, an uncomfortable chat, or even a Facebook comment can be perceived by the amygdala as a tiger assault, triggering the brain’s instinctive protective response.



Having said that, this does not occur at no cost. A severe alarm will, in the same manner as with any reliable security system, bring the entire network to a halt. This is because all of the programs will become busy responding to the perceived emergency, causing other duties to be placed on the backlog. The brain operates the same way every time. When the amygdala is stimulated, our prefrontal cortex, which is our “commander in chief,” the region of the brain responsible for thinking, and the area where we make significant choices, is thrown off balance. 


As a result, we become impulsive, we make bad decisions, and we damage our relationships. The good news is that we can recover quickly from a hijack when we have the habit of connecting both our brain and heart. It sounds difficult, but building good habits and a consistent routine can decrease stress, anxiety, and control emotions.



What steps do our brains take to initiate this process? When the hypothalamus detects a dangerous situation or a stressful stimulus, it communicates this information to the adrenal gland, which is also referred to as the adrenal medulla. The hypothalamus plays a critical part in the regulation of many functions throughout the body, including the secretion of hormones. The body then responds by releasing a hormone known as adrenaline through a system known as the endocrine system, which is a chemical messenger system. 


This is the mechanism that sets off the fight-or-flight response. Nevertheless, the release of noradrenaline into the brain can result in an increase in both the heart rate and the  amount of blood pumped out of the heart.



Fear, bias, optimism, and intuition are all things that can get in the way of making decisions that are well-informed and measured, making it difficult for humans to make decisions that are clear-eyed in times of stress and crisis. We are encouraged to slow down our thinking and to invite more critical thought through the continual application of discipline and practice.