Header Content for Leadership Page

Healthcare is Changing. Lead the Change Contact Us

How Strong is your “R Factor”?

By Michael C. Aquilino

Are you the type of person who is interested in deriving results? My life’s work has been dedicated to supporting, guiding, coaching, and strategizing with individuals, teams and organizations throughout the country in order to garner the results they envision.  Helping people bolster their “resilience” is one of the things I do.

Within this conversation about the “R Factor” there is a distinction at work that plays a vital role in being successful in all that you do. Obviously, everyone’s definition of success is different, but for the purpose of this conversation let’s consider success in terms of completion, wholeness and a sense of freedom within the mind, body and spirit.  While we could discuss each of these topics for hours, in this communication, I am sharing insight and steps that can assist you in finding freedom in your thinking and allow room for a sense of wholeness, understanding and, perhaps, even some relief.

Have you ever noticed how two people of very similar circumstances in the exact same environment or culture with the same exact level of responsibility can have such a different experience of life? Perhaps you have a colleague or family member with whom you share close similarities in many ways, yet one of you may be constantly overwhelmed or stressed while the other is light, carefree and just seems to roll with it all. What is that? Even more importantly, why is that? I submit to you that it is the “R Factor” at work.

Many would argue that the “R Factor” is something we are born with. Some would argue it is something that we learn or mindfully develop over time. It truly does not matter if it is inherent within all of us or something learned or developed over time. What matters is that we become present to the need for and the mindful actions of it.

The actions within the distinction of “resiliency” deliver a significant impact on one’s life experience. The question posed at the top of this article is: How Strong is Your “R Factor”? On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the strongest, where exactly would you authentically place yourself?  A note of caution here as I would ask that you stay with me in this conversation because the ego may have just said, “Oh, I have that handled.” For those who may think that, allow me to ask a few things. In your day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month, do you find yourself unable to catch up or get ahead? Are you ever anxious or worried? Do you feel overwhelmed more often than not? How is your energy and spirit? Are they less than what you would like or hope? These are only a few touch points to begin to measure the degree of your “R Factor.” If you responded yes to any of those or if you responded yes to all of them stay with this conversation as you may find access to a path or insight to help improve things for you and those around you.

There are so many factors that play into whether one is resilient or not resilient. One of the most relevant components is trust. I often have conversations with folks about trust. I have heard every personalized theory that individuals carry concerning trust ranging from “don’t trust anyone” to “they have to earn my trust” to “I trust everyone completely.” If you ever want to have an interesting conversation with colleagues, just ask them to define their relationship to trust. You will most certainly learn far more than anticipated! When folks hold trust in such a way that it is somehow outside of themselves, I pose a question: “If I gave you an empty container with the word trust painted on it and asked you to go out in the world and fill it up with trust, what would you come back with?”  Invariably the person answers, “It would be empty.”

That is because trust is something that resides within. Trust relates directly to “resiliency” and the level of belief we have within ourselves to “figure it out” or “overcome” or “bounce back” from whatever challenge, circumstance or adversity that is in front of us. I often ask folks about the level or degree of adversity they have faced in life’s journey. It is within those experiences of life that we truly learn just how “resilient” we are. It is also within our repeated exposures to adversity or challenging circumstances and then having to overcome them in order to move forward that we learn to trust within ourselves. Once developed, there is a deep and profound sense that is left unshaken for we know that no matter what shows up we will bounce back and achieve the wholeness that is missing or the completion we seek. Yes, it may be hard or take time, but we know.

However, even for the strongest of the strong, even though we carry a deeply rooted trust of ourselves, periodically a combination of circumstances, demands, responsibilities, deadlines and the ever present “more, more, more” and “hurry, hurry, hurry” of our day-to-day lives can contribute to our “forgetting” about how resilient we are. Once that occurs, the slide down the slippery slope of worry, anxiousness, upset, frustration, fear of letting others down, lost energy, unhappiness, and for some, a sense of hopelessness can begin. I am reminded of the visual of the proverbial snow ball at the top of the mountain rolling downhill and growing larger and larger as it proceeds on its path. It can be daunting and feel insurmountable.

Among the first steps to take is closely examining what erodes our sense of resiliency when it is needed most. As with anything we seek to change, we must first see it or as I teach, make distinction of it by putting a framework around it in order that it may be clearly seen. Once we see it, then we have access to choice. Does this help me or doesn’t it? Does it work or doesn’t it? Once you have truly reflected and seen that something does not serve you well, you can then choose to take different actions to derive different outcomes. Choice is power. Awareness and “Informed Mindfulness” are essential keys that serve as the origin for change and improved outcomes.

So there you are standing at the crossroads of “increasing demands and responsibilities” and feeling that your “container of capacity” is truly overflowing. What can be done? Is there light at the end of the tunnel or is this just “the way it is?” First things first — check in with yourself to be sure that the automatic response to the present “way it is” has not created a “why bother anymore” mentality or that you are not perpetuating any sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Each would be a natural derivative of being bogged down in all of the thought patterns and feelings covered so far. I might also suggest that you ask yourself at a very core level if you are truly committed to changing and shifting the way it has been. I know it sounds illogical to ask these questions but do you want to restore energy, happiness and wholeness? As odd as it may seem, some folks actually become so conditioned to the way it has been that they just give up and feel that anything other than the way it has been is simply not possible. I refer to that as the distinction of “resignation” in action. But that paradigm can be changed.

One way to do a gut check about this is to remind yourself of the real, deeply personal reasons that you do what you do. It is not about motivation; it is about “sense of purpose.” If you can get back in touch with that, you can work your way back to the top of that mountain. Keep reminding yourself of it often.

Another pitfall to be mindful of is that within the story of the way it has been one can become prone to excuses, reasons and blame — all of which enables you to be “free” from being accountable, or so you may think. But that is, in fact, the furthest from the truth. In the perception fueled by overwhelm or the perception of the inability to bounce back or demonstrate resiliency, it becomes about things outside of one’s self. The language of it sounds like, “Sorry I did not get that done for you when I was supposed to. I just ran out of time and have way too much on my plate.”  Or, “Sally, I am so sorry I forgot our meeting, but John asked me to do five other things and I completely lost sight of our time.” Basically what happens is the individual’s credibility, reliability and trustworthiness goes out the window in the eyes of others if such excuses become repetitive. For some, it’s temporary. For others, it can be a way that they exist in life. The great news is there are many things that can be done about it. The question is: Are you truly open, ready and committed to the power of choice, to reconnecting with the “resilient self” and getting beyond how it has been? Or do you enjoy how it has been?

Earlier, we covered having developed trust in yourself through the history of your journey of overcoming the challenges of adversity or difficult circumstances.  Each day we hear the most amazing stories of people all over the world who have achieved, rebounded, succeeded, survived or become whole, and the role that resilient thought and action played within their triumph.  If you have been fortunate enough to have never had any form of adversity to overcome then I would first say how rare you are. Second, I would suggest that you put yourself into situations and circumstances that make you uncomfortable so you can begin the quest of developing and building the muscles of resiliency and the deep knowing that no matter what occurs you can trust in yourself and bounce back from whatever presents itself. Mindfully challenge yourself for it is through doing so that you will gain clarity in perspective and a profound sense of the self-imposed limitations we all place upon ourselves. Once revealed, you then will have access to what is truly possible with a great sense of freedom.

You should also examine how you “automatically react” to adversity or significant challenge. What do you tell yourself? It would be helpful to track and capture in writing what your actual inner thought process and self-talk becomes when dealing with adversity or challenging circumstances. Obviously there are varying degrees of this. After capturing the thoughts from a number of situations or circumstances, look for the common denominator or repeatable patterns of what you tell yourself and how you feel. Then, ask yourself if it is working well for you or not?

For example, if you have lost your job — certainly one of life’s possible adversities and challenges — does the internal self-talk say, “Oh no, what am I going to do? I am going to lose everything I ever worked for!” and you feel full of fear of failure? Or is it, “I am a talented contributor that others will find great value in” and you feel excited about new possibilities and confident in your ability to gain new employment?  Within each example you can see the dominant thought process and how those thought patterns lead to an entirely different set of actions and outcomes. When you capture the thoughts try not to edit them so that they sound good. What is the actual language you see or hear? If you see that the dominant thoughts are not serving you well, you must work to reshape the thinking.

One way is to ask yourself in those moments and each day until you are beyond the situation: “What am I forgetting right now?” Often when in the darkness of what may feel like the most challenging of circumstances, human nature and the mind have a way of lending their own input to the mix. Think back and consider all the times when you were so worried that something was going to be a certain way or turn out a certain way. What happened? More often than not the very thing that you spent so much time worrying over never even happened, did it? I always say, “You can’t worry enough to affect an outcome.” Rather than allowing the mind to run on automatic pilot and excessively spin way out of perspective, it may be helpful to apply “informed mindfulness” and awareness. Pause and ask yourself what you may be forgetting in those moments.

Another helpful question to ask of yourself is: “What is it that I don’t know that I need to know right now?” The fear of the unknown is way up there on the top ten list of things that can shift the wholeness of mind, body and spirit. The idea is to diligently work to reshape the thinking to thoughts of fact, action and possibility. Work to validate what is right.

Another significant contributor to losing sight of your resiliency has to do with control. When you have the experience of losing control or of control being lost, the feeling generally associated shortly thereafter is anxiety, and invariably overwhelm begins to take hold. For those who like things in their place and need to have everything “just so,” the experience of losing control can be blinding. It can take over all sense of rational thought and provide quite a lot of momentum down that slippery slope. It can almost seem as if there is no way out. It is not a fun place to be and, as shared, it can really cause you to forget the facts concerning your true ability.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we only had one demand or one deadline in an entire year. However, simply by the nature of our society today, there are hundreds, if not thousands of demands, deadlines and priorities as part of our lifestyles. It is very helpful to write down the list of all the areas in which you feel you have lost control or control has been lost and then apply your problem solving skills to the list to see what steps you can take to restore control. Start at the top of the list and work your way down. It does not have to be done all at once. The key is to start and to see it through. By the time you get midway through the list, you will begin to notice that you feel markedly better as you complete on things, restore wholeness and relieve the fears, worries and concerns mindfully.

In other words, you will have begun the process of recapturing your resiliency.



Michael C. Aquilino is the President and CEO of Innovational Services and Core Faculty for The Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University.


Join Our Mailing List

For more information about

Duke Health & Well-Being programs, please join our mailing list.