TU Delft Honour Master Students Reflections on Learning About Resilience
Resilience helps people thrive in whatever they do: be it a career in sport, business or life in general. In October 2020, students from the Masters Honours Track, “Business Leadership For Engineers” (BLE), attended a lecture entitled “Leading with Resilience”. Gerritjan Eggenkamp, Olympic rowing medallist, Partner at Avedon and a TU Delft alum, and Margaret Welten, Career Counsellor at TU Delft hosted the session. The aim of BLE was to take lessons from someone who has explored the topic of resilience in the most extreme fashion, namely as an Olympic athlete, and explore how resilience has contributed to his personal and professional success.
Discussions centred around a framework consisting of six domains of resilience: vision, composure, reasoning, health, tenacity and collaboration.
Find out more about the discussion in The Educator and have a look at the brief overview of the six domains and reflections from the students below.
Vision is about your sense of purpose, goals and personal vision for yourself. Having clarity in this domain allows you to be decisive when facing tough choices and to maintain perspective when facing challenges. Having a long-term plan is valuable, and breaking it down into short-term goals supports individuals in moving forward. Goals are not fixed. There is always an option to change and establish new goals. Be realistic when setting goals and ensure they are achievable, otherwise motivation drops off quickly. One student demonstrated the value of goal-setting: she was keen to outline her career goal and was motivated to talk to number of professionals in her field of science to gain inspiration. She reflected
"while I have a lot of ideas about my interests, to avoid an endless loop of just thinking over hypothetical situations I would like to be more proactive and work towards this goal of defining my purpose”.
Being composed means learning to manage your emotions. One third of the students committed to developing strength in the domain of composure. They recognised the tendency to ignore their emotional well-being often due to being too focused on performance and excelling in their academic studies. They recognised that they ignore alarm bells and consequently burnouts and depressions are common amongst their peers. One student reflected
"The stress system in the body has evolved to deal with real danger and physical threats but gets easily activated by modern stressors that have nothing to do with physical danger. But your body responds like it was a tiger trying to attack you. It is important to remember that the stress level you are feeling often does not correspond to the level of threat or crisis that you are facing”.
Emotions are data. Emotions are neither good or bad. Composure doesn’t mean ignoring all the negative emotion. The skill is recognising and managing the emotions. Becoming emotional prevents you from thinking critically. One student reflected
“ During a group assignment something happened which triggered me emotionally and lead to distractions and inefficient work. I think regulating my emotions will make a difference in the future”.
“I enjoy healthy competition, but at times the competition tends to get overwhelming and causes anxiety. I commit to focussing on the best version of my-self and being satisfied with the fact that I gave my hundred percent. I will focus on the good parts and the parts I can build on rather than exhausting myself mentally thinking about the things that I am lacking”.
Composure is also not just about managing the big crises that we face, it’s also about managing the everyday, small stuff. Students were reminded that minor inconveniences and disappointments regularly occur. One student committed to naming emotions as they occur and to reflect on the trigger. Many were also inspired by Gerritjans practice of deep breathing and visualisation. He uses it to psyche himself up and get into the right mindset to perform a daunting task. He developed this technique before races and still practices it if necessary in his daily work. One student committed to setting timers on his phone to remind him to practice his breathing technique.
Composure also includes developing a positive interpretation bias mind-set. If your professor walks up to you and says, “I need to talk to you. Come see me later”. Do you panic? Do you worry about getting into trouble for something or getting fired? The statement from your professor in this example is actually neutral with no direct implied negativity. It could just as easily be good news! If your natural inclination is negatively biased, you may be more anxious, while a positive interpretation bias results in higher resilience. Most of the time the fear we experience is meaningless, it is the result of our doubts and worries. A positive interpretation bias can help you face up to the unknown and embrace opportunities. One student described how they had bought a notebook, and committed to developing a practice of gratitude by taking some time every day to write down three small things that was positive about the day.
Good health includes making conscious choices about what you eat, how you exercise, and getting quality sleep. Good health enables you to achieve your personal vision and goals. Another third of the students recognised that they must prioritise their health. One student commented
“I knew mental health was related to physical health and I often go on runs to de-stress myself. But I never thought about it from the perspective of resilience. The brain and body are part of the same system, so it makes sense that both need to be taken care of simultaneously.
Another student shared
“Over the years health has been an aspect which I have neglected. There has not been a proper routine for meals or sleep as such and that has indeed taken a toll on my physical health. The result being I developed higher levels of blood pressure at an early age. Often in pursuit of success, we tend to neglect it and in the long run, prove to be a fatal decision. Unless we can maximize our health, we cannot maximize our outputs. I have realized that if I respect my body, I can leverage it and maximize my outputs.”.
Understanding why we sleep and improving the quality of sleep is important. Sleeping problems are usually not the cause, but the effect of stress. One student shared that during the past year, he had slept on average three hours per night. Although, he felt it did not influence his performance and productivity, he knew it was not sustainable in the long run. He recognised that the issue was rooted in managing the workload he had. He committed to gaining a better work-life balance by setting time slots for studying, taking the time in between for short periods of daily exercise, and leave whatever work is unfinished by midnight to enjoy a good night's sleep.
Eating healthier was another area of concern for many of the students. One student reflected
“I have tried to cook healthier food in the recent few months. I want to be consistent and develop the habit so it becomes part of my everyday routine. I am trying to plan my meals in advance to ensure that there are always healthy food options in my fridge.
Gerritjan spoke about the importance of exercise in maintaining resilience throughout life. He highlighted that 10-20 minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. Students acknowledged that when they were busy, sports is an activity that is easily dropped but so beneficial for your health that you really shouldn’t. Prioritising regular exercise became a goal for many of the students.
“I usually exercise multiple times a week and I am very aware of the positive impact it has on me. However during stressful/busy periods this was also the first thing to disappear from my routine. This exams week I tried to still exercise but for a much shorter period, as Gerritjan suggested”.
We are social beings and have a deep fundamental need for connection with others to be able to thrive. In this complex, global world, few of us can achieve anything meaningful alone. Building a support networks mean you can both have a safety net as well as being that safety net for others.
Gerritjan shared that in the past, when times were difficult, he used to cut all social interaction and cancel social gatherings. This resonated with several student who realised they reacted similarly.
“When faced with a personal problem, I like to solve the problems on my own and refuse to communicate my personal problems with others”.
Taking time off and spending time with friends or doing things you like is just as important as working hard – it contributes positively to your mental health as you benefit emotionally, physically, and socially from it.
One student passionately wrote
“Supporting and being supported is the most powerful experience we can have during our life. As a human being we are finite, we cannot control everything, we cannot do everything alone. Therefore, I strongly believe that creating a network, helping others and keeping active relationships, is essential to reach great goals. Good relationships can help us deal with bad moments and overcome obstacles”.
Students recognised that they feel vulnerable and unconfutable when sharing personal issues. They felt a sense of responsibility “it’s my problem and I have to deal with it myself”. One student committed to talking about the stuff that is bothering them with close friends without the expectation that others will solve the issue. Another set himself the goal of finding a mentor to turn to with potential questions or problems and ask for advice on how to proceed. He realised that discussing problems and getting another’s persons perspective is very valuable.
In the domain of tenacity, as well as being willing to work hard and smart if you want to achieve something meaningful in life. Students realised that sometimes in life you will experience failure and with failure there is growth. It is not humanly possible to be perfect, you must grow and learn. As one student reflected
“The only real teacher in life is failure. It is in our moments of greatest vulnerability while facing insurmountable odds do we really grow as people”.
Without failure there is nothing to improve upon. Another student reflected
“ I will grow and learn from those moments rather than letting them define me”.
Creativity and innovative problem solving is incredibly useful when facing challenges. Not surprisingly, the technical students scored themselves high in this domain.