Are We Determined Enough To Make Brexit Succeed?

15/03/2017 12:18 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 12:18 GMT
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Perseverance, the ability to deal with setbacks and devise strategies for overcoming obstacles, has long been a vital characteristic. One that's set to become even more important as uncertainty generated by Brexit creates yet more challenges for everyone to overcome.

Whether you're a minister trying to negotiate a trade deal, an employer facing a serious skills shortage or a PM wondering how best to deal with the prospect of Scotland trying to jump ship, Brexit is set to continually throw up challenges.

Overcoming these challenges will require more than a little perseverance. But what exactly is perseverance, and is it an aspect of personality some people are just born with or something that everyone can learn to acquire?

Although perseverance, or 'grit' as it's referred to in psychological circles, might seem like an elusive trait that you either do or don't have, it's actually something we can all learn to acquire. Not least, because it's directly linked to our willingness to embrace failure.

"Instead of getting crumpled by setbacks, people with high levels of grit are prepared to fail."

Instead of getting crumpled by setbacks, people with high levels of grit are prepared to fail. Rather than beating themselves up when something doesn't go exactly to plan, or staying in their comfort-zone to avoid failing, they have developed a mindset that allows them to embrace setbacks as part of a learning process. Not only does this growth mindset typically make determined people more successful, as they find ways to work around obstacles without losing sight of the end goal, but they're also much less likely to suffer from the low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders that can result from putting too much pressure on themselves to get things right first time.

Whether you're at the coalface of negotiations or simply trying to deal with the inevitable economic and political fall out, Brexit will require all of us to show some grit.

Five psychological insights to increase your determination:

1. Ride the ups and downs

It's difficult to be determined in the thick of a fog of uncertainty. The simple fact is we don't know yet how things will pan out, so it's about learning to take small steps in the dark, bravely putting one foot in front of the other until the picture becomes clearer. This will require everyone to step out of their comfort zone, which means learning to ride the ups and downs. Some things will go well, others not so well. What matters isn't finding ways to adapt perfectly, but learning as we go along. Instead of allowing yourself to think that if everything doesn't go perfectly it's been a total disaster, consider what went right and what can be reused to become more successful next time. Somewhat ironically, it's only by giving yourself permission to fail that you can gain the confidence required to succeed next time.

2. Connect to the bigger picture

When we understand the purpose of what we're doing, it not only increases our passion, but also our determination to succeed. If you want to develop more grit - drive, determination, passion and courage - it's essential to find a way of linking your actions to the bigger picture. If someone thinks that they're just building a wall, they will naturally be much less motivated and determined to do a great job than if they're aware that every carefully laid brick is helping to create a great cathedral. So find a way of connecting what you do to the bigger goals driving your organisation or country and, if that isn't enough to motivate you, think about how what you're doing connects into your big personal goals.

3. Focus on strengths

We're naturally more motivated, energised and successful when we focus on what we enjoy and excel at than when we try to force ourselves to do tasks we don't enjoy. So much so that an emphasis on strengths in appraisals has been linked to a 36% improvement in performance, whereas an emphasis on weaknesses is linked to a 26% decline in performance. Rather than wasting your time and energy trying to become better at doing tasks you don't enjoy doing, one of the best ways to increase your determination is to assess your strengths, using one of the many psychometric tools now available. Then focus your efforts on tasks that allow you to play to what you do best. For example, if one of your strengths is 'input' how can you create more opportunities to acquire more knowledge and information? If one of your strengths is 'strategy' how can you make the way you approach your work more strategic?

4. Get emotional support

Determined people don't expect things to be easy or successful first time round on every occasion. They anticipate obstacles and have strategies in place for dealing with setbacks. If starting a new role, they anticipate what could go wrong and think about what support they might need to get through in advance. At the same time, even the most persevering people can't pre-empt every challenge, so it's good to think through in advance what support you can turn to if things get emotionally challenging. If your employer offers an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) use it to get confidential emotional and practical support. If not, what people can you talk to about how you're feeling?

5. Boost resilience

People with grit know how to overcome setbacks, get up and dust themselves down before starting again. The only reason this is possible is because they also operate high-levels of self-care, and are constantly mindful of how well they're coping with difficulties. Muscles grow, not while we're exerting ourselves, but while we're resting after that exertion. Elite athletes know this and drive their performance to the edge of their abilities, but also understand the importance of recuperating and not pushing themselves past their limits. To make yourself more determined, as opposed to just stressed out or sick, you need to know where your limits are and psychological recharge when needed. All of which will make you more resilient and better able to meet the challenges ahead. Resilience training can help by educating you about the relationship between the decisions you're making and your mental health, empowering you to make the choices that are right for you.