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Perspectives: Jenny Campbell on achieving adaptability in healthy and effective ways

Posted by Saskia Watts on 10 September, 2020

In addition to the wider impact on universities, the transition to digital also requires resilience. This means recognising that digital is different, not only in terms of preparation and delivery, but also in how we connect with each other. This is true even without the context of a global pandemic. It is true even for those of us who are comfortable with technology, and excited by the opportunities of digital, and who are keen to learn new skills and benefit from new approaches to teaching. Zoom fatigue is now something we need to take into account, and non-prescriptive 'blue light glasses' have been seeing a huge spike in sales as people adapt to the new normal.

Jenny Campbell is a senior executive coach and resilience researcher. The two practices go hand in hand, providing rigorously researched insights together with tools and techniques for enabling the development of resilience in others. Jenny is dedicated to furthering our understanding of resilience in order to create the highest healthy and sustainable success possible.

Follow the Resilience Way

COVID has shifted the world’s mindsets into an uneasy dichotomy of wanting to create a sense of normality whilst not trusting in the success of any of our current strategy or actions. We don’t really know what will work, and we might be starting to question what we should be aiming for.

Recently, my resilience coaching work has included working across different institutions within the HE sector with Vice Principals, Professors, senior research and educational experts, and other coaches who operate within the HE sector. Change and restructure is on everyone’s minds, in one way or the other. What does good look like in our new world? And have we got sufficient energy to keep experimenting to find out? Examples of the kinds of conversations are below:

"Everyone, everywhere is needing to embrace online learning. Even if there will be a blended approach to teaching, technology now has to be mastered. How does one accelerate to become really good at this stuff (and remove the frustrations?!)?"

"The impact of online learning on pedagogy is front of mind. How can you achieve the same learning outcomes? The current experimental approaches are mixed and varied. Chunking, blending, small group working, drop-in coffee sessions, as well as formal tutorials. Any course lecturer is having to recreate their course, as well as learn almost daily: How is this impacting students? Is it working? What else needs to be done? It’s high adaptability in action and it’s draining when you are uncertain of the results."

"Pastoral care is another element. How do you ensure the students are appropriately cared for? How can we create quality connections, so we know we are providing the right level of support?  This area is being lost in the overwhelm of getting all the courses to be online or blended. But it’s the heart of education, the learner at the centre. How can we bring this in?"

"Then there’s the really strategic stuff. For some organisations, it’s how to handle diminishing revenues versus fixed costs: voluntary severance schemes are being considered, as are pay freezes or even pay cuts. For others doing cross-disciplinary research and education, it’s the loss specifically of international students causing a drop in undergraduates; do they instead focus only on their masters programmes? For another it’s about how to continue to get the capacity to apply for the long-term grants, a process which normally takes months of planning and collaboration, whilst catering for the day to day upheaval of COVID, not least short-term grants being cut that threaten to cut off PhD students from completing."

There are so many questions that throw in the air the usual processes, structures and ways of working, it can feel like the ground is rocking beneath you. The impact on each of my resilience coaching clients has been at best fatigue, for others it’s real overwhelm, and at the more worrying end, it has triggered real fragmentation in resilience, leading to anxiety and depression.

If ever there was a need for healthy adaptability it’s now, and not a short-term adaptability that destroys well-being, but one that embraces well-being fully. Resilience development creates that.

Resilience is a term bandied around for years, often defined as either coping or bouncing back. Both are part of resilience, but they do not give a true sense of what resilience is, nor what it offers.

Resilience is your ability to adapt. The measure of your resilience is your capacity for change. Faced with change, new-ness, and challenges, those with the highest resilience continue to feel safe in their own skin, grounded, clear on their resourcefulness, and clear on how to assimilate the impact of challenges or disruption. Those with this kind of resilience are of course impacted by COVID, but they also feel angry and sad. However, they are not disillusioned, hopeless or disconnected. High resilience folk  have an inner sense of themselves and their worth that allows them to take account of the uncertainty of the ups and downs of life and still feel sure-footed that their contribution will make a difference. They invest in themselves, so they give themselves a chance of circumventing overwhelm and fatigue. They invest in perspective-seeking so they see things afresh. The result? They feel more at ease, no matter what’s going on. That means that they can easily access their own resourcefulness at any time.

The good news is that resilience is learnable by everyone. And a lot is very straightforward. Here are the golden nuggets of how to support your resilience from the ten years of Resilience Engine research1:


1. Resilience is dynamic

It goes up and down according to context.

Knowing what your resilience is like day-to-day will help you navigate each and every day more successfully. It will help you spot your own resilience levels in the day-to-day. And this means you can account for how you are, and how best to navigate the day. If you are feeling frustrated, it’s likely that it’s a resilience reaction, and the thing you are frustrated or upset by does not merit the level of energy you are giving it. If you get really hijacked by something, it probably means your resilience is low, and you need to attend to this as a critical part of your effectiveness.

To get a sense of how to do this, look at this video on our Resilience River© in action, it’s a simple metaphor for resilience:


2. Know that you are not your thoughts

If you find yourself beating yourself up, ruminating, or getting stuck in circular analysis, this one is for you. Spotting your thoughts and feelings gives you useful data, and can be your ticket out of 'stuckness', towards feeling better.

If you feel like getting angry, you need to stop. You deserve and need to pause and take a moment. The angry thought is good data telling you that your needs are not being met somehow. It’s the same with ineffectiveness or doubt. Your lack of certainty in action is most likely because you cannot focus or have lost direction, and you need to re-energise.

Every thought and emotion you have is useful data that expresses in some way your resilience level. They act like ‘pop-up signs' of what you need to do for yourself. Notice them, listen to them, read them, and act on what they are telling you. Ignore at your own peril (and everyone around you)!


3. Focus on the Top Enablers1 of resilience

Being Present means just that. It’s about being. Not doing. Your pathway to that might be mindfulness, yoga, or it might be listening to music or walking the dog. Rest your mind, and let your subconscious do the sense-making work it needs to for you to operate at your optimum. Stop cramming more to-do’s in.

Where are you when you are your most still?

Energy is directly proportional to resilience, and is a big contributor of resilience. Drawing out an energy map of the last few weeks and spotting your opportunities for when you are most energised is such a simple yet revealing exercise. Look to create out of this the conditions for higher – and more stable – energy. Within this is well-being, and well-being is wholly part of your resilience. If you destroy this, you will destroy your ability to adapt. So take care of yourself: your sleep, your energy, what you eat, getting a laugh with friends.

How can you top up your energies today?


4. Allocate time for your adaptability

Those with the highest resilience give around 35% of their time to their Adaptive Capacity2. That means investing in their perspective – seeking others views, stepping into different contexts; pacing themselves, which means sensing what’s coming down the line proactively, and building capacity for it early; and re-energising.

The trick is to build an experiment of belief, where you build up evidence to prove what drives your capacity. Is it working 14 hours a day for 6 months, with the future looking more or less the same? Or it is to take time out, have a laugh, get some good sleep, reconnect with colleagues from previous research programmes, hang out with students just for coffee?

Allocation of your precious time is a tough one. Right now there is far too much to do. So you need to question, what will deliver the highest impact? What is going to be the most effective way of working?


5. Get back to basics – reconnect with your why

Purpose is critical to achieve higher levels of resilience from Bounceback upwards, towards what The Resilience Engine terms ‘Breakthrough’3. But it’s also critical for ensuring that you cope through something long-term. Why you are keeping going matters.

That means for you in education, connect with your students, connect with your subject, connect with knowledge, connect with learning, connect with research. You have to feel and breathe your purpose day-to-day to get you through long-term difficult periods.

The question is, do you know your purpose? And if so, how might you make this alive in your day-to-day?


There is more to resilience of course, and some of it is about the beliefs and values you hold, which is the deeper stuff that takes time. But much of resilience is practical and you can act on it today. Why not consider investing in your own adaptability so you can feel well and effective during COVID?


To learn more about how to enable resilience for yourself and in others, read The Resilience Dynamic® book. It’s on special offer during all of COVID, for 0.99 in your local currency anywhere around the world via Amazon Kindle. Here’s the link:

If you are interested in getting support for yourself and/or your teams in their resilience, we would love to connect. Email us on:



 1. More detail can be found on the Resilience Engine research  including the source of the Top Enablers here:

2. Adaptive Capacity is one of the three core elements of how to build resilience from The Resilience Engine® model of resilience.

3. Breakthrough’ is the highest level of resilience, shown on the research model The Resilience Dynamic® which explains what resilience is and its implications.


About Jenny:

Jenny Campbell is a senior executive coach and resilience researcher. The two practices go hand in hand, providing rigorously researched insights together with tools and techniques for enabling the development of resilience in others. Jenny is dedicated to furthering our understanding of resilience in order to create the highest healthy and sustainable success possible.

Jenny Campbell


Topics: learning technology, digital transformation, online learning, higher education, edtech, digital campus, remote teaching, perspectives, resilience, adaptability

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