Creating your own resource states for mental wellbeing

In this series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR

This month I want to talk about ‘resource states’ and how they can be used to give yourself an instant wellbeing boost.

When used well, resource states can become part of your core personal strengths framework and can be integrated into pretty much any situation.

They’re a way of shifting your perception of what you’re experiencing and are particularly useful for times when you feel stuck and can’t seem to break through it, or if you start to find yourself drawn into a negative thinking spiral.

Start by drawing up a memory of a time when you had a particularly positive experience. One where you felt happy and excited about something you were about to do. For example, you could bring up a memory of a time when you felt completely focused or engrossed in a practical activity – baking sourdough bread works for me.

Or you could think of a moment when you felt calm and relaxed, maybe walking down a beach or spending time with some close friends. There’s a variety that you could choose from, but the key thing is to pick one that puts you in a more positive headspace.

When you have one of these memories that you think will work well as a resource state, the next step is to spend a bit of time cultivating it. Give yourself time to sit with it. Some people do this as part of a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Think about how you’re remembering it.

Do you see it as pictures or a movie in your head? Or is it more of an overall sense that comes through? Do you remember the sounds associated with the memory? What about colours, textures etc? The more detail you can recall the better.

You’ll find that the more you get into the memory the more you actually start to feel the emotions and the positive state that you were in at the time. It can’t help but lift you, even momentarily, and it’s exactly this feeling that you’ll tap into when you access this resource state as part of your wellbeing practice.

Let me give you an example of how it works. Imagine you’re at work and about to slip into that point of overwhelm where your brain just freezes and you can’t seem to do anything. When that happens get up, get away from your desk and go for a walk. Think about your ‘focus’ resource state, the one where you remember being totally in flow and engrossed in a task.

Remember how you took things step by step and work the memory through to the point where you completed the task and saw the end result. In my scenario it would be going through the process of baking a loaf of sourdough bread, stretching and folding the dough, and then seeing the finished loaf at the end. Find something similar that works for you. Give yourself time to access that state and get to that point where you remember the positive feeling you experienced when you completed the task.

Then head back to your desk and while you’re still in that positive headspace get yourself organised, decide on one thing you’re going to do first and just crack on and do it. You’ll be amazed at how calm and productive you feel.

You can have resource states for all kinds of things; some memories that I’ve seen work well for people in the past have included spending time with pets and animals, cooking, working out at the gym, spending time with friends and family, remembering times where they’ve absolutely nailed a presentation at work or won something. There are no limits here so there’s huge scope to find something that works for you.

I’ve also worked with clients who have struggled initially to access any positive memories or resource states too, so please don’t worry if this is you. There’s nothing stopping you from constructing your own if you don’t have one that you can immediately tap in to.

For example, you could imagine a scenario that you would like to see happen – work on creating that headspace instead of calling up a memory. This gets you into a mindframe of positive visualisation that can be equally effective and sometimes even more powerful when done well.

We all have a library of these resource states inside us, it’s just sometimes it can be hard to remember that or to access them, especially if we’ve got stuck in a certain pattern of behaviour or a routine. So why not give it a try the next time you get stuck with something or start to feel a bit off form, see if you can pull up a great resource state to help shift you out of it.

Let me know how you get on.

Karen Beaven is an HR director, strategist and author

This piece appears in the March 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk