Thought Leadership

Resilience and High Performance: A Harmonizing Duet of Humanity

Resilience is the bedrock of High Performance — but isn't the only thing needed to harness it sustainably. Find out what the other ingredients are, here.

Author: Dr Etienne van der Walt, Neurologist, CEO and Co-Founder Neurozone

As artificial intelligence (AI) begins to take the helm in broader society, causing upheaval while simultaneously creating opportunities, technologically driven change is happening at a pace that is faster than ever and in ways that we have yet to even imagine… But where does that leave us, the humble Homo sapiens? 

Humans may, in fact, be better off than we realize because we are complex adaptive organisms. We are biological and not binary like computers. Computers perform tasks in a linear fashion, making millions of small calculations every second which consume a cumulative amount of energy. But humans can get things done with much less energy expenditure. Although we need to rest and replenish to be able to perform optimally, we have a much higher energy-to-yield ratio than computers. And, if we connect with others effectively, this ratio increases dramatically, leading to even greater achievements.

Humans – and AI, of course – grow through learning. Both get better at what they do by taking shorter routes to the solutions. However, we develop neural networks that perform complex cognitive tasks with a mere command and at very low energy. We grow networks that can work muti-modally, once again at a relatively minimal energy cost. This is what allostasis and, effectively, ‘resilience’ does for us.

Contrary to what magazines and pop psychologists tell us, resilience is not tenacity, grit or discipline. Rather, it is an innate biological adaptability that provides us with realistic scenarios of the possible. It is the expression of allostasis – the unconscious drive for a baseline relaxed physiological state.

So how does this work? When we perceive a threat of some kind, our brain – based on our previous memory systems, mindset, worldview and belief systems – decides how much energy to assign to the problem to get us to the specific endpoint of a baseline relaxed physiological state. This state of wellbeing is where we refuel and service the whole body: cells are repaired, cancer cells are removed, and so on. It is also the state of optimal readiness for performance. 

Different problems require different sets of capabilities and different levels of energy. Performance is determined by what is required: compare making your bed with assessing risk at a financial institution, for example. It is our performance readiness – the ability to engage our knowledge, skills and expertise as well as optimally assign energy – that will enable us to solve the challenge. Poor self-leadership, for example, can lead us to assigning too much energy to mundane tasks, which may be indicative of low resilience and a higher potential for eventual burnout.

What we need to optimally and sustainably overcome our challenges is made up of much more than just our readiness to engage our knowledge, skills and expertise; it also requires a mindset that enables us to assign the right energy to the right tasks. Mindset determines what we deem important, guiding us to assign more energy to the things that matter more and less energy to tasks that are less important.

If we miss the target by a small enough margin, we can correct the ‘mistake’ and learn and grow from it.  We go back into a state of physiological wellbeing so that our systems can replenish and develop. It is this complex interplay between challenge and recovery that we call high performance.

If you miss the target by too much, or you believe you missed it by too much, dissonance is the result. The perception of failure may activate stress. If this perception is consistent, it may lead to chronic stress, may lower resilience, and resultantly, may lead to burnout and eventually, without treatment, even death.

The psychological resilience that drives our problem-solving capacity to adapt to circumstances and respond effectively to rapidly changing environments is what we at Neurozone term ‘foundational resilience’. This, bolstered by granular behaviors (habits, for example), determines our ability as living entities to overcome allostatic load. When you have strong foundational resilience, the chance of you being a top performer is greater – and, most importantly, the chance of you burning out is much, much lower. 

Our experience at Neurozone shows us that there are four pillars of high performance: 

  • foundational or psychological resilience
  • energy
  • skills, knowledge and expertise, and 
  • mindset. 

As technology continues to step up the rapid rate of change, the role of leaders in affecting mindset change – of individuals, groups, teams and their organizations – will become an increasingly determining factor in the dynamic interplay between resilience and high performance. Visionary business leaders will be those who not only have an understanding of the nature of the future, but also of the crucial role of mindset and resilience in driving high performance and setting appropriate responses to change.


How can we help you?

We specialize in training professionals who use a coaching approach to optimize their people.

Contact Cuan Macnab-Holding, Neurozone Consultant: Business Development & Organizational Resilience



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