Part 6: Resiliency

Boosting your resiliency increases your resistance to stress and can greatly lower your chances of becoming depressed.  Resiliency is a quality that helps us both act and react in appropriate and productive ways, such as against setbacks, failures, a crisis, and even physical and emotional pain with confidence and courage.  Our resilience can help us retain our motivation when facing adversity.

There are two main types of resiliency, reactive and active.  In its reactive quality, resilience keeps us from giving up when the going gets tough.  It’s the ability to stick with something through thick and thin, and the power to overcome the temptation to bail out when things stop being easy.

Reactive resilience means that you do not let worry over the future, about things that may or may not come to pass, keep you from living the best possible life.  Never let mistakes from the past eat you up inside.  Take responsibility for your actions, but don’t blame yourself for mistakes so much that shame and guilt paralyze you from moving forward and trying again.

Resilience against adversity provides the opportunity to be persistent and both of these qualities not only motivate you to keep going, but inspires others with the same motivation.

The active quality of resilience is more than just reacting to circumstances after they happen, we can actually go out and seek these types of scenarios that require resilience.

It takes a lot to be a trailblazer or to stand up and speak out against injustice.  To do this we need to be motivated to face the guaranteed resistance and fear.  Being fearless is self-evident, but being resilient against the consequences of our decisions is often an afterthought or reactionary quality.  So how do we be active in our resilience?

It starts with our perception, how we see and explain the things that either happen to us or that we choose to face.

In Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte’s 2003 book, The Resilience Factor, they described two types of people based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s work in the Positive Psychology field and his “Explanatory Style.”

The first group are those who blame themselves for everything bad that happens to them, and are convinced that these problems will always occur and are therefore unavoidable, and that the consequences of these problems will affect every aspect of their lives.

The second group faces problems without blaming it all on themselves, they believe that these problems are not permanent, and that they will not impact every aspect of their life.

Based on Dr. Seligman’s work, the first group consists of people who think more pessimistically, they are prone to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and paralyzing fear and inertia in the face of setbacks and obstacles.  This thought process is known as “learned helplessness” due to their habitual behavior of focusing only on negative events and outcomes that have occurred throughout their lives.

The second group are more optimistic and they tend to be healthier, happier, significantly more successful at work, at school, and in sports.

Here’s an example to better understand how someone from each group would perceive the same situation:

  • Linda is let go from her job as an accountant.
    • Pessimistic Explanatory Style – “I’m not good at being an accountant, I was always less skilled than the others at the office. I’ll never be able to find another job and my husband will probably leave me.  I’m such a failure, my life is so screwed up.”
    • Optimistic Explanatory Style – “I was let go because there just wasn’t very much work for me to do and I was not able to learn and expand my skill set. The company was trying to be more efficient due to the field becoming more competitive and they economy slowing.  It’s making it difficult for a lot of newcomers to hold a job, but the economy will turn around eventually.  Maybe this is an opportunity to pursue my personal passions and spend more time with my supportive husband.”

Being optimistic doesn’t mean we see the world through rose-tinted glasses all of the time, it means that we can be realistic about what we are facing while choosing to see opportunities instead of all setbacks.  Actively choosing to find positive opportunities in what we rationally understand and accept to be negative circumstances is the true difference between those who are pessimistic and those who are optimistic.

Being pessimistic isn’t always a bad thing and doesn’t always means that you are a negative person, in fact, it can keep you from making very bad choices.  When we actively choose to be rational we understand and accept that just because a venture could possibly end in a benefit, doesn’t mean that it outweighs the potential for a devastating loss.

Learned helplessness can also be unlearned, similarly to breaking bad habits.  Being optimistic or pessimistic are learned behaviors and we can willingly learn to be more optimistic or at the least less pessimistic.

We can choose how we actually approach obstacles or difficult experiences.  With challenges or setbacks we should consider this process of evaluation:

  1. Adversity – What is the obstacle or setback that you are facing?
  2. Belief – What is your perception of the obstacle or setback?
  3. Consequence – What is the resulting action or reaction to the obstacle or setback based on your perception?

Adversity alone does not have the power to determine how we act, think, or feel.  We make those choices ourselves by the way we choose to perceive the adversity.  Dr. Seligman recommends evaluating your perceptions using his four-step model:

  1. Evidence – What are the real facts in the situation and does this evidence support or eliminate your perceptions?
  2. Alternatives – Pessimists tend to latch onto the most dire of explanations for obstacles and setbacks, often ignoring the more positive explanations.
  3. Implications – Pessimists have a tendency to jump from negative implications to more and more catastrophic ones, but what are the chances of these implications actually happening?
  4. Usefulness – Just because a belief is true doesn’t mean it’s useful. Clinging to useless beliefs keeps us from working on the things that we can actually change about ourselves.

How to put any model into action can sometimes deter us from even attempting to take the initiative.  In this way, acquiring motivation sometimes requires understanding and explanation before it can be used.  Here are three recommendations for putting this model into action:

  • Internal dialogue – Talk yourself through the process step-by-step, even if that means speaking aloud. Ask yourself questions and make mental notes as you formulate answers.  Thinking alone sometimes traps or prevents clarity from happening and hearing yourself talk through the process can help guide you to clear conclusions.
  • Journal writing – Write out your specific circumstance using the four-step evaluation outlined above. Visually seeing the questions and writing out the answers is an aid to our thought process and can not only guide us but also keep us on track until we reach clarity.
  • Third party – Bring in someone who is external to and not bias of the situation or the consequences of any decision you make. This will allow you to see and understand the situation from a fresh perspective and could ultimately change your approach in such a drastic way that what you first thought was a detrimental outcome, might actually be a beneficial opportunity.

Dr. Daniel Gilbert suggests in his book, Stumbling on Happiness, that human’s yearn for a sense of control, and research points toward a connection between losing control and becoming unhappy, feeling helpless, hopeless, and depressed.

Not feeling in control of our lives or particular situations can cause us to lose motivation, or result in us struggling to find the motivation we need to push forward.

The research Dr. Gilbert referred to in his book was in regards to two studies on conducted on nursing home patients.

In the first study, two groups of patients were given houseplants, each patient having their own plant in their room.  The first group of patients were asked to care for the plants they were entrusted with, while the second group were told that a staff member would be caring for the plants on behalf of the patients.

At the end of the study, 30% of the patients who were given plants that the staff cared for had died vs only 15% of the patients who were responsible for caring for their own plants.

In the second study, instead of houseplants patients were offered visits from college students.  Again, two groups of patients were created, the first group were told they were responsible for deciding when the college students would come visit them.  The second group of patients were advised that the college students would be deciding when they would visit the nursing home.

At the end of the study, researchers observed that the patients who had control over when the students visited were happier, healthier, more active, and took fewer medications that the other group.

According to Dr. Al Siebert, author of The Resiliency Advantage, those individuals who believe their fate is under the control of external forces act in ways that confirm their beliefs, even creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

People who believe they are in control of or at least can influence the things in their life also act in ways to confirm their beliefs.

Psychologist Julian Rotter who developed the Locus of Control model, used something he called the expectancy-value theory which explains that a person’s likelihood of taking an action is dependent on how much the person values a particular outcome and how much the person believes that taking the action will produce that outcome.

The goal here is to no longer react to external forces or things that we perceive to be external, but instead make the choice to channel our motivation towards acting on the internal influences that allow us to regain control of ourselves.