Part 05: Resiliency

Marcus Aurelius Slide



Boosting our resiliency increases our resistance to stress and can greatly lower our 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, while maintaining confidence and courage.  Our resilience can even help us retain our motivation when facing these adversities.

Take this self-assessment from the MindTools team to find out how resilient you are.

There are two main types of resiliency:

Reactive – when we’re forced to face challenges

  • Keeps us from giving up when things get tough
  • Provides the ability to repel worry over the unknown
  • Reduces or prevents the guilt and shame of past mistakes
  • Grants the opportunity to be persistently motivated

Active – when we choose to face challenges

  • Seeking out scenarios that we know will require effort
  • Shifting the focus of how we perceive challenges

In its reactive quality, resilience is 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 we do not let worry over the future, about things that may or may not come to pass, keep us 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 this quality not only motivates us to keep going, but inspires others with the same motivation.

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 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 2017, Great Britain’s Mollie Hughes, became the youngest woman to have ever climbed both the North and South sides of Mount Everest, an incredible feat of resiliency.

Explanatory Styles of Positive Psychology

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, they 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 lives.

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 messed 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 the 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.  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.

Pessimistic isn’t always bad, it can help us:

  • Maintain critical thinking
  • Utilize the skill of risk assessment
  • Prevent naivety
  • Promote rationality

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 direst 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.

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.

AA Golden - Transparent with Text

This series is available free for download in PDF format and includes activities for more engaged learning: Motivation

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