One of my favourite subjects at the moment is resilience. The dictionary definition is 'springing back; resuming its original shape after bending, stretching, compression etc'. I guess this would be most people's understanding of what it is to be resilient; bounce back, get on with life in the face of adversity etc. But, I wonder if there's actually a more positive aspect than this. There's something about this definition that seems like hard work, working against resistance, ploughing on etc. I wonder if these setbacks can actually present a more useful opportunity to move beyond the original starting point; is it possible to use the setbacks to grow into something more than we were before, to expand our knowledge of ourselves and other people, to flourish rather than survive?
Certainly Martin Seligman recognised adversity is something that we will all come across in our lives, whether at work, home or play; it can't be avoided but what is important is our response to it. One of the areas that Seligman explored was about 'learned helplessness'. It's kind of what it says on the tin where people (and animals he found) feel powerless to change their current situation. It usually develops when we experience failure in something and then begin to think that things will be the same every time and we will have no control over it. For example, someone unsuccessful at interview might go on to fear that they will be unsuccessful at every interview. This thinking can soon develop into a self limiting belief that they are always rubbish at interviews and nothing they do will make any difference. Not surprisingly, they give up and this then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and performance at future interviews will indeed be poorer. Sometimes this can lead to further psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and phobias although for many, it's not so drastic, but can still have a major impact on life.
So far, so good. The next question is how can we change it? Those who apply a process of thinking 'it's always me, it will always happen, and it will happen in every aspect of my life' were found to be much less able to have that bounce back factor. Those people who apply the opposite; 'it's not always me, it's won't always happen and it might not apply to everything' are far likely to not just bounce back, but actually be able to move beyond where they started. Whilst it's right to take responsibility for our actions, it's worth exploring whether there might be alternative points of view.
The first thing to do is notice when you're automatically taking the pessimistic view. You might be using language like 'I'll never do .....', 'it will always happen to me.....', 'it always turns out badly'.
The second thing to do is to challenge this thought, what's the evidence, what can other people tell me about this?
The next thing is to consider the alternatives. People with pessimistic thinking usually latch onto the worst case scenario - be brave, consider some others. Is it ALWAYS like this, or has it actually been OK sometimes?
And finally, even if the situation is true and your belief has worked for you before, you could decide to let it go. Even those strategies that have worked for us to get us where we are today sometimes outlive their usefulness. Maybe it's time to try a different approach?
Now, I know none of this will work overnight, but if you're willing to try it and take a risk with something small and you'll soon start to find it easier. It can work in any area of your life.
Of course, it's tempting to dismiss this as 'Pollyanna' thinking, but what we're aiming for is flexible optimism, a realistic view on life, not a permanently negative one. Are you prepared to give it a go and reach your potential?