Resiliency is the ability of an individual, community, organization, or institute to grow and thrive when face to face with misfortune. It is what allows us to get knocked down by adversity – multiple times - brush ourselves off and stand stronger than before. It is also what enables us to take calculated risks and capitalize on opportunities.
Historically, researchers viewed resilient individuals to be invincible or invulnerable, but have more recently concluded that resilience is just ‘ordinary magic’ which each of us has to varying degrees. Most importantly we can increase our capacity for resilience through self-development work or guidance by a One Life counsellor, psychologist, or psychotherapist.
Many institutions across the world, perhaps most notably the US Army, have been pioneering resiliency training programs to develop the core competencies identified by researcher Karen Reivich and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania.
Our ability to identify with our thoughts, emotions, behavior, and body. It includes being able to ascertain what our own strengths and weaknesses are.
Our ability to regulate our thoughts, emotions and behaviors in ways that increase productive thinking.
Our aptitude in flexible thinking, being able to take into consideration other’s perspectives, and be open to new approaches and ways of doing things.
Our competence in identifying our own top strengths and being able to apply them in ways that help us to overcome challenges, obtain our ambitions, and effectively transform our experiences.
Our ability to establish and sustain healthy relationships filled with positive interactions and effective communication.
Our tendency to notice positive events and experiences, correctly assess what is within our control, and concentrate our energy where we can make change.
The evidence is remarkably uniform – being an optimist prevails over being a pessimist in a bounty of respects. In contrast to pessimistic thinkers, optimistic people are subject to an impressive list of beneficial outcomes. They are happier and suffer from less depression, live longer healthier lives, are more resilient, have better working and personal relationships, are less likely to deny problems, are more accurate in assessment of what is within their control, focus on solutions for factors they can control and do not ruminate on those they cannot, and are even less likely to contract the common cold! Optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy – expecting good outcomes leads optimists to behave in ways which are more likely to lead to the fruition of their desired outcome.
Martin Seligman, a leading expert on motivation and optimism at the University of Pennsylvania, has repeatedly shown the way in which we explain bad things that happen to us is predictive of our degree of optimism or pessimism. Optimists account for bad events as being external (not me), unstable (not always), and specific to a singular domain of their life (not everything). Pessimists, in contrast, see bad events as internal, stable (long-lasting), and pervasively impacting many, if not all, areas of their lives. As such our explanatory style, how we explain bad events, can be broken down into these three variables:
Me vs Not Me: Do you most often see problems as being caused by you or predominantly by other people or the circumstances? With respect to realizing the positive effects of optimism, it is important that those with a Not Me explanatory dimension are realistic in taking accountability when the problem is truly caused by them; non-realistic optimism does not produce the same beneficial outcomes as realistic optimism. Being a Pollyanna does not equate to being an optimist.
Always vs Not Always: Do you typically see the causes of problems to have lasting effects or do you consider them to be relatively temporary? If you received a bad review from your boss on a proposal do you think – “it is just one proposal, I’ll impress him next time!” or “I am always going to be garbage at these dumb proposals!”?
Everything vs Not Everything: Do you believe problems will impact a wide variety of areas in your life (work, relationships, social life), or do you more often see problems as having an impact in a specific domain? In the proposal scenario above, are you bummed about your ability to impress your boss with a proposal or do you expand your response to also feel that this one occurrence means your boss is not happy with you as an employee and likely your spouse also thinks you are incompetent?
The explanatory style of an optimist is Not Me - Not Always - Not Everything, in comparison to that of a pessimist being Me – Always - Everything.
If you are interested in learning how to improve your core competencies of resiliency, reach out to work with one of our Calgary Psychologists, Counsellors, Psychotherapists or Life Coaches. Awareness is the first important step to changing our way of thinking for improved resilience and overall well-being.