What’s the Difference between Mediocrity and Success…Resiliency!

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Whether on the battlefield, in the corporate board room or in the class room, one of the most important attributes we can possess, that will actually be a deciding factor in our success or failure, is resilience, that ineffable quality that enables some people to bounce back no matter how big the setback, and others to fold like a paper napkin at the first sign of trouble. Some psychologists call that quality psychological capital, but whatever we call it, it’s incredibly important.

So how can we be more resilient and how can we help all those who work for us or with us to look at setbacks from a different perspective?

Resilient thinkers have an internal locus of control, meaning they believe that they, and not their circumstances, affect their achievements and their lives. Non-resilient thinkers feel they’re at the mercy of the boss, family, government or someone somewhere; it’s not their fault and they have no control.

Perception is key. Even if we start to react and we stop to remind ourselves that our perception of the event is making it what it is, it’s helpful. This doesn’t mean you would be happy if you were suddenly down sized out of a job tomorrow, but even that can be perceived differently. One person says it’s too bad the company could no longer afford her salary, but she knows she’s a great employee and will find another job. Another person believes it’s got to be something he did, and with his luck he’ll be searching six months before something else turns up.

Here are five steps to help us think and act differently around challenges:

Step 1: Be aware of what you’re thinking and adjust.

Ask yourself why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. Do you perceive a failure as a learning opportunity or a shameful disgrace that will haunt you forever. Remember it’s in the perception. Learn to Fail Better. J.K Rowling said failure (poverty, broken marriage) stripped away everything inessential. Steve Jobs said being fired from the company he founded ultimately proved a portal to a better life. And years ago when I was part of a speech contest and I forgot to bring water up to the stage I suddenly got an attack of stage fright. My mouth was so dry I could hardly get a word out and I felt like I was such a failure it would make front page in the The New York Times. Of course that’s ego talking; no one cared but me. And since then, all these years later, I never speak without a glass or bottle of water by my side.

  • When you’re in the middle of a problem tell yourself to stop, slow down and think
  • If you start to talk to yourself negatively do what Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the fathers of Positive Psychology says, argue against the negative thought as if you’re in a court of law and it’s on trial

Step 2: Beliefs are what you make them.

Reframe the focus, meaning if you look at an old job and see how intimidated you were by a difficult boss, tell yourself you were smart enough to strategically know how to respond to her in order to be effective.

  • Watch out for icebergs…beliefs that are so far below the surface you aren’t even aware of them, such as the incorrect belief that if you ask for help it will be a sign of weakness. Where are you still allowing these bergs to manipulate you into stressful thinking?
  • Monitor your progress. If we only focus on goals and the gap between what we want and where we are, it’s easy to feel discouraged. Instead acknowledge progress, no matter how small it might be. That’s the formula for starting to release those feel-good chemicals that help us handle adversity.

Step 3: Control emotion and cultivate optimism.

Psychologist Edith Grotberg, Ph.D. urges people to cultivate resilience by thinking along three lines:

--I have strong relationships and role models; these are external supports that are provided

--I am a person who has hope, cares about others and am proud of myself and all that I have survived and done

--I can communicate, solve problems, seek good relationships and work effectively with others

In the Resilience Training Intervention created to help soldiers be resilient enough to ward off PTSD, soldiers were taught three powerful exercises:

  • Three good things that went well today and why
  • Best future self, think about a time when everything has gone well and what the future looks like
  • Spend 15 minutes being grateful to someone and writing them a letter that is never sent

Step 4: Arm Yourself with Tools…social outlets, change expectations, journaling

Attitude is everything, and when we examine what the most resilient use to overcome adversity, here are some of the best tools:

  • Scale down expectations of what you can do. If you wanted to run a marathon but can’t get past five miles rename it and say something like “I prefer to do well when I run” rather than “I must do well and run___ miles when I run.”
  • Change expectations of others. When we expect people to behave a certain way, whether it’s accepting our apology or remembering our birthday, we are setting ourselves up for disappointments
  • Keep a journal. It helps create meaning and helps to come to terms with issues.

Step 5: Enhance your strengths and savor what you’ve got right now.

What are you good at? What do you enjoy about your life right now?  Resilience is about changing how we think and talk to ourselves, and the great news is anyone can become more resilient. We want to focus from internal to external (bad events aren’t my fault, things happen), from global to specific (this is one narrow thing rather than a massive indication that everything is wrong) and from permanent to impermanent (I can change the situation, it isn’t forever).

The more we all learn to take a deep breath, regroup and see the possibilities the more effective we’ll be, and possibly we’ll be a lot less stressed out as well. I’m for feeling good whenever I can, and I trust the Dalai Lama when he reminded us “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better!”

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

                                                                                                Dr. Steve Marabali

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