Sue Wallace - Professional Development Solutions Manager, TP3
Are you a cup half-full or half-empty kind of person? When disappointment strikes, do you take it personally or quickly accept that you can’t win all the time?
How we react to triumphs and disappointments is directly related to our resilience – the ability to explain and recover readily from unexpected events such as illness, depression, adversity or the like.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about the need to instil resilience in our children so that they learn to accept life’s ups and down, and to thrive in spite of and because of them. If you’re a learning professional, you may be aware of resilience’s prominence as a key component of positive psychology. Led by Penn State’s Dr Martin Seligman, positive psychology explores our natural levels of optimism and resilience, and – more importantly – how we can all improve our levels of both mindsets. Dr Seligman’s work is used as the foundation for resilience-building programs in schools and workplaces around the world.*
Bouncing back at work
It’s not a stretch of logic to see how resilience can help us at work. Modern workplaces are fast-paced and rapidly changing. Like me, you have undoubtedly experienced times when your patience has been tested and your resolve has wavered. Perhaps your manager has shot down another of your ideas. Perhaps a merger has resulted in an anticipated project or promotion going to someone else.
When faced with situations like these, we draw on reserves of strengths to persevere and get through the moment, meeting, or day. Some people take it personally, telling themselves I mustn’t be good at my job if my manager never listens to my ideas. Others have external explanations, reasoning that I don’t see as much of what’s happening in the business as my manager, so I trust her judgment that my idea isn’t the right one for right now.
The way in which we move on – and the speed with which we do it – is a testament to our outlook on life and our resilience.
Optimism and resilience
Dr Seligman found a relationship exists between optimism and resilience. With research partners, he carried out numerous studies of animal and human behaviour and found that optimistic behaviour was the anecdote to helplessness. As Dr Seligman explains:
“We discovered that people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. (“It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.”)”
(I urge you to read more in Dr Seligman’s article ‘Building Resilience’ for the full story.)
So how resilient are you? The Penn State Authentic Happiness Centre has a range of free assessments you can complete to find out about your levels of optimism, happiness, and grit. Click here to check them out, register and get started.
How can you become more resilient?
Whatever your current level of resilience, there are some simple techniques that you can practise to refine this type of thinking. Here are our top tips:
Move your body
Physical movement and activity are an underrated but crucial part of managing negativity, anxiety and stress. It’s not just your excessive caffeine intake that causes your heartbeat to race and your senses to go on high alert when you feel anxious, shocked or stressed – our bodies become mobilised and energised for action. If we don’t use this energy, it builds up and our bodies become tense. We become nervous and fidgety, and our bodies remain in the stress response state.
Something as simple as a walk around the block, or as intense as a lunchtime boxing workout at the gym, can work wonders for clearing our physical reaction to unexpected or disappointing events. Once you address these physical signs, you can contemplate your attitude and decide how you want to move forward.
Move your thinking ‘above the line’
As the late Maya Angelou said: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
In TP3’s professional development courses, we often discuss behaving ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line’ as a simple explanation of adopting a positive and productive attitude. When you behave ‘above the line’, you take ownership, are accountable, and take responsibility – all optimistic attitudes. When we act ‘below the line’, we blame others, make excuses, and are in denial about our role in circumstances.
Adopting and practising ‘above the line’ behaviours in the face of disappointment can increase our resilience and control over a situation, and decrease our time suffering from disappointment and disillusionment.
It can be easy to forget that we are in control of our lives, especially when so many things change around us that are beyond our direct control. Where we can take charge is in how we understand and respond to these situations. Resilience can be learned, practised and increased – so that we experience the highs and lows of life without them overwhelming us. With discipline and practice, your cup can be half-full.