One of the key skills of resilient people is how they handle everyday setbacks with optimism and positive self-talk. I had the opportunity to attend a workshop led by Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard Professor and expert on resilience and motivation. He stated that “one of the main characteristics of resilient people is that they focus and act upon what they have control over, devoting little time or energy to factors that are beyond their sphere of influence”. I witness this daily in my work with leaders in corporate and law enforcement organizations. Resilience can be fostered by adjusting self-talk and developing optimistic thinking patterns and those who have resilience have a tangibly positive affect on those around them.
Dr. Martin Seligman, often called the father of positive psychology, has found that people who are naturally resilient have an optimistic explanatory style—that is, they explain adversity in optimistic terms to avoid falling into feelings of helplessness.
Those who refuse to give up routinely interpret setbacks as temporary, local and changeable:
- “The problem will resolve quickly…”
- “It’s just this one situation…”
- “I can do something about it…”
In contrast, people who have a pessimistic explanatory style respond to failure differently. They habitually think setbacks are permanent, universal and immutable:
- “Things are never going to be any different…”
- “This always happens to me…”
- “I can’t change things, no matter what…”
The first step toward changing thoughts and explanatory style is noticing our own thoughts and statements (with self-compassion) and thinking about alternatives. We all know glass half-full and glass half-empty people. Try shifting your own thoughts to half-full and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel and how people respond to you. Please let me know how you do!