Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”—Paul Brandt
It’s not accidental that some people are happier and more successful than others. What are they doing that separates them from the pack? They make resilience and well-being top priorities.
A Winning Frame of Mind
Michele Sullivan, former President of the Caterpillar Foundation, was born with a rare form of dwarfism that created many challenges in her daily life. She is the epitome of a resilient corporate leader,having once told me: “For you, having a door held may be a very nice gesture from a stranger. For me, it is a requirement to enter most buildings that do not have automatic doors. It requires me to ask for a lot of help, and once I finally learned to embrace that reality, the universe answered back with thunderous support. Where I had once seen obstacles, I changed my perspective and viewed them instead as advantages. I now call this the ‘Looking Up’ philosophy, and it is how I live my life each day.”
Michele is so caught up in looking at the advantages that they eclipse her losses. She’s a challenged woman living a rich life, simply because of her perspective. Few of us have Michele’s challenge and still have difficulty coping. Compare Michele’s perspective to that of Ralph, who came barreling into my office during tax season, slinging his backpack onto the sofa and spouting curse words. When I asked him what was the matter, he groaned that he had to pay a half-million dollars in taxes. When I asked how much he made for the year, he offhandedly mumbled, “Oh, five or six million.” Ralph was so caught up in his loss that it eclipsed his gain—a rich man living an impoverished life.
Some people are born with pit-bull determination, less affected by stressful situations, and more resilient to change. Others are more vulnerable to the arrows of everyday pressures. But regardless of where you fall, you can cultivate a winning frame of mind also known as a growth-mindset coined by Carol Dweck of Stanford—the belief that defeat happens for you, not to you. If you have a growth mindset, you consider success and failure a package deal—like a hand and glove, milk and cookies, flip sides of the same coin-twins not enemies. It’s an understanding that avoidance of failure morphs into avoidance of success. To attain what you want, you recognize you must be willing to accept what you don’t want. Instead of giving up, you welcome obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as opportunities to grow and learn instead of as defeat.
You think of defeat as a personal trainer when hopelessness sets in after a setback: an impossible deadline, a lousy review from your boss, a missed promotion, or the rumble of your own self-doubt. You tell yourself you want to give up, but you don’t really want to quit. You just want the hurt and disappointment to stop, understandably so. At the time that might feel like the only option, but it isn’t. Perhaps you haven’t actually failed. Chances are, “failure” is what you call it when you don’t meet your expectations, things don’t turn out the way you planned or you’re simply traversing a valley that everyone goes through before reaching the mountain of success. Failure is heartbreaking, but it can also be an impetus to keep going when you possess the following traits:
10 Habits of Highly-Resilient People
1. Grow a thick skin and expect rejection and setbacks. Commit yourself in advance to facing the many smackdowns you will encounter like all happy people before you.
2. Ditch the desire for comfort and step into growing pains. Be willing to go to the edge of your emotional pain so you can be fully present with what lays beyond the barrier.
3. Be willing to postpone immediate gratification in the short term for the fulfillment of your goals in the long term.
4. Cultivate spring-back sustainability. Think of yourself as an elastic band that bends and stretches to a certain point before you spring back higher than you fall.
5. Refer to previous experience. Reflect on past obstacles you’ve overcome in your climb. Point to lessons learned and your personal resources and underscore ways you have grown stronger through past hard knocks.
6. Identify self-doubts that have cramped your work style or crippled you from growing fully. Harness them—instead of running from them—and channel them into useful skills so they don’t paralyze you.
7. Stay off the roller coaster. Manage the ups-and-downs of your life by treating highs and lows equally. Celebrate the highs but don’t make them any more seriously than the lows, and don’t take smackdowns any more seriously than upswings.
8. Eschew the what-the-hell effect. This attitude only adds insult to injury. Face letdowns by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face then ask, what you can learn that will help you grow.
9. Practice positive self-talk and optimism. Avoid negative put-downs and criticisms. Instead of bludgeoning yourself after a setback, give yourself positive affirmations and encouragement to get back in the saddle.
10. Catch yourself when you fall. After a setback or discouraging situation, your motivation bounces back quicker when you support yourself with compassion. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, be on your own side, wish yourself well, and be your number one cheerleader as you progress in your goals.
How to Sustain Your Resilient Zone
Once you have these habits in your hip pocket, the rest is up to you. You start to accept failure as an essential stepping-stone to success, you give yourself permission to make the mistakes necessary to get where you want to go. The more you accept failure, the more opportunities you have to accept success and bounce back higher than you fall. And every time you fail—instead of giving up—you do what every resilient person before you did: take the towel you want to throw in, wipe the sweat off your brow, and plot your next forward move.
Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist, journalist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of more than 40 books, including #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life and Daily Writing Resilience. Learn more at www.bryanrobinsonbooks.com.