Imagine two children on a playground. Each is picked last for kickball teams. As they walk toward their respective sides, they’re lost in secret imaginings of why they were chosen last. The first child thinks the captain of her team dislikes her best friend. She then plays poorly because of how negatively she feels about her new team.
The other child attributes it to the fact that none on her new team know her well. She’s convinced that as soon as they get to know her, things will change. Her subsequent stellar performance convinces the group that she has the necessary skills to move her up in the daily draft played out against the red brick school wall.
Their separate conclusions, although different, reinforce how they see themselves and how those feelings define their place in the group. One bounces with resilience while the other goes flat.
These same dynamics play out every day in the work world. The capacity for resilience is fluid. It increases with our ability to change how we explain events in either positive or negative terms.
That first step to resilience is optimism. It overrides feelings of helplessness, even when those feelings are learned patterns over time. If we alter our explanatory style* and define events as temporary, transient and changeable, past patterns can be undone like a knotted shoelace. Those who remain optimistic in the teeth of life’s setbacks tend to keep trying.
*Harvard Business Review. Building Resilience. Martin E.P. Seligman