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The Resilience Antidote

The Link is What You Think

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Dr. Michael Mantell recalls hearing that a well-adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous. What’s the secret? The link is what you think, of course. And Mantell claims the right mindset brings the secret out into the public: it’s resilience. And if you are fortunate enough to live in San Diego, with it’s glorious weather, beaches, parks, hiking paths and beautiful vistas, Dr. Mantell says you have the most marvelous place on earth to develop that resilience.

Personal elasticity if you will. It’s flexibility of the psyche, a springy attitude, a pliable outlook. Whatever you call it, it comes down to a bouncy, supple mindset. This ability to recover quickly is certainly not easy to attain, yet many successful people do.

The late Senator Hubert Humphrey barely lost the 1968 US presidential election after trailing in the polls months earlier by a large margin. It was one of his toughest battles and no doubt, a heartbreaking loss.

Some years later Humphrey wrote, “To come as close as we finally did to winning the highest office in America and then to lose was hard. But in writing my concession speech, I told myself, “This has to be done right because it is the opening of your next campaign!”

He understood that successful people are not afraid to fail. Achievers have the ability to accept failure and continue on, planning for their next success.

William James once said, “Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

Along these lines, John Barrymore, the famed actor, once observed, “You can only be as good as you dare to be bad.” He rightly points out that so many people believe that if at first you don’t succeed, the dysfunctional thing to do is to destroy all the evidence that showed you tried. Imagine the poor guy who lists on his resume, “Designer of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” While dentists’ mistakes are pulled, doctors’ mistakes are buried, and lawyers’ mistakes are shut away in prison, like most people, yours and mine are out there for the world to see.

So what can we do to develop the ability to better handle our failure angst…our fear of failure…and rebound with élan?

First, we must understand that successful people believe deeply that failure is a natural part of progressive living, that you never really lose until you quit. Successful people learn from their failure, never make excuses, exploit their failure so as not to waste it, and never, ever, use their failure as an excuse for not trying again.

Rubbery perspective, resilience, can be taught…and you can learn it. If you want to keep your gremlins at bay, stop worrying and letting fear of failure taint your chances of success, you better learn this skill. Resilience is the psychological mechanism that keeps people going and allows them to thrive instead of just surviving, so pay attention.

The building blocks consist of three components: a) “I have” b) “I am” and c) “I can.” 

“I have” means you have support around you such that you have the ability to trust the world and people in it. Successful people are able to let people get close to them without fear of harm. They have mentors whom they respect, and in whom they have confidence. By trusting others to help, successful people avoid feeling sad, angry, and vulnerable in the face of impending failure.

“I am” means you have encouragement in developing the inner strengths of confidence, unconditional self-acceptance and responsibility. Successful people, free of the inner fears of failure, believe themselves to be autonomous, independent and free to make their own decisions, including ones that are mistakes. 

“I can” means you have acquired the interpersonal and problem-solving skills to take action. Successful people are free of the psychological blocks that get in the way of developing initiative. They are able to work diligently at a task free of negative thinking. 

Developing resilience depends on many factors including:

✓A sense of hope, and trust in the world

✓The ability to tolerate pain and distressing emotions

✓Interpreting experiences in a new light

✓Having a meaningful support system

✓Having a mastery and sense of control over your destiny

✓Having a good self-image and self-respect

✓Being insightful and having the capacity to learn

✓Having a wide range of interests and a great sense of humor

Researchers in this field find three major domains that influence the development of resilience in children:

Resilient children possess an easy temperament. These children appear to elicit positive responses from adults in their environment. 

The family climate of resilient children is warm, affectionate, filled with emotional support and has clear-cut and reasonable structure and limits.

The social environment outside the home of resilient children also provides needed support. Whether it was Walt Disney, Pierre Cardin, Jack Welch or Bill Clinton, all of these men grew up with the hardship of an absent father. Yet, with the presence of a strong, supportive mother, someone who took an interest in them and provided them with a sense of “I have,” “I am,” and “I can,” they grew up being able to confront authority, be competitive, and be resilient in the face of failure. Napoleon noted, “The future destiny of the child is always the work of the mother.” Perhaps, but at least someone must assist in developing these three important elements. 

So if you feel that you’ve hit a wall, are losing momentum and just can’t bounce back, perhaps it’s a lack of resilience that’s the problem. It’s normal to lose momentum once in awhile, but like a good rubber ball that bounces back at nearly the same speed it hits the wall, with resilience, you too can turn your setbacks into triumph.

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