Dealing with setbacks | A series on personal resilience
In my last post, I talked about the importance of optimism and how pessimistic beliefs can lead to negative consequences and less resiliency,
Fortunately, it’s possible to change the way you think about setbacks by being more optimistic.
For most of us, being more optimistic is easier said than done. That’s where David Mezzapelle comes in. He is the author of Contagious Optimism: Uplifting Stories and Motivational Advice for Positive Forward Thinking, and in his book, he shares 10 tips to help us live more optimistically:
- Have Gratitude: “It all starts with counting our blessings. If you are not grateful for the good things in your life, you will never be satisfied. Take inventory of the good around you. But don’t neglect what’s not great, either: You also need to be grateful for the hardships, the obstacles, the failures. Why? Because these are the points of wisdom in your life. They give you strength, they teach you how to persevere, and they form your resilience. Being thankful for every step makes life’s hardships surmountable. All of this is the foundation of optimism; being psyched about the good and the bad, and knowing that they all point to a bright future.”
- Share Your Stories: “I believe we all have the capacity to live optimistically just by sharing our life’s adventures, our successes and even our failures. Just knowing others have been in the same boat and have persevered is comforting. It spreads a message of hope, and hope is the main ingredient in optimism. When we share our stories, we are giving others the tools they need to build, evolve, and persevere. In essence, mankind is always ‘paying it forward.’”
- Forgive: “This is easier said than done but you need to forgive those that have affected your ability to find the silver linings. I believe that the easiest way to forgive and move on is to reflect on the fact that the past is the past. Just look at it this way; the person that you are having a hard time forgiving probably wishes that he or she could erase the past as well. In summary, make peace with your past so that it won’t spoil the present. Once you accomplish this, you will close those chapters and live a more positive and happy life.”
- Be A Better Listener: “When you listen you open up your ability to take in more knowledge versus blocking the world with your words or your distracting thoughts. You are also demonstrating confidence and respect for others. Knowledge and confidence is proof that you are secure and positive with yourself thus radiating positive energy.”
- Turn Envy and Jealousy Into Energy: “When we envy others we are only hurting ourselves. The universe does not owe you because someone else is better off than you. Channel that energy into building your personal and professional brand. Consider other people’s success the catalyst to help you achieve.”
- Smile More, Frown Less: “When we smile we are creating a happy, stimulating environment around us that draws others in. Frowning, on the other hand, shuts people out and has the opposite effect. Happiness, even in brief doses, releases Serotonin (the happy hormone). It makes the toughest days surmountable.”
- Exercise, Eat a Healthy Diet, and Take in Vitamin D: “This may be common advice, but we all need some form of exercise and sunlight every day–even if it’s only for 15 minutes. If you can’t get natural sunlight, ask your doctor about Vitamin D supplements and/or light therapy. If you can’t get exercise during your busy schedule, use the staircase instead of the elevator or park in the furthest parking spot. Whatever it takes, keep yourself in healthy motion as often as you can. Consider balanced meals and don’t push away those fruits and vegetables. If you feel hunger throughout the day, consider almonds and walnuts if you are not allergic. If you are predisposed to allergies, consider frequent smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones. The energy we get from exercise, a healthy diet, and light exposure gives us focus, clarity and a naturally positive demeanor.”
- Be A Positive Forward Thinker: “Positive forward thinking is the ability to find the silver lining in every cloud, apply it to today or yesterday and be hopeful that tomorrow will be better. Imagine surgery; you think the worse and can’t wait for it to be over. Take all that and start visualizing what the point of the surgery is and what the results of the procedure will deliver. The goal is good, it’s only today that may seem rough…. Like anything else, working hard will always deliver results. Life is not a lottery. It’s what you make of it.”
- Stop Blaming Others: “It is so easy to blame others for our position in life. People blame the economy, politicians, bosses, and all types of third parties for their problems. Once you truly accept that you control who you are, you will find that optimism and success come naturally. Remember, opportunity is usually found in the valleys, not at the peaks.”
- Understand That the Past Is Not a Blueprint for the Future: “Just because you’ve experienced adversity in your life does not mean that what starts badly will end badly. Do not make bad experiences a self-fulfilling prophecy of what lies ahead. On the contrary, know that those milestones are behind you and the road to the future is clear.”
Moreover, according to Richard Boyatzis, a psychologist at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve, it’s very important to have positive long-term goals. “Talking about your positive goals and dreams activates brain centers that open you up to new possibilities,” he says. “But if you change the conversation to what you should do to fix yourself, it closes you down.”
All told, Boyatzis argues that when we focus on our strengths, we are taking a step toward a desired future that stimulates openness to new ideas, people, and plans. In contrast, when we spotlight our weaknesses, we elicit a defensive sense of obligation and guilt, closing us down.
David Chrisinger is a Foresight and Strategic Planning Analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Prior to joining GAO’s Office of Strategic Planning & External Liaison Office in 2017, David was a Senior Communications Specialist for seven years in GAO’s Education, Workforce, and Income Security Team, where he helped write research reports and testimonies for the U.S. Congress. For six years, David also taught public policy writing at Johns Hopkins University, and in 2017, Johns Hopkins University Press published David’s book PUBLIC POLICY WRITING THAT MATTERS. The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily intended to reflect GAO’s institutional views.