Failures and resilience

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Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology wrote Building Resilience, an interesting article about failure and resilience in Harvard Business Review, April 2011 volume . In the article, he highlighted the prominent key themes in recent development in positive psychology; particularly regarding how we deal with failures we have made. This, according to Seligman, is about resilience.

Since his influential work on learned helplessness, the idea of how we continuously develop our capacity in facing adversity through our experiences in dealing with failures is getting more and more poignant. We could either build ourselves to be stronger and smarter, or we could just fell into a state of learned-helplessness. Yes, the main thing is not the failure, but how we deal with it. Seligman suggested that core competencies of any succesful manager are enhancing mental toughness, highlighting and honing strengths, and fostering strong relationship.

Seligman’s positive psychology invite us to treasure optimism as the key to resilience. Instead of surrendering to the feeling of being helpless, we need to build a mental strength (or mental toughness). Such strength is built upon a strong realization that it’s not the failing situation that weaken us, but the emotional consequences that rooted in our belief about the adversity of that situation. I could never disagree with Seligman when he pointed-out that often times our innacurate emotion and rigid held belief lead to over-generalization about our capacity. Developing mental toughness is a challenge.

I found it’s hard not to admit that we often swayed by our negative emotional response and catastrophic belief when we face failures; a set of traps that leads us to a dramatic belief that we are incapable. Instead of seeing the situation within its specific context, we trap ourselves in a pessimistic conclusion that we are helpless and incapable in anything.

That’s another challenge in which we actually fail pretty often: We fail to see honor and highlight people’s strength to cope with the failing situation. And, we often do this to ourselves as well to others, and by doing this we impose and amplify collective learned-helplessness and pessimism.

The last challenge is our tendency to be extremist in communication. It’s easy to be trapped in either destructive response or ineffective praise. Destructive praise sounds like critical and analytical at first, but in fact kills the optimism to move forward. Ineffective praise sounds like a touching and emotionally comforting when we hear it, until we realize that it is lips-service with no specific contents showing authentic attention and constructive support.

Terms such as tough, wellness, happiness, well-being are difficult to define. Even the term positive seems to be continuously arguable for its versatility in various contexts. Being well and strong can be different things according to different people. The fact is, good ideals are relative and sometime ambiguous.

However, in our attempt to achieve those ideals, we become more resilient, we deal better with failure. In my perspective, that is good enough.


6 thoughts on “Failures and resilience

  1. I was totally agree that it’s easy to be trapped in either destructive response or ineffective praise, but how we can diferentiate this 2 traps?

    1. According to my understanding about Seligman’s concept, destructive response is noticeable by its comparison to constructive response. As an opposite to constructive response, which usually take form as a supportive question on what is the next thing to be done; destructive response take form as a pessimistic, insidious and demotivating without any suggestion to make things better. Particularly in the context of failure, constructive response focuses on how to get thing done better, while destructive one expose more on how failure is uncomfortable and annoying.

      As for ineffective praise, it’s easy to recognize by the absence of the specific substance of the response. In other words, ineffective praise is only empty words, which bear no specific content that results from an attentive and authentic attitude toward the person. It’s a ‘mulut manis’ type of words, which sounds emotionally luring, but actually have no specific point of support. It’s a normative message which can be apply to everyone in general situation.

      While destructive response may negatively affect people’s capacity to be resilient in direct way, ineffective response can have more negative impact because it feeds people belief on how they deal with failures and adversity. Instead of becoming resilient, I’ve seen how ineffective response put people into a situation in which they believe that they are resilient even though they don’t feel they are resilient.

      That’s what I think. What do you think?

  2. from my experience, I think that destructive response similar to scolding, just like an angry mom who said “you are a bad kid” without saying the reason why mom response like that.
    As for ineffective praise, it’s just like you said “only empty words” that make people very happy because that praise is overrate or “lebay”
    and from my perspective, destructive response and ineffective praise have the same big impact to make people feel cocky or inferiority, that’s why this 2 traps put people into a situation in which they believe that they are resilient even though they don’t feel they are resilient, instead of becoming resilient ^^

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