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.