Resilience requires flexible and accurate thinking and the ability to see differing perspectives.
Flexible and accurate thinking allows you to find multiple solutions to a problem.
We know how life is full of unexpected detours and roadblocks, so being able to develop alternative plans is a vital aspect of resilience.
This is backed up by research from Albert Ellis, Karen Reivich, Martin Seligman and others that show it’s your thoughts that drive your emotions and reactions to a specific event.
Our ability to assess a situation accurately is influenced by our thinking traps, our core values and deeply held beliefs, and our downward spiral thinking.
When we know how to identify these factors that interfere with our accuracy, we will build self-awareness and a more realistic thinking style.
“Thinking is more interesting than knowing but less interesting than looking”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Every situation we encounter bears at least a million different intricacies to consider and as many or more memories to compare them to.
We would have to process a vast amount of information to make a completely accurate judgment of any event.
That is why two people are highly likely to feel differently about the same event.
Simply because one highlights and focuses on different pieces of the available information than the other.
Much of this is dictated by mindset.
Someone with a more positive mindset will concentrate on specific aspects of a situation that someone with a more negative mindset will not.
But neither of them is necessarily in the wrong.
Wanting to adopt a more positive mindset doesn’t mean you have to lie to yourself or get brainwashed.
What it does mean is that you have to focus on different aspects of the situation selectively.
Your state of mind determines how you predict future events and also, how you evaluate events as they are happening.
These two factors work symbiotically to reinforce each other.
Our predictions about the future are derived from the information we have stored about past experiences.
When compared to pessimists, optimists tend to evaluate their daily events from a more positive perspective.
This means they are continuously creating positive memories and beliefs to influence their predictions.
The cycle perpetuates itself
You can see how this cycle works.
The more optimistic the outlook, the more positive evaluation of daily events, the more positive the memories, and the more positive the expectations about the future.
And it continues to perpetuate itself.
And good predictions are priceless, the act of expecting an event to happen makes it much more likely that it will happen.
In other words, if choosing between an optimistic belief and a pessimistic belief, know that the optimistic one will usually lead to measurably better outcomes.
Because optimists make more positive predictions, they are more likely to be successful than pessimists.
Which means they have the opportunity to store even more positive memories and reinforce better beliefs.
There is an easy way to become more positive.
Start now to evaluate events as they happen from a better and more positive perspective.
That way, you slowly build up more positive memories and beliefs.
We evaluate events according to three dimensions:
Internal or External
Whether we think the event was inside our control (Internal) or outside our control (External).
Stable or Unstable
Whether we think similar events in the future will turn out like this (Stable) or are subject to more variable factors (Unstable).
Specific or Global
Whether we generalise it to other events (Global) or keep it specific to this event (Specific).
Not surprisingly, optimists and pessimists tend to use different combinations of these three dimensions to explain events.
An optimist who just failed an exam might think:
“I did the best I could (external).
I’m sure I’ll do better in my other exams (unstable).
And this was just a blip (specific)”.
Instead, a pessimist is more likely to think:
“I am so dumb (internal).
There is no hope I am going to fail all of my exams (stable).
And I will never graduate or find a career (global)”.
Of course, other combinations are possible.
Consider these as the best and worst-case explanatory styles to explain a negative event like failing an exam.
How you evaluate the events in your life has a massive impact on you.
When you evaluate life events as internal/stable/global the impact of the event is intensified, rather than minimised.
That will have more significance to you and your life than if you evaluate it as external/unstable/specific which tends to brush the event away.
Optimists tend to apply the first combination (internal/stable/global) to positive events and the second one (external/unstable/specific) to negative events.
The optimistic model is to not let negative events affect them too much and emphasise the meaning of positive events.
Unsurprisingly, pessimists do the opposite.
When pessimists ace an exam, they are still likely to use the worst-case explanatory style.
“The questions were easy anyone could have passed (external), I got lucky this time (unstable), with my luck this will never happen again (specific).
Compare that to the best-case evaluation.
One that influences your predictions in the most positive way and gives you the most confidence.
“I deserve this A+ grade because I studied hard and I am good at this (internal).
My next exams will turn out just as well as long as I put the time in (stable). I am confident about my abilities, and I know I will be successful in the future (global).”
The most realistic explanatory style
So, what is the most realistic explanatory style?
Two of the dimensions have a clear objective alternative: unstable rather than stable and specific rather than global.
If you explain events in unstable and specific terms, you concentrate your evaluation on this event only.
You don’t generalise.
This means for all negative events, the optimistic explanatory style is the more objective and realistic one.
If you explain events in stable and global terms, you generalise your evaluation of this event to future events.
“And this is the rubbish that I can expect from now on.”
Taking all of that into account you would be led to believe that for positive events pessimists would, strictly speaking, be more objective.
However, that is not the case.
This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy comes in.
If you generalise positive experiences they will influence your beliefs more and improve your future predictions.
All it takes is to choose to evaluate positive experiences as more meaningful and exemplary.
When you do that your generalisations will eventually become reality.
Thinking is hard work
I am not telling you that this will be easy.
Thinking is hard work.
Let’s take a moment to realise how amazing you are.
What you’re doing right now is quite extraordinary.
You’re taking a series of squiggly black lines and extracting meaning from them.
No other creature can do that like you can.
And you can probably achieve it with relative ease.
You see the words in front of you and process them in an instant, never thinking of the words themselves, only what they represent.
Remember that time when it wasn’t always easy to read?
It might be ages ago, but when you were first learning to read, you would have had to put a lot of effort into it.
Unusual words would have been obstacles.
You would have stumbled, concentrating on the individual letters and how they are pronounced.
It’s impressive just how far you’ve come.
Most learning follow this trajectory.
You learn and that learning requires effort. But the knowledge you form afterwards becomes easier to use.
We have all been a student of life for many few years now.
We have picked up many skills along the way.
Think about it, we can read, talk, walk, use cutlery, brush our teeth, and all with little effort.
Most of our daily activities can be done while we are entirely detached from the activity itself.
This is pretty darn incredible.
What’s more, you probably have unique skills and knowledge that most people don’t have.
Maybe you have an interest in math or physics or math, cooking, or psychology.
Your thoughts make you YOU.
Your mind is like your fingerprint, it’s yours and only yours.
You are a unique mixture of abilities, concepts, facts and memories.
Your thoughts make you YOU.
But you had to work to get here.
You had to work to become you.
And, you’ll have to work to become your future self, too.
And you will only undertake that work if you see the benefits of doing it.
Learning is refining the mind, making it more accurate, efficient, and versatile.
As beneficial as it may be, learning isn’t always a pleasant experience.
To become our future self requires some discomfort.