Archive for the ‘Resilience’ Category

Many years ago I tried to start a new business.  It had many moving parts and included a large group of people.  It failed to get off the ground.  I spent the next year and half ruminating over my failure.  During that time, a colleague was attempting to entice me to join him in a new venture.  Still hurting from the failed experience, I kept refusing to get involved.

Eventually, my colleague and I sat down and began to map out a plan.  We started a company that proved financially successful and lasted for twenty years.  The lesson I learned from that experience was that it is not failure that defines you but how fast you recover.  When I took the time to analyze the failure of the first project, I began to see why it didn’t succeed.  Essentially we had not developed back up plans for the roadblocks that inevitably developed.

Because of my personal experience, I have often counseled clients and participants in my workshops to reframe how they view failure.  I have urged them to review what went wrong and then to move forward with new endeavors.  Unfortunately, many of today’s unemployed hold themselves responsible for their situation. They dwell on past decisions or what they consider missed opportunities.  A more realistic assessment would lead to the understanding that the present economy has had a tremendous impact on the availability of jobs.   It is important to take a look back and not get caught up in self-blame, but to discover if there are clues that can lead to one’s next job or career.

Resilience refers to the process of recovering from adversity.  Psychologists have examined how people deal with setbacks. In fact, the American Psychological Association has developed a pamphlet entitled The Road To Resilience that can be found at http://www.apahelpcenter.org.  I recently came across another great resource that examines resilience.  Rick Newman has written a book entitled Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.  Both of these resources present the major characteristics associated with resilient people.

There are some common traits among individuals who quickly move past failure and indeed benefit from it.  They are able to step back and evaluate their failure.   Their evaluation helps them pinpoint the factors that contributed to the setback.  They learn to plan for failure in the future.  More simply stated: they always have a plan A and a plan B.  In this way, they use failure to adjust their approach to new ventures or projects.  Essentially, they extract positive information from their failed experience.   Profiles of individuals who have recovered from failure always point to their persistence and confidence.  Unlike me, they do not become paralyzed by their failed experience.

You can strengthen your ability to deal with larger setbacks by keeping small adversities in perspective.  Begin by avoiding catastrophizing them.   Try to learn from small setbacks and move forward incorporating what you have learned.  It is also important to maintain social support in your life.  Many times after a failure, such as loss of a job, people tend to withdraw from family and friends.  Social support is critical if you are to move forward.

As Rick Newman points out, some of the most successful people have met failure.  They ultimately succeeded because they learned what they could from the experience and continued to take on new challenges.


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Over the years I have deepened my understanding of the human experience and improved my skills as a therapist by listening closely to clients.  Recently, while conducting a workshop on coping with the emotional turmoil of unemployment, a participant offered a great suggestion to the group.  When her children were young, she sometimes felt housebound.  She started volunteering to get out of the house and connect with people, as well as make a social contribution.

Once she returned to work she was too busy to continue volunteering.  Unfortunately, because of the downturn in the economy she found herself unemployed and spending hours everyday looking for another position.   After a few months, she started to feel socially isolated.  Remembering the sense of community she got from volunteering years earlier, she decided to try her hand at it once again.

It worked.  She looked forward to working with other people and helping the less fortunate.  Her motivation improved as well as her sense of self worth.  As a result, she encouraged other members of the group to volunteer.  When we met as a group a week later, she had inspired four other people to take on volunteer positions.  One person reported that she was learning new computer skills.  Someone in another workshop was hoping the skills she was gaining volunteering at an animal shelter would lead to a job at a privately owned dog kennel.

Our society is richer and more humane because of millions of volunteers across the country.  For those seeking jobs, it not only enriches their lives but also adds to their resume.  It shows perspective employers that you have a cooperative, sociable nature and are willing to give generously of yourself to support a greater cause.  It helps answer the question “What have you been doing while unemployed?” Interestingly, a recent blog post on Ivyexec.com reported that 20% of hiring managers relied on volunteering as part of their hiring decisions.

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In today’s economy, finding a job may seem like a journey of a thousand miles.  Unfortunately, estimates range from 6 to 9 months.  For some, the search has exceeded a year.  It is at such times that following the advice of the 4th century Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzo, may help keep your head above water.  It is a good way to remind yourself that it will take perseverance to land your next job and the journey will be accomplished one step at a time.
Why is it so difficult to keep at the job search? One reason is that we are wired, so to speak, to receive reinforcement such as a salary or positive feedback on a regular basis.  While searching for a job, weeks can go by without anything happening to boost your morale.  It therefore becomes critical that you begin to reinforce yourself.  Positive reinforcement means more than praise or recognition from others, it can be giving yourself a reward for doing something constructive. Promise yourself that you’ll pick up your favorite mystery novel or take a walk after spending time on your computer or making phone calls. Pick activities that are simple but pleasant.
Objectively evaluating your progress is also helpful.  Keep track of both your job search activities and pleasurable activities.   Review your notes each day and use them to set goals for the next day.  Remember to pat yourself on the back after an active day.  Congratulate yourself based on your efforts.  It may take months to get the next job, but it is the day-in-day-out steps you take that will lead to the big pay off.
When working on a book for over three years, I found it critical to start each day pushing myself to take the first step.  In this case I asked myself to write one paragraph.  Inevitably, one step led to working for hours.
While looking for a job, you are your own boss.  It is up to you to set goals, set up your daily schedule, monitor your progress and reward yourself for efforts made.

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We hear from many unemployed people that holidays are exceptionally stressful, especially those associated with gift giving.  There are many reasons why this is understandable.  It is hard to be joyful when one hasn’t gotten over having lost one’s job.  Secondly, it’s hard to feel generous when regular income has been greatly reduced, if not eliminated.  Realistically, a new position may not appear before the New Year.  Focusing solely on your lack of resources will only amplify your level of stress.  Frankly, family and friends understand your situation and would prefer that you not dig yourself into a deeper hole.  Those close to you will most likely feel good knowing that you are not fretting away this holiday season.
Experience is sometimes the best teacher.  Many of you may recall from older relatives who lived through The Great Depression, holidays were no less joyous when a typical gift might have been an orange or a bag of candy.  Maybe this is a year when you re-think gift giving and come up ideas that don’t put a crimp in your wallet.
Here are some examples:
1.     Make some CDs of your favorite music that others might enjoy.
2.     Has someone admired one of your possessions you no longer need?  Imagine how appreciative the recipient would be if you gave them something you personally valued.
3.     Create a photo album of memorable moments shared with a loved one.
4.     There are tons of things that can come out of your kitchen like baked goods, preserves, pickled veggies, or your favorite sauces.
5.     How about creating gift certificates good for car washes, household chores, or baby-sitting?
We’d like to hear your suggestions.  Not only for economical gifts, but for ways you can avoid the holiday blues.

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I placed a question mark at the end of the title in anticipation that you might wonder how in the world you will be able to “count blessings” when you have just suffered an overwhelming blow. It seems cliché and almost unsympathetic to suggest that you should simply focus on the positive when it probably feels like the cons of your life far outweigh the pros at the moment. I know it seems like a contradiction, but research suggests that the positive emotions brought on by counting your blessings can be helpful in multiple ways, so I hope you read on anyway!
Research has shown that experiencing positive emotions can broaden your perspective, helping you think creatively and see alternatives or solutions that you may not otherwise have been able to see (Frederickson, 2001). Other research suggests that happiness may actually precede success in multiple areas of your life (i.e., relationships, career, income, health), and not the other way around (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). If positive emotions stimulate successful outcomes, it makes sense to devote time to increasing your positive feelings during this difficult time. Research suggests that counting your blessings can do just that.
On a practical level, taking note of the good things in your life can help you utilize your time off in a meaningful and productive way. For example, you may now have the latitude to reevaluate your career path, spend more time with friends and family, or consider other options such as exploring additional education or training. You may not have this kind of free time again until retirement, so use it to make sure the next steps in your career and life are the right ones. In addition, your positive affect may shine during interviews, causing employers to be impressed by your resilience and demeanor.
So how do you count these blessings? A typical prompt goes like this: “There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the events of the past week and write down up to five things that happened for which you are grateful or thankful.” An alternative is to write down three things you have been able to do as a result of being unemployed that you would not have been able to do otherwise. Counting blessings just once a week increased self-reported happiness over a six-week period (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, Schkade, 2005), and, simply thinking gratefully (without writing it down), also increased positive emotions (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003). The point is to start realizing the blessings in your life. The resulting positive emotions will help motivate, energize, and fuel your job search. Given that this will only take 5-10 minutes of your time, it is definitely worth a try!

The Author:
Kristin Layous is a former career counselor who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology at the University of California, Riverside under the direction of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change. Review of General Psychology, Positive Psychology, 9, 111-131.
Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 431-452.

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