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Try developing a resilience skill instead of setting a New Year resolution


Why develop a resilience skill?

Did you set any New Year resolutions this year?  Asking around, it seems that more and more people are sceptical about doing so.  The same, simple reason tends to be reiterated – past resolutions  were too onerous or demanding and therefore were broken before the cold, bleak month of January was out, so what’s the point?

The message seems to be that we are unrealistic in the resolutions we set ourselves. In retrospect we might be better to be more specific and break down the goal we wish to achieve into smaller parts, coupled with setting a more realistic timescale or frequency.

But, when we start to see a resolution slipping, what kind of conversation do we have with our-self?  If we listen to ourselves and pay attention to the language we use in our self-talk, we can hear if this is negative and learn to turn it around to positive self-talk.  And this will often be enough for us to get back on track with what we want to achieve.

Why is realistic optimism a valuable resilience skill?

One method of challenging our negative thoughts is by becoming realistically optimistic.  This is a skill that even the most pessimistic thinker, whose resolutions have so far failed, can develop. Realistic optimism helps you to be aware of the part distorted thoughts can play in your decision making.  These thoughts will increase your negative feelings and therefore reduce your positive feelings (optimism) having a direct effect on how successful you will be about achieving a goal or task.

Highly resilient people have a realistic, optimistic view of the world. They have hopes of success rather than fears of failure and see setbacks as being due to manageable circumstance rather than a personal flaw. Their optimism is reality based rather than based in fantasy and they will persist in seeking goals despite any obstacles or setbacks they encounter on the way.

So, instead of a resolution this year, you could learn to improve your approach and help develop your resilience, with the benefits being felt both at work and home.

How can I learn the resilience skill of realistic optimism?

Try following these 4 steps to develop a more positive attitude, remembering that learning any new skill will feel unnatural and uncomfortable initially. Also, that patience and practice is essential, and you should practice each step at least once a day for the first 3 weeks.

Step 1
Listen to your thoughts at various points during the day, notice negative thoughts and get into the habit of thinking with a positive attitude.

Step 2
Be aware of your self-talk – what does the voice inside your head sound like when something starts to go wrong?  If it is negative, it will be influencing your subconscious mind.  Becoming self-aware of the tone of your self-talk allows you to re-frame it from negative to positive.

Example: Instead of “Since it’s been so icy, there’s no way I’ll now get out for a run 3 times this week
Re-frame to “Since I’m not comfortable running when it’s icy, I’ll try that exercise dvd after work to keep me on track with exercising 3 times each week”

Step 3
Ask yourself better questions – this will improve the quality of both your self-talk and your attitude.

Example: Instead of “Why does no-one get in touch with me?
You could ask “I’d really like to get out more, why don’t I try getting in touch with a couple of people I haven’t seen for ages?

Step 4
Set yourself positive goals which can be used to create a positive attitude.  Positive psychology research has found that focusing on a positive goal is much more effective than focusing on a negative one.

Example: Instead of “I’m going to stop staying late at work
You could set the positive goal of “I’m going to spend more time with my family
Or instead of the perennial “I’m going to lose weight and have no treats until I reach my target weight
You could set the positive goal of “I really enjoy cooking and eating fresh food and am going to eat healthily for the next month


Our Developing Personal Resilience one-day course discusses and includes exercises to help develop your realistic optimism, as well as other resilience skills.

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