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The UnCollege Blog

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off and...

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Success is defined in a lot of ways, but one subject seems to be at the heart of most discussions about how to obtain it – failure.

That’s right, a lot of the folks who are the smartest, richest, most successful, or just those people who have attained something you admire, will inevitably say it wasn’t the number of wins they notched, it was how they handled the losses…how they got back on track and learned from mistakes. This is nothing new, but it is as important as ever.

Any psychologist will tell you that what’s even more important than success on the field, in the classroom or on Wall Street, is your happiness and sense of self depends, which on resilience. But resilience can be very tricky to grow in your early years.

The good news is that the American Psychological Association and psychologists who work on this issue say that while some of us may have the genes or the upbringing that makes this all easier, it is something young people can develop, even as they face a daunting pile of challenges.

“Often they are expected to make what they feel are adult and life-long, major decisions,” says Elaine Ducharme, a psychologist in Glastonbury, CT. “But we now know that brain development is not complete until early to mid-twenties. So, these adult decisions become even more difficult.”

How?

So, there you are. Lots of dips and dives – in real life and in your head – and not the history or brain power to navigate it. So, how do you bounce back?     

Experts say building resilience takes experience with failure (taking on challenges), and a conscious, persistent effort. It is best to think of resilience as being “like a muscle that can be strengthened over time with regular use”, says Kip Matthews, a psychologist in Watkinsvile, Ga.

“Being proactive and taking initiative, empowers you to make small steps towards determining next steps,” says Mary Karapetian Alvord, whose written a book on the topic. “This might mean generating and evaluating options before trying one or two. Take the first step and think ‘I can’ instead of focusing on ‘I can’t’. That helps start a list of possibilities.” 

 So, it’s not just “dusting yourself off and starting over,” it’s a process, she says, where you consider your options when a challenge arises, assume you can succeed and then re-adjust if you don’t.

 “Sometimes the word ‘resilience’ suggests taking the crap that life dishes out and not being an active participant, but it actually involves being active, setting goals and making plans for your life,” says Todd Finnerty a psychologist in Columbus, Ohio.

APA notes in its, road to resilience that young adults shouldn’t worry too much about resilience, suggesting they do part of the work by accepting change and appreciating themselves and examining their successes. Here are other tips in Psychology Today, which has compiled a number of articles devoted to the topic.

And Why?

 So, why be concerned about resilience at all?

 Psychologist Sandra Klar from Scottsdale, AZ, says being able to “cope with life challenges and situational demands at increasing levels of difficulty allows an individual to reach his or her potential but also to have a happy life.”

 It’s hard to succeed without being able to handle adversity, but it’s also hard to be satisfied if you can’t take on challenges, or just even assume you can’t. Klar says not developing these skills can lead us astray, including to use of alcohol or drugs.

“Being able to bounce back from letdowns in all aspects of our lives is critical to how we view ourselves,” says Ducharme. “We see ourselves as someone who gets knocked down and stays there, or someone who uses that experience to re-group and move on.”

Read next: How do you define a successful career?

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