As we step into 2014 many people start with resolutions about the changes they will make in their lives, and about being more motivated, more positive, more more more… in the pursuit of living a happy, flourishing and prosperous work and personal life.
Let’s start with a scientific fact – humans are aspirational goal seeking beings. This is not just a line of thinking from a self-help book (although it is certainly a line of thinking in most if not all self-help books), goal theory has a long history of scientific research that includes areas of mindset, expectancy theory, self-determination theory, explanatory style theory, self-esteem and self-efficacy and locus of control theories, just to name a few.
So if you’re not a believer in pursuing intentional aspirational goals, the scientific reality is you are not doing yourself any favours…
OK., so goals are important, however, the reality is, along the way of trying to achieve your intentional aspirational goals… stuff happens! And it’s not always going to be pleasant, positive, enjoyable, inspirational or aligned with you achieving your goals.
The question is how do you handle the bumps of life? BE POSITIVE… Right?
Well yes and no.
Aristotle suggested around 2,300 years ago that finding the ‘mean’ in living a good life, a life of good character is not about extremes… it’s finding a balanced approach. As the title of this post states – sometimes the glass is half empty and not half full and it’s naturally human and ok to experience emotions of sadness, stress, anger, frustration etc. Life is not and ought not always be ‘positive’.
In fact there’s plenty of scientific evidence that validates the benefits of experience stress in our lives to help us become more resilient and to at times, even grow from traumatic moments. The reality is, and while I’m certainly not advocating seeking stressful or traumatic experiences (that would be really weird), what I am saying is that suffering and grief can and needs to coexist with enlightenment and growth.
There are four ways that people react to especially traumatic events in their lives. One is to succumb to the negative emotions to the point where it significantly and negatively impacts the way they live and relate to themselves and to others. Another way is while not totally succumbing to the emotions of the trauma, they are able to ‘survive’ but with some impairment to the way they live and relate to themselves and to others.
Another way that receives a lot of press and attention is resilience. This is the response to the traumatic event where they are able to experience the negative emotions, accept them for what they are, and return to living their life and relating to themselves and to others in the same way as they did prior to the traumatic event. This is often referred to as ‘bouncing back’.
There is however a fourth way that some people are able to react to traumatic events. And that is to thrive. There’s significant scientific research that has identified this ‘Post Traumatic Growth’ that some people experience, however, to say that we all need to bounce forward and not just bounce back, in my own experience, (and I have science on my side here too), to bring some balance back into the discussion, bouncing back is certainly a better option than succumbing or surviving with impairment… I think bouncing forward (to gain some enlightenment or growth) from a traumatic experience oughtn’t be an aim, but a recognition of something that is possible should you want to explore it.
I fear the bounce forward movement is a hyped up version of resilience that, unless introduced with a balanced and realistic approach, will over time just create unrealistic expectations for most people in how they ought to be able to handle traumatic events in their life.