Building Resilience

Building Resilience – Harvard Business Review.  This is a great article my Martin Seligman who is called the “father of positive psychology”.  In it, he describes the phenomenon of “learned helplessness.”  In many studies, some people, when they experience a situation in which they had no control, became passive — even in a subsequent situation when they had control, they expected failure and didn’t even try.  They had learned to be helpless.  About at third of those studied did not become helpless.  He discovered that

people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. (“It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.”) That suggested how we might immunize people against learned helplessness, against depression and anxiety, and against giving up after failure: by teaching them to think like optimists.

Mr. Seligman describes the Penn Resiliency Program which teaches teachers and children to be more optimistic. The program reduces anxiety and stress in children.  The remainder of the article describes applying this theory to the training soldiers to be more resilient.  When asked how his approach related to soldiers’ problems, Mr. Seligman said

How human beings react to extreme adversity is normally distributed. On one end are the people who fall apart into PTSD, depression, and even suicide. In the middle are most people, who at first react with symptoms of depression and anxiety but within a month or so are, by physical and psychological measures, back where they were before the trauma. That is resilience. On the other end are people who show post-traumatic growth. They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, often exhibiting full-blown PTSD, but within a year they are better off than they were before the trauma. These are the people of whom Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

He said that the army could teach skills to stop the downward spiral that follows failure.  And then Mr. Seligman describes how his approach was applied in the army.  This is a terrific article and I have frequently incorporated the approach that setbacks are temporary, local and changeable.


  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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