Mawi AsgedomChicago, ILJune 16, 2010
We often think of resilience as a feeling, a drive that some of us have and others just do not. But science actually shows that certain cognitive patterns often determine our level of resilience. For decades, leading psychologists such as Dr. Martin Seligman have boiled down the elements of resilience into a simple framework anyone can learn and apply.
The most usable research distills resilience to three simple factors: time-frame, scope, and culpability. For example, let's say that Mary loses her job. If Mary thinks that the economy is never going to rebound (time-frame: permanent), that losing her job means that her family is doomed in every manner (scope: pervasive), and that it's all Mary's fault (culpability: complete self-blame), Mary is likely to give up. In contrast, if Mary believes that she will find another job (time-frame: temporary), that even with the loss of her job there are many positive things in the world (scope: limited), and that there are some circumstantial factors such as a global slowdown that contributed to Mary losing her job (culpability: circumstantial), then Mary is more likely to persevere and find another job.
There are endless applications for this framework, but the main lesson is clear. We persevere when we view our challenges as short-term, limited in scope, and when we do not over-blame ourselves, though responsibility should always be taken as appropriate.
Of course, there are many other factors, such as chemical imbalances, that contribute to resilience. And sometimes in life, we should abandon situations - for example, an abusive relationship. That said, the above framework is a great starting point for anyone who wants to go beyond platitudes to the science of perseverance.