Building Resilience? Here\’s a Bright Idea!

It’s my second summer back again on Attean Lake after a 45-year absence. My husband asks why I am paddling so quickly between the little islands scattered across the 30-mile lake.

I point at the thunder clouds hovering far to the South; his eyes follow my finger and he nods. Storms here can appear out of nowhere. I learned this during the three summers I spent on these waters during my teenage years.

Sudden squalls instantly turned a sun-drenched stillness into a dark and dangerous maelstrom, and the only way out was through – without flipping over.

Damn, I was resilient back then.

I’d scramble straight up a dry mountain stream on knees built like shock absorbers, jump into a canoe and paddle 10-plus miles a day—for weeks on end. I embraced those storms with a mixture of respect, determination, and a deep sense of certainty. It was certainty born of optimism.


It\’s the quiet force that enables us to put one foot in front of the other and move forward on our path, whether there’s a boulder blocking our way or a path shrouded in thick fog.


And within resiliency resides optimism. It\’s a skill that when we need it most can seem in short supply. I think optimism is frequently misunderstood. It’s not the belief that everything will be fine no matter what. Frankly, that’s a lack of seeing reality for what it is.

And it’s not relentless positive thinking and pep talks—don’t worry, be happy, change your thoughts, ignore any and all unpleasant feelings.

Instead, I like this definition:

Optimism is your ability and tendency to look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. Optimism gives you hope and enables you to see the future as a positive and inviting place.  ~ EQ Workbook, Hile Rutledge

Optimism helps us manage destructive thoughts about ourselves and the world. It enables us to disengage from feelings of helplessness, and lessen our self-blame.

The absence of optimism often appears as apathy—in ourselves and others. It may look like chronic worry, a lack of motivation, an inability to problem-solve, resignation or giving up too easily. 

But two things are for certain: dealing with a lack of optimism can be exhausting—and it’s treatable.  

A Favorite Technique to Boost Optimism

It’s called the ABCDE model and was pioneered by a founder of the cognitive-behavioral model, Aaron Beck. I use this myself, with clients, and during training sessions. 

ABCDE enables us to debate and dispute our negative beliefs to arrive at a more rational and productive conclusion. And the results are just a little bit magical.  

Go ahead, try it. It won\’t take long. Use it on that nagging thought that\’s poking holes in your optimism right now.

You will strengthen your resilience by engaging your optimism—realistically spotting an incoming storm while engaging the tools you need to navigate with it and through it.

P.S. Optimism and happiness obviously matter in both our personal and professional lives. But where we are at any given moment is a snapshot in time, not a statement of our character or future. Click here to learn more about our approach.

Sources: The EQ Edge, Stein & Book, EQ Workbook, Rutledge

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