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How to Build Healthy Optimism and Lasting Resilience - Part Two

Copyright (c) 2006-2021

NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part series. This is: Part 2 of Depression Proof Yourself---and Your Kids! Read Part 1 online at: http://thePhantomWriters.com/free_content/d/e/depression1.shtml


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We face more adversity every day. So do our kids.

But some of us thrive, while others drop into dperession, or worse.

What accounts for that difference?

Adversity, by itself, does not cause depression. Many of us make adversity worse by taking a pessimistic stance toward it. We dwell on the worst aspects of what happens to us.

* We think it is PERMANENT ("This is going to last forever!").

* We think it is PERVASIVE ("It is going to ruin my whole life!").

* We think it is PERSONAL ("It's all my fault!").


As well as contributing to an overwhelming sense of helplessness ("I can't do anything about this"), such pessimism can lead to low moods, low achievement, apathy, and poor health. Left unchecked, helplessness can spiral down into hopelessness ("Why do anything about anything?). Hopelessness is the prime cause of suicide.

Pessimism is 50% genetic and 50% learned. We cannot do much about our gentics, but we can do a lot with the 50% we learned. So learning how to be more optimistic can make a huge difference in our lives—and in our kids lives.

Dr. Martin Seligman says we can "immunize" ourselves and our kids against depression. The key to depression-proof yourself and your kids, he says, is twofold:

1) develop "masterful action" (on our own, and in our youngsters), and

2) develop a flexible, optimistic "explanatory style."

Doing both can result in emotional mastery and an an upward spirtal of healthy optimism, and increasing resilence.


Masterful Action

Masterful action--the habit of persisting and overcoming challenges--begins in the crib and can be reinforced throughout childhood. When, for example, toddlers struggle try to climb up on a couch, let them figure out their own way to do so.

Don't interfere, except for safety.

"For your child to experience mastery," says Seligman, "it is necessary for him to fail, to feel bad, and to try again repeatedly until success occurs."


My father used to tell me, "If you can't do something right, do not do it!" Then he'd snatch away my tools and finish my project for me. I felt stupid and inept.

As well, when I couldn't finish a project on the solar system on time (because I feared I wouldn't "do it right"), my mother made the paper machÈ planets for me.

Both thought they were helping. But they weren't; not in the long-term.

Fifty years later, I still feel inept when it comes to making or fixing things. As well, I failed to develop the sense of mastery that would have come from faling, doing it again, learning, and succeeding.


Seligman says kids need to feel bad, learn from mistakes, and try again until they achieve mastery many times before they become teenagers. If they do not learn to accept diffuciulties and rise above bad feelings when they are young, they become prime candidates for depression in their are teens.

"Failure and feeling bad," Seligman says, "are necessary building blocks for ultimate success and feeling good."

True self-esteem—in kids and ourselves—comes from feeling good about doing well at things that matter s. It also comes from developing a realistically optimistic way of explaining what happens to us.


Explanatory Style

Explanatory Style is a great predictor of failure or success in life. It predicts who will become stressed, anxious or depressed when faced with adversity, and who will sail smoothly through troubled waters to the rewards on the other side.

Kids pick up their explanatory style from their primary care giver, ususally mom. So, changing how you explain things to yourself can help you and your kids take a more realistically optimistic approach towards what happens.

Realistic optimists rarely suffer from emotional disorders such as depression.

They see adversity as TEMPORARY ("This won't last").

They see it as SPECIFIC ("Just part of my life is affected").

They see it as external ("It's not all my fault).

As a result, they are more resilient than pessimists.

They realize they have control over adversity and its outcomes—if only their responses. They limit adversity's reach into their lives. Moreover, they know that the adversity will not endure forever.

Dr. Paul Stoltz, author of Adversity Quotient has shown ownership—being accountable for the results you want, regardless of what happens, or who is at fault—helps you persevere, and create what matters. Those who score high on ownership persist where others quit. They succeed where others fail.


Changing Your Explanatory Style

Changing your response to what happens can help your children change theirs.

A first step is listen to your own self-talk—the stream of thoughts, beliefs, stories, judgments, and conclusions that runs through your mind.

We usually don't know we do it, or that it affects our moods and behaviors, but we constantly comment to ourselves on our lives, our actions, other people and their actions. We pass judgment on what happens to us, and why. Too often, we indulge in self-
defeating, "shoulda, coulda, and woulda" thinking.

Unfortunately, this constant nattering affects our moods and emotions. "Emote," means, "to move". Our emotions give rise to our actions, and our results.

Unnoticed, self-talk and the emotions it generates, can move us in ways we don't want to move. Much self-created grief is, for example, caused by "shoulding" on ourselves, others, and the world.

"I should have know better." "It should have happened like this." "I should be smarter (or prettier, or thinner, or richer, etc...)

But, simply changing "I should have..." to "Next time I will...", for example, can have an amazing effect on both your emotions and behaviors.


Another way to change explanatory style is note the differences between a pessimistic style and a realistically optimistic one. Practice using the optimistic style to explain what happens. I am sure you will discover that both your moods and the results you create improve.


Together with masterful action (learning to create what matters most—with whatever life gives you), developing a more optimistic way of explaining what happens will help you and your kids develop optimism,resilience, and persistence in the face of adversity.

It will help you regain that spark of vitality. It will give you energy to do what matters. It will make life worth living again.

Masterful action and explanatory style are true basics. They are critical life skills we and our kids need to thrive in challenging times. The time to start working on them is now.


* For more information about depression, it's treatment and prevention see: The Optimistic Child (HarperPerennial, 1995) by Martin Seligman; and Emotional Mastery: Manage Your Moods and Create What Matters Most—With Whatever Life Gives You (eBook), by Bruce Elkin.


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Bruce Elkin is a writer, coach, and consultant who helps individuals and organizations create what matters most—in spite of problems, circumstances, and adversity. His ebook Emotional Mastery: Manage Your Moods and Create What Matters Most—With Whatever Life Gives You is available on his website at: http://www.BruceElkin.com.

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