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How About a New Year Filled with Resilience?

Posted January 24, 2018

As you have probably heard — or experienced first-hand — the long-term success rate of New Year’s resolutions is pretty slim. Statistics for 2017 reveal that 80% of resolutions set by people in January fail by February. So rather than even spend time on the subject, at all, I’m going to pivot to another subject that doesn’t, in my opinion, get the attention it actually deserves: resilience.

The definition of the word, as set forth by the American Psychological Association, is “adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” In more common usage, resilience is often used describe someone who bounces back, e.g., from the flu, a minor car crash, or the break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Success Despite Stressful Childhoods

In an article I saved from the Review Section of the November 11-12, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal, University of Virginia clinical psychologist Meg Jay tackles the subject in an article called The Secrets of Resilience, in which she poses the question, “What does it take to conquer life’s adversities?”

Significant studies over the past 30 years suggest that surprising numbers of people who faced chronic stress during childhood, later succeeded anyway. A short list of successful men and women who have risen to great heights after experiencing chronically stressful childhoods include Oprah Winfrey, who was sexually abused by family members in childhood; Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, who grew up in public housing and was left alone most of the time; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who suffered from diabetes from the age of 8 and who lost her father when she was 9; and basketball superhero, LeBron James, whose single mother gave birth to him when she was 16 and struggled to keep a roof over his head throughout his formative years.

Attributes Associated with Success

How does this happen when so many “at-risk” children who suffer during childhood end up with dismal lives through no fault of their own? The Kauai Longitudinal Study, begun in 1955, continues to track the lives of approximately 700 individuals in an attempt to shed light on the phenomenon of resilience. When participants were asked how they understood their own success in spite of the hardship they had experienced as children, certain commonalities emerged. A majority described themselves as follows: 1) determined; 2) an active problem-solver; 3) a fighter; 4) someone who sought out help from friends, teachers, neighbors and relatives who cared about them; and 5) someone who, as an adult, sought out a supportive partner with whom to build a loving family.

Read About Adversity and Resilience

In a time of bad news, sad news, and stories of children being over-protected by their over-indulgent parents from ever having a bad day or receiving a bad grade, character matters. And good things can happen in bad places. For more on the subject, check out Dr. Jay’s new book, Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience.

Maybe just forget the New Year’s resolutions this year, and read a book that will cause you to think new things. Happy New Year!

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