The Psychology of the Comeback
Everybody loves a comeback story—whether it’s in sports, the movies, or real life—where somebody overcomes adversity, beats the odds and snatches victory from defeat. It usually comes down to a defining moment when everything is on the line, and they quietly tell themselves “I got this”.
But the ability to bounce back from catastrophic situations is not typical for most people. Why do some people stay positive and persist, while others get overwhelmed and give up? There is a science to recovering from setbacks—it’s called resilience—the mental and emotional toughness to adapt to unexpected circumstances and prevail over misfortune.
It isn’t that resilient people don’t feel stress; they simply learn how to control it and redirect their energy. I remember when the economy crashed in 2008 and many of our clients were cancelling business because of drastically reduced budgets. It was a frightening time, but we realized if we dwelt on the fear, it would destroy our motivation just when we needed it most. Because we never lost hope, we not only survived the downturn, we came out of it stronger than before. You’ve probably had similar experiences. But how does one maintain a resilient attitude as a lifestyle?
Characteristics of Resilience
Several prominent medical institutions have studied this question and in reviewing their findings, here are the most common characteristics of resilient people:
- Taking Ownership — Adopting an internal locus of control, instead of blaming others or feeling helpless.
- Emotional Regulation —Learning how to stay calm during a crisis and not ruminate on the negative.
- Remaining Optimistic — Believing you can achieve a positive outcome in spite of obstacles and setbacks.
- Leaning on Others —Developing a strong network of support to help you process emotions and give you feedback.
Developing an Internal Locus of Control
The good news is these qualities can be developed with practice. Take the first characteristic of ownership, for instance. This mindset is acquired by paying attention to how you explain your unhappiness. Do you blame circumstances, other people, or fate? Is it someone else’s fault you are depressed, angry, or anxious? When we believe something outside of ourselves is responsible for our mental and emotional state, we are operating from an “external locus of control”. In other words, we believe something or someone else has control over us—we are effectively powerless.
But people who are resilient don’t complain, they strategize and make a plan; they don’t wait for things to happen, they make things happen. If they encounter obstacles, they figure out ways to navigate them. They take ownership of their attitude—their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. That’s what it means to have an internal locus of control
So try this simple strategy. When things don’t go your way, stop asking “why me?” and start asking, “what can I do about my situation to make it better?” Don’t blame others, instead take ownership, and tell yourself, “I got this”.