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5 Habits That All Emotionally Intelligent People Have In Common

What does it really mean to be emotionally intelligent? Many of us can say we’re in touch with our emotions but how does this translate into a relatable and social intelligence towards ourselves and other people?

The idea is that emotional intelligence is not only recognising and identifying with our own emotions, but also having the capacity to handle other people’s feelings in an empathetic and astute way. This is a crucial way to build long, lasting relationships with those around us while managing our own emotions in a healthy manner.

With this in mind, here are 5 habits that are identifiable with an emotionally intelligent person.

1. They Know Asking For Help Is A Strength Not A Weakness

Emotional intelligence is essentially down to a sense of self-confidence. While many people feel asking for help is a sign of weakness, it’s really just a mindset of insecurity and potential judgement of others.

Someone who possess emotional intelligence knows that they have an understanding of their own strengths and limitations. They understand that while having self-confidence, they realise that they don’t necessarily know everything there is to know and aren’t afraid to admit this. Sourcing information to bridge the information gap and collaborating with others is seen as a strength and a chance to grow as a person rather than a weakness.

2. They Are Able To Deal With Communication Problems In A Calm Way

When we are having communication problems with people—whether loved ones, colleagues or even strangers—it can be frustrating, leading to lashing out or losing our cool. Being able to stay calm and patient when facing communication challenges is a sure sign of emotional intelligence.

The ability to read social cues is key. Calmly being able to redirect or pivot the approach of their message when it clearly isn’t getting across is showing empathy towards the needs of their audience. They care, not only about the message they’re trying to convey, but about other people having a clear understanding.

embrace_failure

 

3. They Are Able To Discuss Conflict Clearly And Objectively

Arguments can bring out the worst in people and bring up difficult emotions. It can cause feelings of frustration, feeling like you’re not being understood and goes against our need to be accepted and always right.

With emotional intelligence comes the need to be understood without being patronising, condescending or angry. It’s the ability to explain a conflict in a clear and objective way. Emotionally intelligent people have self-awareness of their own emotions, they are able to self-manage these emotions, be empathetic towards where other people are coming from in their argument, and be good at handling the others’ emotions too.

4. They Are Able To Deal With Negative Feedback In A Positive Way

While getting negative feedback can bring out our insecurities, emotionally intelligent people are able to deal with it self-confidently without getting defensive.

Focusing on the facts and keeping a level head allows their emotions to stay in check meaning they are more likely to see criticism as growth rather than damage to their self-worth. This isn’t to say emotionally intelligent people don’t experience negative emotions such as frustration when hearing criticism, but they are able to process them quickly and climb out of their own perspective to meet someone else’s.

5. They Are Able To Embrace Failure

Self-confidence is key when it comes to dealing with setbacks. The importance of self-confidence is that it will keep you afloat when life throws you into the deep-end and emotionally intelligent people know this.

Having this self-confidence is how emotionally intelligent people deal with failures. They realise that assessing troubling situations in an objective way without harsh self-judgement and lashing out is paramount to picking themselves up, gaining strength, taking on board what they’ve learnt from the situation and moving on.

Conclusion

Learning more about our emotions and those of others can propel us far in life. Being more stable in our thoughts and perspectives can get us through hard situations and build more lasting relationships with others and ourselves.

Jenny Marchal      Freelance Writer
 
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9 Habits That Can Keep You From Achieving Your Dreams

As a psychotherapist, I get the honor of helping people tackle their goals. Some clients are really inspired to change their lives and just want a little direction getting there. Others feel a bit more hopeless and discouraged about creating positive change. Either way, my job is to help them take the steps they need to make their lives better.

Over the years, I’ve learned that no matter what kind of goal someone is trying to reach—health, financial, parenting, relationship, or career—there are some common traps that can keep them from living their dreams.

Here are nine of the most common traps that could prevent you from reaching your goals—and the strategies that will help you avoid them:

1. Putting your goals off until “someday.”

Since “someday” never appears on the calendar, you’ll probably never accomplish your goals if you keep pushing them off. The best of intentions won’t do you any good without a clear plan.

Solution: If a goal is important to you, create a timeline. Even if you can’t start working on it today, at least tell yourself when you can tackle it. Whether you want to apply for a promotion once your child starts school or you plan to return to college when you turn 40, stop using the word someday.

2. Waiting to take action until you feel “ready.”

If you wait until you feel ready to tackle something tough, you might be waiting a long time. It’s unlikely that you’re going to gain a sudden burst of inspiration out of the blue.

Solution: Change your behavior first. Sometimes, the emotions change later. Take action and you may gain the ambition you need to keep going.

3. Not anticipating the tough times.

Whether you want to get out of debt, or you’re hoping to lose weight, change isn’t easy. You’ll encounter some days that are harder than others and it’s important to accept that there will be a rough road ahead.

Solution: Think about potential pitfalls that you might face and develop a plan for dealing with those times when you might be tempted to give up. When you have a plan, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to keep going.

4. Viewing mistakes as failure.

Progress rarely comes in a straight line. But sometimes people think one step back means they’ve gone all the way back to square one, which causes them to give up.

Solution: Recognize that you’re going to mess up sometimes. But rather than declare yourself a failure, use your energy to create a plan to get back on track.

waiting
Don’t Wait to take action until you ‘feel’ ready.

5. Not making your goal a priority.

It’s easy to say you want to make change but actually doing the work is much different. You have to decide what kind of priority you’re going to give your goal. Otherwise, your intention will get lost among all your other daily activities.

Solution: Identify one step you’re going to take every day and put it in your calendar. You’re more likely to go to the gym, apply for a job, or spend an hour researching a new business idea if you establish a time to do it.

6. Underestimating how hard it will be.

Tackling a new goal is easy but sticking to it is hard. Assuming “This won’t be a problem at all” can leave you unprepared for the reality of the situation.

Solution: Don’t confuse overconfidence with mental strength. Rather than tell yourself it’s going to easy, remind yourself that you’re going to need to work hard to achieve your goals, despite whatever skills and talents you already possess.

7. Giving up before you see results.

Impatience is the enemy of change. And many people struggle to wait for the time it takes to reach a goal.

Solution: Just because you can’t see results doesn’t mean your efforts are wasted. You need to stick to goals longer than you might think before you experience lasting change.

8. Sabotaging yourself just before the finish line.

The fear of success can be a real problem. And if you’re not careful, you might sabotage yourself before you reach your goal. Perhaps you don’t believe you’re worthy of success or maybe you are afraid someone is going to take it away from you.

Solution: Think about past goals you’ve struggled to reach or those you’ve failed to attain. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and be on the lookout for warning signs that you might be throwing in the towel.

9. Setting your sights too high.

If you’re really excited about changing your life, you might be tempted to set the bar really high. If you take on too much too fast, however, you’ll set yourself up for failure.

Solution: Focusing too much on a big goal can be overwhelming. Establish short-term objectives and celebrate each milestone along the way.

Aug 08, 2016         Amy Morin        @AmyMorinLCSW       AmyMorinLCSW.com
Interested in learning how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength?
Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
Training your brain for happiness and success
source:    AmyMorinLCSW.com     www.inc.com


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The 3 Most Common Causes of Insecurity and How to Beat Them

15 tools to help you bounce back when you’re feeling down about yourself.

Posted Dec 06, 2015   Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.     The Mindful Self-Express

Do you find yourself feeling filled with self-doubt and short on confidence? Despite your accomplishments, do you feel like a fraud destined to be exposed? Do you feel that you don’t deserve lasting love and that partners will inevitably leave you? Do you stay at home, afraid to venture out and meet new people because you don’t feel you have enough to offer? Do you feel overweight, boring, stupid, guilty, or ugly?

Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some of us feel insecure most of the time. The kind of childhood you had, past traumas, recent experiences of failure or rejection, loneliness, social anxiety, negative beliefs about yourself, perfectionism, or having a critical parent or partner can all contribute to insecurity. Following are the 3 most common forms—and how to begin to cope with them.

Type 1: Insecurity Based on Recent Failure or Rejection

Recent events in our lives can greatly affect both our mood and the way we feel about ourselves. Research on happiness suggests that up to 40% of our “happiness quotient” is based on recent life events. The biggest negative contributor to happiness is the ending of a relationship, followed by the death of a spouse, job loss, and negative health events. Since unhappiness also influences your self-esteem, failure and rejection can deliver a double whammy to your confidence. In his book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, Psychology Today blogger Guy Winch states that rejection inevitably leads us to see both ourselves and other people more negatively, at least for a time. And those of us who have lower self-esteem to begin with are more reactive to failure. It’s as if an experience like losing your job grabs old negative beliefs about your self-worth and activates them. It may help to understand that failure is a nearly ubiquitous experience: Before becoming president, Abraham Lincoln lost his job, was defeated for nomination to Congress, and failed at least twice in Senate bids. Persevering despite setbacks can lead to eventual successes—which raise your self-esteem.

Below are some tools you can use to overcome failure- or rejection-based insecurity:

  1. Give yourself time to heal and adapt to the new normal.
  2. Get out and engage with life, following your interests and curiosity.
  3. Reach out to friends and family for distraction and comfort.
  4. Get feedback from people you trust.
  5. Persevere and keep moving towards your goals.
  6. Be willing to try a different strategy if necessary.

Type 2: Lack of Confidence Because of Social Anxiety

Many of us experience a lack of confidence in social situations like parties, family gatherings, interviews, and dates. The fear of being evaluated by others—and found to be lacking—can lead you to feel anxious and self-conscious. As a result, you may avoid social situations, experience anxiety when you anticipate social events, or feel self-conscious and uncomfortable during them. Past experience can feed your sense of not belonging, not feeling important or interesting, or just not being good enough. Many of my clients describe how being bullied or excluded from a group of friends in middle school or high school continues to negatively affect their confidence as adults. If you grew up with critical parents, or parents who pressured you to be popular and successful, you may also be over-sensitized to how others perceive you. This type of insecurity is generally based on distorted beliefs about your self-worth—and about the extent to which other people are evaluating you. Most of the time, people are more focused on how they are coming across than on judging others. Those who do judge and exclude are often covering up insecurities of their own and so their opinions may be less than accurate; they may value superficial attributes instead of character and integrity.

girl-looking-in-the-mirror

Below are some tools to combat insecurity in social situations:

  1. Talk back to your inner critic. Remind yourself of all the reasons that you can be interesting and fun or would be a good friend or partner.
  2. Prepare in advance. Think of some things you can talk about—current events, movies you’ve seen, hobbies, your job, or your family.
  3. Avoiding social situation just makes things worse. So go to a party or on a date even if you’re nervous. Your anxiety should decrease once you get engaged with others—if not the first or second time, then once you get used to showing up.
  4. Set yourself a limited, realistic goal like talking to two new people or finding out more about one person’s work and hobbies.
  5. Deliberately focus on others to combat intense self-focus. Put on your observer hat and notice what other people seem to be feeling and doing. Do you notice any similarities or skills you can learn from them?

Type 3: Insecurity Driven by Perfectionism

Some of us have very high standards for everything we do. You may want the highest grades, the best job, the perfect figure, the most beautifully decorated apartment or house, neat and polite kids, or the ideal partner. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always turn out exactly the way we want, even if we work extra hard. There is a piece of the outcome that is at least to some degree out of our control. Bosses may be critical, jobs may be scarce, partners may resist commitment, or you may have genes that make it difficult to be skinny. If you are constantly disappointed and blaming yourself for being anything less than perfect, you will start to feel insecure and unworthy. While trying your best and working hard can give you an advantage, other aspects of perfectionism that are unhealthy. Beating up on yourself and constantly worrying about not being good enough can lead to depression and anxiety, eating disorders, or chronic fatigue.

Below are some ways to combat perfectionism:

  1. Try to evaluate yourself based on how much effort you put in, which is controllable, rather than on the outcome, which is dependent on external factors.
  2. Think about how much difference it would actually make if your work were 10 percent better. Would the time and energy spent in checking and re-checking or answering every email really be worth it?
  3. Perfectionism is often based on all- or nothing thinking, so try to find the grey areas. Is there a more compassionate or understanding way to view a situation? Are you taking your circumstances into account when you evaluate yourself? Is there something you learned or achieved even if the end result wasn’t perfect?
  4. Perfectionists often have conditional self-esteem: They like themselves when they are on top and dislike themselves when things don’t go their way. Can you learn to like yourself even when you are not doing well? Focus on inner qualities like your character, sincerity, or good values, rather than just on what grades you get, how much you get paid, or how many people like you.

Resources
Winch, Guy  Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014)
Greenberg M.  (2015) Six Mental Health Habits That Will Wear You Down 

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and and former Professor of Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. She is an expert on positive psychology, mindfulness, managing stress, and improving relationships . She provides workshops, speaking engagements and psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet. She is  the author of The Stress-Proof Brain (due out in January 2017 from New Harbinger).


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15 Things Mentally Strong People Do

It’s easy to look at successful people and think they have it all figured out. They may seem like the A+ students of life. But what can we learn from them?

Successful people often have certain characteristics in common — things like how they don’t focus on their competition, or they surround themselves with positive people. Being successful is kind of like a system; once you know the program you can put it into practice and live to your fullest potential. We all want to be happy and healthy, but for many of us that means reaching a certain level of success as well.

What is success to you?

What makes you happy?

If you’re working hard to make your dreams come true but you feel like you aren’t where you want to be, it could be time to regroup. Success is a journey, and the experience of getting to your goal is the real reward.

Several years ago I left a successful corporate job to follow my heart and become a writer. Starting a business from scratch with nothing more than a strong willed desire meant I had to detach from emotional habits and limiting beliefs. I needed to give myself a mental makeover and become mentally strong in order to become successful in my new career choice. And four years later, after putting my own success steps into action, my business is booming.

mind

The pivotal moment for me was learning to see my “failures” as growth. The real success stories are those who rise when they fall. You can’t have success without failure and letting the failures guide you instead of take your down or give up will help you become tremendously successful.

To give your dreams a boost of confidence, I created a list of the 15 things mentally strong people do. Perhaps it can help you along your own path.

1. They know when to move on.
2. They use their fear to motivate action.
3. The know failure is part of success.
4. They train their brains to see the good in everything.
5. They’re tenacious with their goals.
6. They start before they’re ready or confident.
7. They don’t take anything personally.
8. They believe in themselves.
9. They don’t try to fit in.
10. They allow themselves to be a beginner.
11. They don’t do things they don’t want to do.
12. They celebrate the success and happiness of others.
13. They don’t need a reason to help people.
14. They are unapologetic about their unique selves.
15. They accept what they can’t change.


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12 Tips That Can Rebuild Your Life And Make It Amazing

“Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments; but let us have patience and we soon shall see them in their proper figures.” ~ Joseph Addison

What if one day you woke up and decided that you were tired of feeling tired and that you had enough of everything? Enough of stress and anxiety, enough of anger and resentment, enough of struggle, lack, pain and poverty, enough of tears, heartbreaks, self destructive thoughts, behaviors and relationships and enough of all that is negative and toxic? What if you decided that you wanted to change yourself and your life but didn’t know where exactly to start, what then?

There are many things you can do to begin rebuilding your life and make it ridiculously amazing and today I will share with you 12 things that are meant to help you do just that. Are you ready? Let’s begin:

1. Make A Commitment To Yourself

I (name),
Make a commitment to myself,
To spend so much time improving myself and my life that I have no time for worry, judgement, criticism, whining and complaining;
To forgive, release and let go of my attachment to any past struggles and allow every challenge life sends my way to make me better not bitter.
Starting now, I make a commitment to let go of what’s behind me and start appreciating what’s in front of me;
To let go of all the pointless drama, all the toxic relationships, thoughts and behaviors that are present in my life and to constantly shift my focus from the bad on to the good;
To make room in my heart for love, happiness, peace and tranquility and to create my life from a place of infinite choices and possibilities – the present moment, and no longer from a place of limitations – the past.
I commit to staying true to myself at all times and to never betray myself just so I can please other people.
I commit myself to give up on toxic thought, behaviors and relationships but never on myself and my dreams.
Starting now and starting today, I will begin rebuilding my life and to make it ridiculously amazing.
Sincerely,
(name)

Once you truly commit to rebuilding your life and making it ridiculously amazing, nothing and no one will be able to stand in your way.

2. Forgive, Release And Let Go Of Past Hurts And Resentments

Fill your heart with love. Forgive, release and let go. Not necessary because those who mistreated you deserve it, but because you do. Let forgiveness liberate you from your past. Allow it to take away all the resentment you kept in heart for all this time and allow yourself to fill in that empty space with love, inner peace and compassion.

If others mistreated you in the past it doesn’t mean you have to continue their work. Look how beautiful Mark Twain talks about this: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Release and let go of all the negativity from your life. Start small and trust that as you work on letting go of all the extra baggage that is weighting you down, you will begin to feel lighter and you will gain a lot more clarity over your life. You will feel happier and more at peace with yourself and the world around you.

3. Embrace With Grace All That You Face

Shift your focus from the bad on to the good, from the pain on to the gain, from resentment on to the forgiveness, gratitude and appreciation. Learn to embrace with grace all that you face.

Appreciate everything life sends your way, whether good or bad and know that “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie

4. Visualize Your Achievements And Create Your Destiny

Ask yourself the same question I asked myself a few years ago when I decided to let go of my attachment to my past and begin rebuild my whole life: “If there were no limits to what I can do, be and have, how would my life look like?”

Let your imagination run wild. Dare to dream big. Don’t settle for less than you are worth.

The richer your imagination, the more beautiful your life will be.

“The power of imagination is incredible. Often we see athletes achieving unbelievable results and wonder how they did it. One of the tools they use is visualization or mental imagery… they made the choice to create their destinies and visualized their achievements before they ultimately succeeded.” ~ George Kohlrieser

See in your mind’s eye the life you would love to live, the person you would love to become and the relationships you would want to have. Live your life from the end and act as if all of the things you need and desire are already present in your life. Feel the feelings that come from having all those wonderful things happen to you and allow those feelings to be with you at all times.

5. Work Hard, Dream Big.

Act upon your heart’s desire. Do the things you need to do in order to get where you want to get. Read the books you need to read, contact the people you need to contact, build the skills you need to build.

Find a mentor. Dare to ask questions. Do whatever it takes to move yourself closer to making your dreams come true.

Trust that with every step you take, your life situation will improve and you will become even more happier than you already are.

6. Take One Step At A Time

Because of the many years of past conditioning and the intense training you have in holding on to toxic thoughts, behaviors and unhealthy relationships, giving up on all that is toxic in your life won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. Chances are that you won’t see major improvements in your life immediately, and that’s okay. Be patient and gentle with yourself while working on rebuilding your life and remember to enjoy the journey.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” ~ Greg

Take one step at a time and keep in mind that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

change

7. Develop A Deep Trust In Life

You have to have faith. You have to have trust… Trust in yourself, trust in the people you interact with and trust in life.

Put your fears aside. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Develop a deep trust in the wisdom of life. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20

8. Give Yourself Permission To “Fail”

Give yourself permission to “fail” and make “mistakes”.

Trust me when I tell you that in every “mistake” there is a lesson to learn, lesson that will be very beneficial to you as you continue walking on your life’s chosen path.

“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.” ~ Richard Bach

9. Be Good To Yourself

Love yourself and be good to yourself because if you do, the world around you will start mirroring your behavior. Take good care of your mind, body, heart and soul. Exercise, drink plenty of water, eat healthy and delicious food.

Nurture good thoughts. Act in compassionate and loving ways, towards yourself and the world around you. Spend time alone, spending at least 5 to 10 minutes per day in silence would make you help make you feel refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed.

Go outside. Spend some time in nature. Look at the plants, the sky, the stars, the moon and the trees. Celebrate the miracle of life.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

10. Give Up Living Your Life To Other People’s Expectations

Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need….and eventually they forget about themselves.

Never get your sense of worth from outside yourself. Your worth comes from inside yourself and not from forces outside yourself – people, events, material possessions. Don’t ever let other people tell you how much you’re worth, decide for yourself. It’s called self worth not others worth.

You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.

11. Discipline Your Mind To Stay Present In The Now

Learn to be present and engaged in the present moment. Be happy with what you have, what you know and who you are right now. Don’t allow your mind to trick you into thinking that you won’t be happy until you get where you want to get.

Appreciate what’s in front of you. If you learn how to be present and engaged in the NOW, you will live a very happy and content life and no matter how many challenges life will send your way, you will become a better not bitter person.

“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.” ~ Eckhart Tolle,

12. Surround Yourself With Loving And Supportive People

Surround yourself with positive, cheerful, supportive and loving people. People who can lift you up when you are feeling down; people who will turn on the light for you when you are in the dark; people who can see you for what you truly are and who you can truly become. Take the advice of Mark Twain and “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

You need positive and loving friends who will support you in your new way of life…

Commit yourself to making the best of everything life sends your way. Be soft and flexible. Go with the flow of life and no longer against it.

Enjoy the ride and no matter what happens to you and no matter how many challenges and difficult people life might send your way, know that they are all there to help you grow and evolve into the beautiful being you so much want and deserve to be.

You only have one life to live. Make it a memorable one.

Give up on all the toxicity present in your life but never on yourself and your dreams, ok?

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” ~ Don Williams Jr.

Luminita D. Saviuc


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Weathering the Storm

Failure destroys some people. Others rise from the ashes, only to come back stronger. A guide to surviving tough times.

By Bruce Grierson,       published on May 1, 2009       last reviewed on December 18, 2014

In September of 2008, Philip Schultz, a humble and plainspoken fellow, crossed the hardwood floor and slid in behind a temporary lectern in the Center for Well-Being at The Ross School in East Hampton. It was commencement day for the eighth-grade class. Some students recognized Schultz, who was giving the address, as the father of eighth-grader Eli. He was a local poet.

Schultz told the students he hadn’t learned to read until he was 11. By then, he’d been held back a grade and was a permanent member of what the other kids called the “dummy class.” Teachers just didn’t know what to do with a kid like Phil Schultz—who, it turned out, was dyslexic. When a teacher asked him what he wanted to do with his life and Schultz said he wanted to be a writer, the teacher laughed. “I wasn’t insulted,” Schultz recalls. “I understood it was a funny thing to hear from someone who hated to read and couldn’t write a simple English sentence.”

Schultz’ punishment for being a dummy was exile to shameful outsiderdom within a class moving forward. And that’s exactly the kind of experience from which writers are made. Within “the loneliness of having so little expected of me, and the pain of being overlooked and forgotten,” as he put it to the assembly, was time for careful attention to his interior life. All a writer really needs are the self-knowledge to decipher his feelings, the judgment to recognize the original ones, and the courage to make them public. It’s a job open to anybody—even dyslexics. And so Schultz steamed ahead toward the one career for which others thought he was the most ill-suited—poetry.

Cut to 2007. A working poet now, Schultz realized that almost everything he wrote was about failure. Failure was his clay. He was writing about his dad—a drunkard who’d been a lousy parent and a worse provider—but he was also tapping the part of himself that felt like a failure. Schultz had aimed to be a novelist, but couldn’t pull it off. Alongside the very personal poems about his father, a long poem took shape about a character who walked other, more successful, people’s dogs.

The voltage that shot through the plainspoken language was unlike anything Schultz had produced. He called the collection, simply, Failure. On its cover: a bent nail in a board. Last year, it won the Pulitzer Prize.

These days, failure—what Schultz calls “the great American taboo”—has bubbled to the surface just about everywhere. Few people can escape the feeling they’re giving up ground. The global financial crisis has produced the sort of circumstances playwright Arthur Miller warned every generation must face—the sort that mints Willy Lomans.

The recession has brought a sense of siege, and within it, the collective emotional tone of the whole world seems to cycle. More than 4 million workers have been laid off since the recession began. On a single day in January, 70,000 people were laid off, and another 50,000 or 60,000 lost their jobs on each of the 10 days that followed. The rage spilled into the streets in 10 countries.

One day, we may look back on this period as “a time when the gods changed,” to paraphrase James Michener, a moment when a convergence of big scares rattled people’s beliefs about basic things: Am I safe? Who can I trust? Is there anything I can do? And how, given everything that has happened, should I live? It no longer seems possible to avoid failing simply by being conscientious and working hard—the formula our parents, and their parents, took to the bank.

There are failures and there are Failures, but the differences between bankruptcy and financial diminishment, divorce and marital strife, spiritual crisis and anomie are distinctions of degree, not kind. And they are connected. Woe in one sphere strains the seams of others. It’s not pretty. And that’s why failure is something you wouldn’t wish on your least agreeable relative.

Or would you?

A theory is gaining momentum that looks at failure differently. Failure, it says, is at worst a mixed blessing: It hurts, but can pay off in the form of learning and growth and wisdom. Some psychologists, like the University of Virginia’s Jonathan Haidt, go even further, arguing that adversity, setbacks, and even trauma may actually be necessary for people to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. “Post-traumatic growth,” it’s sometimes called. Its observers are building a solid foundation under the anecdotes about wildly successful people who credit their accomplishments to earlier failures that pushed them to the edge of the abyss.

Last fall, J.K. Rowling described to a Harvard grad class a perfect storm of failure—broken marriage, disapproval from her parents, poverty that bordered on homelessness—that sent her back to her first dream of writing because she had nothing left to lose. “Failure stripped away everything inessential,” she said. “It taught me things about myself I could have learned no other way.”

Apple founder Steve Jobs describes three apparent setbacks—dropping out of college, being fired from the company he founded, and being diagnosed with cancer—that ultimately proved portals to a better life. Each forced him to step back and gain perspective, to see the long view of his life. “I have failed over and over and over again, and that is why I succeed,” said Michael Jordan—as did Oprah, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison, in slightly different words. Indeed, so oft-repeated is the trope that we lose sight of how strange it is.

We do know that learning is error-driven—probably as a result of the brain trying to be efficient. Failures grab our attention. So many things happen the way we expect them to that mistakes register disproportionately. We’re forced to integrate that new information. Researchers have found that the more wildly wrong our prediction was, the quicker we learn. The brain, you might say, feeds on failure. We are acutely sensitive to negative feedback, and this “negativity bias” drives learning, at least from teenagehood on up.

Paul MacCready, Jr., the famed aeronautical engineer who died in 2007, understood the practical value of failure, and very consciously built his success on it. Vying for the Kremer Prize for the world’s first human-powered airplane, he designed his airplane to crash well—to protect the pilot and be quickly repairable, so he could crash, and learn, again. MacCready not only expected to fail, he actually depended on failure as necessary grist for the mill. (It worked: He won the prize.) For MacCready, failure had became an implicit part of the scientific method. Which of course it is. The term “trial and success” isn’t much heard, because it doesn’t make sense.

“An occasional failure in life is extremely important information,” Haidt says. “When you look at stories of great leaders, they almost all had major setbacks. That was the concern I had with Obama. I now think he’ll make a great president—but the fact that he really hasn’t had any major failures in his life means that he may not be as tempered, as challenged, as hardened.”

If you don’t get the kind of information failure provides, you’ll end up with unrealistic expectations for yourself, explains Haidt. You could wind up in a position where failure, which has gathered under cover of darkness, reveals itself all at once.

We should hope, then, for exposure to failure, early and often. The sociologist Glen Elder proposed that there is a sensitive period for growth—late teens through early 30s—during which failures are most beneficial. Such a pattern seems to promote the trait sometimes called equanimity. We learn that trauma is survivable, so we don’t plunge too deeply following setbacks. Nor, conversely, do we soar too high on our successes. Some businesses in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street make a point of hiring ex-pro athletes to their staffs. It’s not just that their high profile draws business. It’s because athletes are master compartmentalizers. “We needed people who could perform and not get emotionally attached to losses,” a Chicago oil trader told the New York Times, explaining why the firm likes jocks on the trading floor, particularly in ugly economic times like these. Buddhists call such equanimity upekkhaa. The image is of a rider easy in the saddle. Nothing can so surprise her—either for good or ill—that she’ll be knocked off.

One way to help keep life’s slings and arrows from knocking you off course is to ensure your life is multidimensional, says Stephen Berglas, a California psychologist and personal coach. That way, a setback in any one area won’t mean in your mind that you’re a failure categorically. Call it spreading your risk across your emotional portfolio—or adding another leg to the furniture for balance, says Berglas.

Failure—especially public failure—stirs some of the most potent social emotions we have: humiliation, guilt, shame. Guilt—which occurs when you chalk up a failure to something you did—can be beneficial. Shame, on the other hand—which is present when you attribute failure to something you are—casts a generalized depressive pall on you that’s harder to face, let alone fix, notes Richard Robins, director of the Personality, Self and Emotion Laboratory at the University of California at Davis.

That may explain why, though writer Sascha Rothchild’s rejection from Yale felt shameful and made her depressed, getting divorced after just a year of marriage didn’t seem as personal. “It seemed that the two of us tried this thing and it didn’t work out,” says Rothchild. “It was our fault. We weren’t working out together—that doesn’t mean either of us is a bad person.” The guilt left behind in the tailing pond of a failed marriage was actually productive. It made her deconstruct in minute detail what might have been done differently. (The result was a forthcoming memoir sardonically titled How to Get Divorced By 30.)

Failure has implications for our development as whole people, fulfilled and purposeful. It can initiate a search for meaning, a shift from pursuing the kinds of happiness that flare briefly to the kinds of happiness that endure. Suppose you’ve just gone broke. A wicked hit registers in the “work and success” dimension of your life. But the psychic immune system has a strategy for such a loss. There are four basic dimensions of our lives, says Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. There is achievement, community, spirituality, and legacy. When one dimension fails us—we lose “achievement,” say, when we’re laid off—the remaining three get stronger.

Achievement is a big one in America—disproportionately valued, and often conflated with material success. But other dimensions actually have a potentially higher payoff. We easily habituate to material things, and they quickly stop making us happy. But these other less tangible values, a number of researchers have found, don’t lose their happiness-making punch—at least not as much.

And so the once-autonomous striver, bulletproof and bowling alone, is forced to throw that old life over the side and start making other connections. A new unifying principle coalesces around some “higher purpose,” and damned if the new life doesn’t feel like an upgrade. Thus does failure lead, roundabout, to happiness. “London and Chicago seized the opportunities provided by their great fires to remake themselves into grander and more coherent cities,” Haidt writes in The Happiness Hypothesis. “People sometimes seize such opportunities, too, rebuilding beautifully those parts of their lives and life stories that they could never have torn down voluntarily.”

Everyone gets laid low by failure sometimes, however briefly. The real difference between people who pull themselves out somehow versus the people who do not, says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a psychologist at Yale, is that some slip into “rumination”—a spiral of morbid self-involvement that’s extremely difficult to shake. But what separates the ruminators from the resilients? Why is it that the same set of circumstances that drives one person deeper into the mud makes another stronger? Is there just a kind of native temperament, a Donald Trump-ish optimism some psychologists have described as “enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks”—something that helps some people find the kernel of good inside the bad and profit from it—that’s either in play or isn’t? How can we learn, as Samuel Beckett put it, to “fail better”?

“Failing better” boils down to three things. It’s a matter of controlling our emotions, adjusting our thinking, and recalibrating our beliefs about ourselves and what we can do in the world.

“Chess is a game of failure,” says Bruce Pandolfini, an American chess master known for his work teaching young chess players. (Sir Ben Kingsley played him in Searching for Bobby Fischer.) “At the beginning, you lose—a lot. The kids who are going to succeed are the ones who learn to stand it. A lot of young players find losing so devastating they never adapt, never learn to metabolize that failure and to not take it personally. But good players lose and then put the game behind them emotionally.”

Pandolfini teaches his students this calming sense of perspective. The present moment is laid out against the past. What you see is compared to your memories of what you’ve seen—and mastered—before. What you have in the end is a kind of coherent story. He calls it chess instruction, but really, it works with anything. In fact, it’s not so different from the way writing down your feelings in a journal helps you process failure and move on, a phenomenon demonstrated by James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas.

Teachers, studies reveal, can foster resiliency among students, creating students who don’t flinch from failure but actually welcome it as a learning opportunity. People have one of two belief systems about how intelligence works, says Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. We think intelligence is either “fixed” or “malleable.” In other words, we’re pretty much as smart and good and competent as we’re going to get, or else we’re a work in progress, and the way forward is up.

People who believe intelligence is fixed are less resilient. If you don’t believe you can learn anything from your mistakes, you won’t welcome failure with open arms.

But students who are taught that the brain is plastic and that they can become smarter and more competent—that the brain grows, like a muscle, when you work it hard—show a spike in grades and enjoy school more. Because they’re less afraid to fail, they succeed more.

Coping

How much failure is too much? Bubble-wrapping kids to shield them from failing does them no favors. Without that trial-and-error learning from gradual exposure to risk, kids become vulnerable to anxiety disorders, says Michael Liebowitz, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. But at the other extreme, exposure to repeated and relentless failure can crush the spirit of even a resilient kid. A parent’s job, then, is to create a kind of sweet spot of exposure to failure.

“There’s a bleeding edge of where we have to push ourselves—it can’t be too far in front of us,” says Michael Ungar, head of the International Resilience Project at Dalhousie University. “You can’t just say to a kid, go learn to swim on your own. But you can take them through the process gradually. Let them see what buoyancy feels like, let them have little moments of mild distress where everything is then immediately okay—manageable risk. This is how we learn to solve problems, and receive an inoculation against major stressors. But there is a little bit of a cult of self-esteem that short-changes it all.”

Failure can’t help us if we’re oblivious to it. And yet. There’s something deeply sympathetic, and not a little familiar, in repeat failure. So often are our rehabilitations short-lived. Despite our best intentions, our mightiest resolve, we find ourselves endlessly repeating earlier failures.

But the great payoff in failing is it gives us another chance, as Alex Trebek encourages his Jeopardy contestants who risk everything and crash down to zero to “start building.” To begin again from scratch is itself part of the American script.

In this sense, failing well amounts to taking a weird kind of pride not just in the potential positive consequences of failure but in the failure itself—the awful, agreeable humanity of it. Failure drives us out of our caves and into the world of Other People, that plane where happiness is less perishable.

After Failure was published, Philip Schultz couldn’t help notice the strong reactions other people had to it—the “triggering mechanism” of the word itself, as if it was a private shame or fear everyone had, and were grateful for having the entree to talk about.

“It’s interesting how many people are coming up to me and talking about their relationship with failure,” he says. “Everyone thinks they’re a failure. The only people who don’t are the ones who really are.” —Bruce Grierson

NINE ways to fail better

Some people learn from failure and bounce back stronger. For others, failure destroys them. Be one of the ones who rise from the ashes.

Lighten up

Most people who bounce back from setbacks have a sense of humor. They know when they’re taking things—and themselves—too seriously. We’re often so paralyzed by fear of failure that we “self-handicap,” sabotaging ourselves by putting an impediment in the way, says personal coach Steven Berglas. Because, hey, if something prevented you from trying your best, you can’t be said to have failed, right?

“I’ll die if I don’t win the Olympics,” Berglas sometimes hears from his clients. “Really?” he replies. “On the court? Or will you die of shame?” OK, they acknowledge, they didn’t really mean die. But now there’s a fissure in their anxiety through which the ridiculousness can seep in. It’s hard to find the funny in the fine grain. Humor is about stepping back for fresh perspective. We assume that’s something we’re born with, but we can become better at seeing the lighter side by sheer exposure to that way of thinking. And it does take the edge off of failure. After all, an embarrassment today makes for an entertaining story tomorrow.

Join the club

Misery loves company. Just look at the growth of Web-based support groups like “15,000,000 Recession-Touched People” (on Facebook) and Global Depression Support Group (on meetup.com).

There’s real value in commiseration. When Montrealer Sylvain Henry started a Facebook support group called “Recession Survivors” after being laid off from a software company, the group became a lightning rod for pain and blame. “You’ve gotta blame someone, right?” Henry says. “Whose fault is this?” People vented about the lost house, the failed marriage. It was cathartic.

Then something happened. “People vented themselves out,” Henry says. “After that came another impulse: Let’s do something about this.” The members began posting productive hints, little money-saving tips about budget-friendly cookie recipes or how to throw a good garage sale. The site transformed into a clearinghouse of resourceful coping strategies for hard times. Call it Failing Better: the Open-Source Edition.

Feel guilt, not shame

The difference between guilt and shame is the reason we assign as to why failure occurs, notes Richard Robins, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Guilt says it’s “something I did.” But shame means feeling failure occurred because of “something I am”—in which case, you expect failure and don’t act to avoid it.

But the cycle of learned helplessness can be broken. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure,” think “I’m a good person who made a mistake I can learn from.” If your story about failure is, “It’s all my fault,” you might need to practice looking outward and ask yourself, “What other things—things that aren’t about me—might have caused this negative event?”

On the other hand, if your story is, “It’s never about me,” you may need to seek out some aspects of the problem you can do something about. Because let’s face it, you do mess up—everyone does. In which case you need to own the failure, see what you can learn from it, and move on.

Cultivate optimism

Of the seven learnable skills of resilience—emotion awareness, impulse control, multiperspective thinking, empathy, the belief that you can solve your own problems, taking appropriate risks, and optimism—the most important is optimism, says Karen Reivich, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet, and indeed, paying attention to the positive infuses the world with hope—and creates a climate in which failure loses its sting.

The key to resilience is thinking more flexibly and learning to increase your array of options. The psychologist Martin Seligman advocates disputation, in which you think of your mind as a courtroom where negative thoughts are instantly put on trial.

You can rebut these thoughts, and you should. Now you’re acting as your own defense counsel, throwing at the court every bit of evidence you can think of to prove the belief is flawed. The bad thought is no longer a lock, and it dies amid the doubt.

Ask not what the world can do for you…

Getting fired and left without savings or health-care coverage is rough, but for some, it carries an unexpected message: “Now you are free.” Free to do something more meaningful with your life—like volunteering overseas. If you don’t have to earn money right away, ask yourself: How can you be of service to others?

The sales manager of a Portland, Oregon radio station, Margaret Evans was let go unexpectedly in late September. As she researched new jobs and grad schools, it occurred to her that getting laid off was a kind of gift. She’d always intended to do service work. “This was my chance to make it happen,” she says.

The tumblers aligned, and by December she’d signed on as a volunteer at an orphanage in Belize, through a Florida-based charity called Dream Center International. Travel, live cheaply, and do good for people who genuinely need it: not a bad recipe. “This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me,” she says.

Scale down your expectations for yourself

When we succeed, we tend to just ratchet up our expectations for ourselves and not get a lot of pleasure out of it. But when we fail, it’s much harder to ratchet down our expectations for ourselves. “That might be what failing well is,” says psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “A willingness to lower our sights when that’s realistically required.”

Gilbert Brim begins his book Ambition with the story of his father in rural Connecticut: or rather, his father’s windowbox. As a young man his father took pride in maintaining the forest on the whole property, but eventually that task became impossible. So as he grew older and weaker, he reduced the range and scope, until he was content just to tend the flowers in his windowbox, albeit to the same standards of excellence. If failure is about failing to meet goals you set for yourself, then one way to avoid failing is to revise those now-outdated goals. That way, instead of failing on a stage you once mastered, you’re still succeeding on a more modest stage.

Harness the Bridget Jones Effect

Keeping a journal can help you cope with failure. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, studied middle-aged engineers who’d lost their jobs. Those who wrestled with their feelings about the trauma through journaling were far more likely to find reemployment. It wasn’t simply the tension-relieving “catharsis” of getting their feelings out. Nor was it that they were more motivated to get out there and pound the pavement—they didn’t receive more phone calls, make more contacts, or send out more letters.

Rather, writing helps create meaning—finding coherence and building a personal story that lassos all the question marks hanging in the air and making sense of them. Writing about their feelings forced them to come to terms with getting laid off. It also boosted their social skills—making them more likeable, less vindictive, and better able to get on with things. They were less wrapped up in their past. They could listen better and were more optimistic and less hostile.

Don’t blame yourself

Self-blame is corrosive. Research on kids raised amid domestic violence, abuse, or maternal depression shows that self-blame can trigger or worsen depression. Attribution errors—blaming yourself for the bad things that happen to you—are probably the biggest reason people metabolize failure badly. Attribution has a potent effect on depression—the more you blame yourself for problems, the more depressed you grow. And it’s a vicious circle—the more depressed you are, the more you blame yourself. By contrast, children who understand that such negative life circumstances are outside their control are not as vulnerable, notes Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.

Act!

Failure is an opportunity to change course. Seize it.