Habit 4 from the 12 Habits of Resilient + Thriving People

Each week for 12 weeks, I’ll blog about one habit. And if you feel inclined, you can road test it for yourself. Habit 4 is about Balancing Positivity with Realism. 


Habit 4: Balancing positivity with realism

Positivity and motivation form a powerful duo yet it also conjures up an image of someone skipping merrily down the road on a sunny day with their basket of flowers and polka dot dress. Hurdles, out of one’s control, will come along which means realism also needs to be present. Knowing you’re unable to control every situation, but able to cope with every situation, is where realism plays a part.


We often read extraordinary stories where the human spirit has overcome incredible adversities. The following come to my mind:

  • Turia Pitt, an Australian ultra marathon runner, being severely burnt when a bushfire swept through the Kimberleys during a race.
  • Peter Greste, an Australian journalist, spending 400 days in prison in Egypt for the crime of being a journalist.
  • Janine Shepherd, a former Olympic cross-country skier, hit by a truck while cycling and suffered life-threatening injuries.


You may wonder how you would cope if you were in their situation. The majority of us don’t think about these “black swan”* events. The majority of us are positive in the sense that we don’t think we’ll ever face something like this ourselves. Just look at the number of cyclists on the road every weekend to confirm this.


What many of us do think about, and some way too much, are everyday life adversities. The bigger ones include the breakdown of a long-term relationship, job loss or bankruptcy, loved ones dying, health-related issues as we age, and our own inevitable death. The not-so-big ones include not getting that promotion, conflict with a family member or friend, or a non-serious health issue. For some folk, not getting a seat on the L90 bus on the way home is enough to cause a complete emotional meltdown.


So where does realism fit in here? Realism is acknowledging that we can’t control everything. You can control whether or not to lead a healthy lifestyle to decrease your chances of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. But you can’t control or change the diagnosis of cancer you may receive from your doctor. Many of us have experienced this adversity, either personally or with someone close to us.


Positivity allows us to suck out the goodness in everything from the smell of fresh coffee, to the warm touch of someone’s hand on ours.

Realism allows us to face difficult facts, and be determined and positive in the face of those facts to put in every effort possible to stay resilient through the strength of our coping skills.


The famous US naval pilot who was shot down and then held prisoner during the Vietnam war is Jim Stockdale. He and his men were imprisoned for eight years under terrible conditions being routinely beaten and tortured. Stockdale, unlike many of the other prisoners, came out of the POW camp almost completely psychologically intact. In an interview, he said “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” When asked who didn’t make it he replied “the optimists”. They were the ones who said “we’re going to get out by Christmas”. And Christmas would come and go. Then they’d say “we’re going to get out by Easter”. And Easter would come and go. And then Thanksgiving. And then it would be Christmas again. Many died of broken hearts. Stockdale had faith that he had the skills and resources both to survive and to escape. He didn’t pray that the war would end or that he’d be rescued. He had a belief in his own coping skills and that he could deal with whatever was thrown at him. He also confronted the most brutal facts of his current reality. Positivity and realism.


Back to the L90 bus. Or to not getting that promotion. Or to failing an exam. Or to opening the oven door in front of your dinner guests to see your burnt souffle. These everyday adversities will continue throughout our lives. Being positive with a dose of realism will get you over these hurdles too. There’s something else you can add in here too. Perspective.


*A black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.

Habit 4: Road test

Over the next week, it is likely you will experience one of those small everyday adversities that isn’t within your control. It might be someone else’s behaviour or someone else’s decision that impacts you. Whatever it is, step back and get perspective. Say to yourself "I can tolerate this". Look at the situation through your positive lens and then add on your “realism” filter. Can you change the situation? No, but you can change your perspective by balancing positivity with realism.