A leader in the fields of resilience and positive psychology, Dr. Reivich offered the Pingry community guidance and steps to improve their approach to challenging situations.
How can people work through difficult circumstances, and what are the meanings of “resilience” and “optimism”?
Those key questions were posed in this year’s Carver Lecture by Dr. Karen Reivich, Director of Resilience and Positive Psychology Training at the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania, where she also serves as an instructor for the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program. She is a leader in the fields of resilience and positive psychology and co-author of the books The Optimistic Child and The Resilience Factor.
In her talk, “Cultivating Resilience and Well-Being,” Dr. Reivich guided a Pingry audience already very familiar with being resilient through steps that can increase this skill. “Resilience is a dominant response,” she said of pivoting and adapting to circumstances, “but we can learn new strategies and harness the ability more directly.” Her definition: navigate adversity, and grow and thrive in the face of challenges. “Navigate” means to use resources (for example, a sense of direction and maps when driving). “Grow and change” refers to uncovering inner strengths, and being aware of those inner changes to be used in future challenges.
“We need a deep understanding that each of us has the ability to control—not everything—but enough of the things in our lives, and it’s a matter of how we respond by tapping into our resources.”
Addressing the second question, Dr. Reivich—courtesy of the Dalai Lama—offered a definition of the mindset of “optimism”: “Maintaining a positive spirit to continue to seek a solution to any given problem, and recognize that situations have different aspects.” (It is not about putting one’s head in the sand and imaging everything is wonderful.) She provided a six-step process that optimistic thinkers use to navigate challenging situations:
1. Notice the positive
2. See the opportunity to grow, learn, and discover something new
3. Accept and control (We tend to focus on things that are unchangeable, but figure out one aspect of the situation you have to accept and one thing you can control.)
4. Focus on solutions (What is one thing you can do, or resource to tap, to improve the outcome?)
5. Take purposeful action (We think too much sometimes—what is the smallest action you can take to get yourself out of your head?) Dr. Reivich noted that pessimism is a driving force of catastrophic thinking because people are not focusing on solutions.
6. Reach out (Strengthen our connections to others, and reach out for support—who or what reminds us of the goodness in the world?)
Also, importantly, Dr. Reivich encouraged the audience to let others vent when dealing with hard situations—but then ask them about something good.
The Gilbert H. Carver ’79 Memorial Lecture was established in memory of Gilbert Carver, Class of 1979, by his father Calvin and stepmother June Carver, his sister Marcey Carver, his brother Chip Carver, Jr., Class of 1977, and Chip’s wife Anne DeLaney, Class of 1979. This lecture series supports open dialogue on self-esteem and acceptance and—thanks to its supporters—will continue in perpetuity.
Contact: Greg Waxberg ’96, Communications Writer, Editor of The Pingry Review