In principle four of his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor teaches us all about “falling up” -- finding our way out and up from the negative events of our everyday lives and using the experience to become stronger in character. This is a handy lesson for adults that also carries great value when thinking about the children in our lives. In today’s post, we explore how kids can capitalize on a troubling situation to move their happiness needle forward.
Our brains are naturally wired to “map out” the many paths available to us depending on our choices. When faced with hardship or a difficult situation, nearly everyone’s mental map contains three paths. One path is a continual loop circling us in the negative event (creating no change). Another path has us traveling further down the road of negative consequences (leading us to believe we will be/things will be much worse on the other side). The third and final path we can choose is one that takes us from the place of our mishap and points us in a direction where we land much stronger and more capable than ever before. While this third path is the most productive and positive path we could ever take, during hard times, it is often the hardest path to clearly envision ourselves traveling. We oftentimes don’t even believe it exists.
The trick in helping our kids “fall up” from their mistakes (instead of falling down) is to get them to truly see the third path of positive opportunity and believe that they are brave enough to begin their journey down that road.
So...how do we empower our youth to fall up? Here are 5 ideas to try:
Positively reinterpret the negative experience. Be open, accepting, and optimistic about whatever situation they are facing. Flip the switch on the negative outcome to find areas of positive growth. Did your child miss a majority of the words on a spelling pre-test? That’s ok! Now you have a realistic view of what to study for the final test at the end of the week. Was your teenager late for school because they couldn’t find their homework? Lesson learned! Now they have real-life experience to support the idea of packing their bag the night before.
Treat setbacks as an opportunity to excel. To quote Robert F. Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If you want your child to fast track their learning and self-growth, encourage them to embrace their mistakes and failures for what they truly are: teachable moments that provide the opportunity to learn about their personal character and strengthen their resilience and perseverance to rise above and surpass all expectations.
Find the fortunate in the unfortunate. So often, life is all about the stories we tell ourselves. Unfortunate events are no different. The key here is to not get hung up on how devastating the event might be, but how fortunate or lucky you are that things played out the way they did. Suppose your child auditioned for the main role in their school musical. When the cast list was announced, your child did not get the main role but instead, was cast as a supporting character. How do they react? Are they disappointed? Sure. But can they still feel good about the role they do get to play? Absolutely. While it might not be their name headlining the production, think of all of the kids who tried out and didn’t even get a part. In the nature of falling up, your child can feel proud about their performance in that they simply get the opportunity to perform, even though it’s not in the way they originally desired.
Explain the situation using positive talk. How we choose to explain events has a significant impact on our happiness and success. People with a more positive explanatory style interpret tough times as being very temporary, (“Things will get better.”) while those with a more negative style see events as being more permanent (“Things will never change.”). As we’ve come to learn, what we believe is often how we behave or act. To fall up out of a hardship, model a positive explanatory style with your child when talking about their situation and ways to cope. Acknowledge what happened and honor whatever feelings might be there, but at the same time, reinforce that the moment truly is temporary and will not last forever. By modeling this type of talk and belief system, you encourage them to do the same.
Avoid “immune neglect”. In his book, when faced with a troubling situation, Achor claims we have a tendency to become “immune neglect”, meaning we “consistently forget how good our psychological immune system is at helping us get over adversity”. We tend to overestimate our feelings. We tend to get stuck in our heads and fear what we “think” might happen. By default, we neglect to see the reality of what’s really happening. Simply being more aware of this default setting can help our kids succeed and fall up with more grace.
The next time your child is faced with a trying situation, take a breath...and have them take a breath, too. Success is not about being perfect. It’s not even about falling down and getting back up. It’s about recognizing a setback and using it as momentum to spring forward in the opposite direction. Doing so will lead to an experience that is happy, positive, and rich in self-fulfillment.
What are ways you or your child have fallen up when faced with adversity? How has that experience shaped you as a person? Share your wonderful ideas and thoughts on this topic in the comments section below or in our book club.