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You might not be happy every day

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Bouncebackability is your ability to quickly bounce back from disappointments and setbacks. The quicker you can bounce back, the quicker you can get yourself back on track to improve. Bouncebackability is not an innate skill you are born with. It is a learned skill that takes time and practice to develop.

If I offered you a magic pill that meant if you took it you would never experience any sadness again for the rest of your life – would you take it?

I would argue it is in your best interest to not take it. Why is this? Plain and simple, the bad and sad times help us to enjoy the good times even more. How do you know you are happy and having a great experience? It is because you are comparing it to every other experience you have ever had. You need some bad experiences, some mediocre, some indifferent, some good and some great. When you say “It was the best day of my life”, it is because you are comparing it every other day of your life. If your potential for sadness was taken away, every time you compared an experience with the rest of your life, you would become habituated to a certain feeling.

Habituation can happen in many forms. If you earn £25,000 per year for all of this year, and get a pay rise to £28,000 next year, at first you’d be excited and delighted at the sudden pay rise. But come the end of the year and you would be seeking another pay rise. This is because you have become used to the monthly amount offered from earning £28,000 per year. It can manifest in many other ways – living nearby the motorway and being distracted by the constant sound of the traffic seems problematic at first, but in time you come to hardly notice it.

If you become habituated to never feeling sad then you become complacent in feeling happy and do not make the most of it. You actually need some sadness and disappointment in your life to help you grow, develop resilience and appreciate the good times more.

The key to developing resilience, or bouncebackability, is dependent on the level of your positive habits and how you conceptualise failures, disappointments and setbacks. An important step is learning to understand your current state of disappointment will not last forever. It is equally important to allow the feeling of disappointment to flow through you and accept it is legitimate – but not permanent. The strange thing about failures, disappointments and setbacks is nobody thinks they should have any. The real truth is these moments at the foot of the rollercoaster are what make us who we are and shape who we become. Without them you wouldn’t be you. Without them we’d be nothing.

I remember moving to work at a different school when I was in the middle leadership phase of my career. Almost immediately I asked myself what I had done and if it was the wrong decision. When I look back, I realise it was an awful time because of how we were treated as teachers, the impact it had on my own health, and how detrimental the school culture became to the quality of learning offered to children.

But I don’t regret it for a moment.

As awful as the experience was, I learnt so much. I mainly learnt how not to do things and how not to treat people. As soon as I realised the situation I was in, I did whatever I could to get as much out of the experience as possible, whilst at the same time looking for a solution in the form of an exit. On reflection, the experience of this school, as bad as it was, made me stronger and taught me so much. In fact, when I became a headteacher I felt well-placed for a number of the challenges I faced because of my previous experiences. Even though I didn’t want them at the time, I am grateful for the fact they did happen.

Embrace your challenges and understand they will make you stronger. Your future self will thank you for the determination you showed in doing your best in dealing with the challenge. Understand it is justified, normal and human to feel disappointed – but know this feeling is not who you are and it is not permanent.

Failure doesn’t mean it is the end. Failure means it is the start of a new journey. When we fail or get something wrong and tell ourselves we are not good enough, smart enough or strong enough, we chip away at our level of self-esteem and self-worth through negative self-talk. Carol Dweck’s research into growth mindset reinforces this. She suggests we should not fear failure or seek to avoid it. Instead, we should embrace it as one of the best learning strategies.

Using valuable emotional and cognitive energy dwelling on past failures will do little to change the present moment, and even less to improve the future. How could you use that energy differently so you are more productive and well-placed for future challenges? What opportunities are you missing by looking back, instead of forward?


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