Monday, November 24, 2014

Learning to 'Get After It in Life': The Science and Art of Building Resilience

English: Small plants grow in the blazing Carr...
Resilience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by , Director of High-Performance Psychology, DISC Sports & Spine Center, Huffington Post:

There is s much to learn from people who push limits, challenge conventional wisdom and are able to excel in moments that are packed with intensity.

One of the characteristics that many of them have developed is the skill of resiliency - being able to adapt and adjust to challenging circumstances. The capacity to handle more and to adjust well in challenging environments is often highly desirous for those who want to "get after it in life."

And for that, building resiliency is of particular interest. But let's be very clear, the foundation of building resiliency, by definition is to "go through some heavy stuff."

Loosely speaking, being resilient requires a positive mindset in the face of adversity (for more, see: Davidson, 2000; Freitas & Downey, 1998; Luthar et al., 2000). When we construct the recipe, so to speak, researchers have suggested that being resilient requires three primary ingredients, known as the Three Cs: first, a challenging situation; second, a commitment to a positive mindset; and finally, a maintained sense of being in control (Kobasa, 1979).

While most envision the resilient as those especially adept at navigating high-pressure situations - world-class athletes, military soldiers, anyone who has "beaten the odds" and come back stronger - resiliency isn't merely reserved for the world's best performers.

You don't have to be on the goal line, on the frontline, or on the flat line to practice the skills of resiliency, but we can all borrow some important insights from those who are.

Here are three steps that all of us can take that will improve your ability to stay the course despite setbacks.

1. Set an intention every day (target 30 consecutive days ... and, yes, weekends too)

I was recently working with a corporate executive whose workforce is north of 80,000 employees. I asked him what his typical day looks like, and he explained that if he's not thoughtful, it becomes a 10-hour fire drill. He went on to explain that he begins his days by getting connected to what matters most.

Before he gets out of bed, he takes a moment to get centered (by taking one breath). He then sets a clear intention for the day. This helps him to set the tone of his day by determining what his goals are for the day. This is how he focuses his attention on goal-relevant information, while keeping an eye on the big picture:

Wake up, and before you get out of bed, take one deep abdominal breath. Then spend just a few moments to set your intention for the day. Super simple. Super quick.

Let yourself see and feel your intention. If you want to take it a step further (to help anchor your intention), pull out your digital journal (or paper journal if you prefer) and write at the top of your calendar page: "Today, I am all about ____." Halfway down the calendar, write: "Today, I will focus on _____, ____ and _____." This will help keep you connected to your priority (and a reference point for coming back to your intentions) throughout the busy day.

"Three C" Rating - Challenge: Low to Moderate / Commitment: Moderate to High / Control: High

2. Embrace and learn from each mistake

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a professional athlete. He is highly structured in his life, trains like a machine and is extremely detail-oriented... and he has gone through incredible adversity in his life.

When asked how he's been able to become one of the best in the world at his sport, he replied, "Every day, I look forward to finding my limits. It's the only place where I can get feedback on what I can get better at. I don't look at it like making mistakes, but rather learning about my rate of growth."

He does make mistakes, however he sees them as learning opportunities. When you make a mistake, like missing an important detail on a work project or pressing the "off" instead of the "snooze" button on your alarm, take ownership of the mistake with a neutral statement.

Instead of denigrating yourself ("Why did I do that!"), take a quick moment to get perspective about the big picture of your life, or even the bigger picture of how this moment in time is so small in relationship to the total moments of the universe (so heavy, huh?!).

Make the conscious effort, as much as you can, to coach yourself through the uncomfortable time as if you were coaching your closest loved one. In these examples, neutralize the situation internally first: "OK (your name). How do I get back on track here? What can you do to adjust RIGHT NOW? How can I use this experience to my advantage?"

Then - and this is important - apologize for your mistake to other stakeholders, and ask them how you can stay the course: "Boss/teacher, I apologize for (insert mistake). I feel I haven't done my best work yet. How can I keep momentum forward?"

"Three C" Rating - Challenge: Moderate to High / Commitment: High / Control: High

3. Trust your inner coach

It's pretty easy to immediately understand the value of having a trustworthy coach - someone who is completely honest with you, has your best interest at heart, can shape conversations that help you excel in your craft, and - at the same time - holds you in high regard. That's a great coach!

The most important coach, however, is within you. You speak to yourself more often than any other person in your external world. In essence, you coach yourself all day long. The way you speak to yourself is either helping you build your sense of self or, if overly critical, can chip away at your ability to feel confident.

Investing in the awareness of your inner dialog can be a life altering effort. Once we become aware of that inner coach, we can let go of the conversations that shred us to the core. Over time, just like you would trust a coach who has your best interest at heart, you'll be able to trust your inner coach. When this takes place, the experience can be transformative, and at the same time, accelerate performance at a rapid pace.

Try this:

On a blank piece of paper, make three columns. Title the left-most column "Negative Thoughts," the center column "Is That Right?" and the right-most column "More Productive Thoughts." In the Negative Thoughts column, list out some of the negative things that come to mind for you. Maybe you notice that you tend to say "I'm overwhelmed," or "I can't handle this!" when faced with a challenge at school or work.

Now, confront the validity of that negative thought in the center column. Start with this statement: "Wait a minute..." and see where that leads you. For this example, the column may say "Wait a minute... is that right? Can I really NOT navigate this challenge?" This is an important component of the process.

Finally, in the third column, answer that question with a more productive thought. I like to use the term "Yeah! ..." and fill in the rest with a better way of approaching the situation. In this example, you might say: "Yeah, that's not accurate. I've spent the last two months training 30 hours a week for this ... I did everything I could ... I AM ready for this!"

Three C Rating - Challenge: High / Commitment: High / Control: High

These steps can be powerful ways to develop resilience - an essential skill to build your capacity to harness stress and maintain focus and perspective in your life. In my experience, many high-performing individuals and teams do more than just bounce back from adversity.

They do more than just survive the moment. They embrace challenge, they trust and commit to their goals and purpose, and they maintain a strong belief in their ability to control boring, low-pressure, and/or high-pressure situations. Even if you may not be able to personally identify with those who thrive in high-stakes contexts, we can all learn a little something from those who do.


Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 (1), 1-11.

Freitas, A. L., & Downey, G. (1998). Resilience: A dynamic perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 22 (2), 263-285.

Davidson, R. J. (2000). Affective style, psychopathology, and resilience: Brain mechanisms and plasticity. American Psychologist, 55 (11), 1196-1214.

Luthar, S. S. (2006). Resilience in development: A synthesis of research across five decades. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation (pp. 739-795). New York; Wiley.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Steve Jobs Can Teach You About Resilience

Steve Jobs
© Getty Images Steve Jobs
'I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me'. 
'It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life ... sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith' - Steve Jobs, on being fired from Apple in 1984.

In recent years, as ever, people have been faced with organisational downsizing, mergers, redundancies, working in a job that does not suit them, or in a lower paying job than their qualifications and skill set, not to mention the myriad of personal circumstances that can make life difficult.

The ability to bounce back and learn from these challenges will help us cope with the ups and downs of our career or personal difficulties, and then move forward.

Research of psychologist, Susan Kobasa, describes three elements that are essential to resilience:
  1. Challenge - Resilient people look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth.
  2. Commitment - Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals. They commit to their relationships, friendships, and causes they care about.
  3. Personal Control - Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they can control.
Leading psychologist, Martin Seligman, explains setbacks in terms of optimism and pessimism, that is made up of three main elements:
  • Permanence - People who are optimistic see the effects of bad events as a temporary phase that will pass, rather than a permanent state.
  • Pervasiveness - Resilient people contain setbacks or bad events so it does not affect other areas of their lives such as: work and personal relationships, health and lifestyle.
  • Personalisation - People who have resilience do not blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they review the circumstances and context of the event.
Steve Jobs grew Apple from a garage start up into a billion-dollar public company, but this was not without difficulty. Years later, he lost a battle with the board about the direction of the company.

The company stock fell and lost billions of dollars. Steve was fired, and was in 'exile' for 12 years until his return. He then faced a long fight with pancreatic cancer.

No-one can make themselves immune or protect their careers from all challenges: so how can you build resilience to cope?

Guidelines towards building your resilience

The University of California suggests the following strategies to building resilience:
  • Take care of yourself - Look after your mind and body to deal with situations that require resilience.
  • Establish and maintain connections - Good relationships with close family members, friends, and others are important. Accept help and support from those who care about you, and will listen to you.
  • Accept difficulties and changes as part of life - Respectfully and sensitively, events occur in all spheres of our lives: work and personal. Individuals and their family face illness, relationship breakdowns with their partner, family friends and business, financial loss, health issues, and difficult situations such as drugs, alcohol, accidents, abuse or addiction. Work on yourself to accept circumstances that cannot be changed, and focus on circumstances that you can alter. This takes time, a personal struggle, and self care.
  • Progress towards your goal - Develop realistic goals and take a step to fulfil these.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook - Optimism is learned and nurtured over time. An optimistic outlook enables us to expect that good things will happen in our life. Visualise what you want, rather than worry about what you fear.
  • Keep things in perspective and avoid "catastrophizing" - Even when facing painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context, and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion, such as catastrophizing. Mental health researcher Aaron Beck describes "catastrophizing" as 'fortune telling to predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes.'
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself - Develop confidence in your ability to solve problems, and trust your intuition.
  • Engage in opportunities of self-discovery - People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle. Individuals who have experienced tragedies and hardships, when they reflect following their experience, have reported better relationships; a greater sense of personal strength even while feeling vulnerable; increased sense of self-worth; a more developed spirituality; and heightened appreciation for life.
Take steps to build your resilience and bounce back in the face of challenges. This is a time for personal learning, self-reflection, and growth. It will help bring career success, that will reflect in other areas of your life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why do Australians Hate Thinkers?

by Alecia Simmonds, Womankind:

Stuart Grant, a well-dressed, bespectacled philosophy academic at Monash University, awoke on a brisk mid-November morning last year to find that he had incurred the wrath of a conservative shock jock after offering Melbourne’s Sunday Age a rather innocuous description of how he spends his Sundays. 

In the article, Grant said that he liked to read philosophy, sip tea, stroll in the local gardens and cook Chinese food with his wife. There was also a photograph of him looking slightly morose wearing black glasses and a hat. The shock jocks didn’t need to say much. Their minions leaped at Grant with the spit-flecked brutality of schoolyard bullies.

“Glasses are always a dead giveaway of the chronically self-absorbed,” said one commentator. “Dead set, this fool needs to go and work at a real job,” shrieked another. Many were variations on an early commenter who asked “Why are we paying for this?” 

Others were more personal: “If you look up poseur in the dictionary there’s a picture of Stuart Grant.” One shock jock, hardly renowned for his emotional sensitivity, later thought it necessary to remove some comments for being too “mean”. 

We might reassure ourselves that this kind of aggressive ignorance is the peculiar province of only a small group - that the rest of Australia is more empathic and sage. But I doubt it. 

Just two months earlier the Coalition had vowed to cut down on “ridiculous” academic research singling out four examples of scholarly “wastefulness”: a project on climate change, another on public art and two on European philosophy. And before this, Labor had announced that they would fund education reform by slashing University funding.

Given that thinkers are crucial to universities - Australia’s third-largest export industry - you’d be right to query the sense in these policies. Social function aside, our economy needs tea-sipping philosophers. 

But the vitriolic reaction to Stuart Grant’s forgettable description of what he does on a Sunday shows why it makes sense to attack the academy. It wouldn’t make sense in most countries but here in ‘Straya’, we don’t give a rat’s about academics. University academics make a perfect target because, like few other Western countries, Australia hates thinkers.

In contrast to France, where Alain Badiou’s new theoretical insights make the front page of Le Monde, or England where Slavoj Žižek writes regular columns in The Guardian, academics are noticeably absent from the opinion pages of Australia’s newspapers. 

France has an entire radio station devoted to intellectual thought (France Culture) where fervent abstract debates rage in precisely the same morning segments when our own radio waves are held hostage to the bilious bleating of shock jocks.

In Australia, sadly, the public sphere is determined by the media and the media seek out media personalities, not experts. Sociologists Nick Osbaldiston and Jean-Paul Gagnon in 2013 found that only 5% of panellists on the current affairs show Q&A had a research background. 

For the most part, complex policy is discussed in vapid tweet-sized sound-bites by columnists and politicians. Even those few academics who engage in public debate become celebrity heads for single-issues. There is simply neither the media space nor the inclination to nurture public intellectuals who could interrogate, inquire and offer an independent dissenting voice on a broad range of themes.

I am not arguing that only those with a degree should be able to comment on public debate. We need commentators from all walks of life. The problem is that as a country we are hostile to those who are well-educated. 

We prefer home-spun wisdom to years of research. Our language is peppered with snark reserved for those who think for a living: ‘chattering classes’, ‘latte-sipping libertarians’ and ‘intellectual elites’. When we want to emphasise the importance of an idea, we say that it is ‘not just academic’. 

Any idea that takes longer than a nano-second to understand is howled down. Or perhaps more accurately, any idea that threatens conservative orthodoxy is consigned to the divine irrelevancy of the academy. 

Politicians can be former Rhodes scholars without being criticised for being out of touch with ‘the common person’. But if you devote your life to thinking about how the world can be a fairer place then you’re most likely a pretentious snob.

There’s no doubt that Australia is a vast, sunny intellectual gulag. The question is why. It’s certainly not for of want of thinkers. We’re home to some brilliant minds, including Nobel-prize winning author J.M. Coetzee, Michelle de Kretser, philosopher Peter Singer and feminist Annamarie Jagose. 

Yet how often do we hear them speak? Why aren’t they chased down for their opinions on policy and social issues rather than wheeling out ageing politicians and professional laypeople again and again?

Historian Mark McKenna has argued that our anti-intellectualism has its roots in British working-class culture, but I think that it stems equally from our efforts to separate from Britain. 

Australian history is popularly told as a story of democracy, equality and classlessness that broke from Britain’s stuffy hierarchical elitism. It’s a place where hard yakka, not birth, will earn you success. And by hard yakka we don’t mean intellectual labour. 

Of course equality is a great goal, but we’ve interpreted it to mean cultural conformity and anti-intellectualism rather than a redistribution of wealth and power. The lowest common denominator exerts tyrannical sway and tall poppies are lopped with abandon. Children learn from an early age that being clever is a source of shame. It’s cool to be ignorant.

Our models of masculinity and femininity also leave very little room for cleverness. For women, intelligence equates with a dangerous independence that doesn’t sit well with your role as a docile adoring fan to the boys at the pub. Wit and erudition mean sexual unattractiveness. 

For men, carrying a book and using words longer than one syllable is a form of gender treason. It’s as good as wearing bumless chaps to a suburban barbecue. Real blokes have practical wisdom expressed through grunts and murmurs. Real Aussie chicks just giggle.

But perhaps thinkers are also to blame for our intellectually impoverished public sphere. Some academics may be reluctant to climb down from their ivory towers out of a snobbish disdain for the ‘vulgarity’ of popular debate. It’s like going from Brahms to Vaudeville. 

For others, there’s simply the problem of being burdened by excessive administration and teaching loads. Fearful of the economic precariousness of freelance work, thinkers are co-opted into a university machine which places no value on publications produced for popular audiences.

Employment and research grants are based exclusively on publishing within specialist academic journals. Contributing to popular debate is an activity pursued in retirement.

And then there is the problem of the unhappy marriage between academics and social media. Intellectuals usually offer cautious, well-substantiated commentary which shows the complexity of issues, rather than zingy tweet-sized solutions. And they are often emotionally ill-equipped to deal with a knife-drawn public prone to Goldstein-style two-minute hate rituals. 

Social media doesn’t democratise debate. It limits it to the resilient. Venom triumphs over insight and commentary is reserved for those with voluminous folds of scar tissue. Sensitive thinkers rarely fit this bill.

If hatred of Australia’s thinkers comes from their supposedly ‘elite’ status, then this antipathy is hopelessly misdirected. Intellectuals both outside and inside the academy earn humble wages, work ridiculously long hours and usually with a noble goal: to create knowledge that will make a better world. 

In a bizarre twist of logic, Australians have come to see elite multinational companies as having the same interests as the everyday person and academics as haughty public menaces. The former exists only for their own profits, the latter commits the crime of thinking about people.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about this unhappy state of affairs and the popularity of new forms of media offering critical perspectives like New Philosopher magazine, Daily Life and now Womankind, may signal brighter times ahead. 

Smart doesn’t always have to come last to wealth, fitness or beauty and historically speaking it hasn’t: Australia led the world on issues of women’s enfranchisement, the eight-hour day and anti-discrimination law. Behind each of these policy innovations lay a tea-sipper like Stuart Grant, creating knowledge not to make money, but simply to understand and improve humanity.
Smart doesn’t always have to come last to wealth, fitness or beauty and historically speaking it hasn’t: Australia led the world on issues of women’s enfranchisement, the eight-hour day and anti-discrimination law. Behind each of these policy innovations lay a tea-sipper like Stuart Grant, creating knowledge not to make money, but simply to understand and improve humanity. - See more at: