The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Lifeby Dr. Robert Brooks
"Continuing their pioneering work on resilience, they now show how and why it is never too late for adults to find strength and safety in life."
--Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Driven to Distraction
"A uniquely wise guide summarizing a vast amount of research into a practical set of strategies to overcome adversity and live a stress-hardy/p>/i>
"Continuing their pioneering work on resilience, they now show how and why it is never too late for adults to find strength and safety in life."
--Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Driven to Distraction
"A uniquely wise guide summarizing a vast amount of research into a practical set of strategies to overcome adversity and live a stress-hardy life."
--Jack Canfield, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul
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THE POWER OF RESILIENCE
Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life
By ROBERT BROOKS, SAM GOLDSTEIN
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein
All rights reserved.
Resilient Mindsets, Negative Scripts, and Personal Control
As a young boy, Alex Proctor thought he was "retarded." He grew up during a time when we knew little about learning disabilities. He experienced great difficulty in school, especially learning to read. In the fifth grade, his reading level was equivalent to that of a second grader. He would study a list of words in the evening, only to forget their correct spelling the next day. He was held back in the fifth grade, an intervention that proved ineffective. Not only did his reading difficulties continue, but he also experienced the ongoing humiliation of being called "dumb" and "stupid" by several of his classmates. His teachers, failing to understand the nature of his problems, exhorted him to "study harder," implying he was not giving 100 percent and could succeed if only he possessed the will to do so. The death of his father when Mr. Proctor was in seventh grade added to a stressful home situation.
Mr. Proctor dropped out of high school and went to work as a custodian. He married at the age of twenty-one, and two years later he and his wife had their first child, a son. Two years after the birth of their child, with the support of his wife he began a window cleaning business, offering services for both offices and homes. He sought the advice of a childhood friend in the advertising field for strategies to market his services. Much to Mr. Proctor's surprise, his business began to take off and he soon hired two assistants. A second son was born, the business expanded, and Mr. Proctor and his wife bought a home.
When Mr. Proctor was thirty-two, his younger son, who was struggling in school just as he had, was diagnosed with a learning disability. When the clinician explained the reasons for the diagnosis, Mr. Proctor blurted out, "That's me! My son has the same problems I have. I finally know I'm not stupid." At the recommendation of this clinician Mr. Proctor was tested and diagnosed with a learning disability. Now possessing an understanding of his learning problems, he fulfilled a long-sought but unfulfilled dream of obtaining his GED. With the encouragement of his wife and the addition of several more employees at his business, he made time to take a class at a local community college in which he earned an A. He continued to take courses and moved on to a four-year college. At the age of forty-two, Mr. Proctor received his bachelor's degree with honors. He observed, "I didn't need the degree for my work. I needed it for myself."
Mr. Proctor has a younger brother, Tim, who also struggled in school. As a teenager Tim followed in his brother's footsteps by dropping out of school. However, rather than finding steady employment, he became addicted to drugs. To support his addiction, he resorted to armed robbery. He was caught and sent to prison. Upon Tim's release, Alex offered him a job in his company. Tim accepted but quickly resumed his drug use and criminal actions. He was apprehended and sentenced to prison again. Alex wondered why he went in one direction and Tim in another.
What permitted Alex to succeed in life while his brother continued down a path of self-destruction? What are the factors that help some adults to bounce back while others languish in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? Why do some individuals attain success that could never have been predicted from their life circumstances? What is the inner strength that propels some people to overcome mighty obstacles in their path?
Roslyn Smith, a thirty-six-year-old woman, grew up in poverty. She lived in an area where muggings, homicides, and drug deals were common. One of her brothers was killed in a gang fight, and one of her sisters overdosed on heroin. She was the first member of her family to attend college. She commuted to college while living in an apartment above a bar. She also worked many hours a week to support herself, a younger sibling, and her ailing mother. She spent as much time as possible studying at the college library because the noise level at home was unbearable. After obtaining her college degree she worked for a social welfare agency and went to school in the evening to earn a master's degree in social work.
Successful adults such as Alex Proctor and Roslyn Smith may be viewed as resilient. The word success should not be confused or equated with one's income. As we will discuss more fully in this book, success in life encompasses such features as positive relationships with others, contentment at work and in our other roles (for example, as a mother, father, or coworker), and a feeling of optimism. Although in some scientific circles the word resilient has been applied only to individuals who have overcome stress and hardship, it is a concept that should be expanded to become a primary focus of each person's life, whether or not that person has experienced great adversity. All of us encounter some degree of stress and challenge in everyday life. No one can predict which of us will at some point face unimagined adversity.
Resilient individuals are those who have a set of assumptions or attitudes about themselves that influence their behaviors and the skills they develop. In turn, these behaviors and skills influence this set of assumptions so that a dynamic process is constantly operating. We call this set of assumptions a mindset. A resilient mindset is composed of several main features:
Feeling in control of one's life
Knowing how to fortify one's "stress hardiness"
Displaying effective communication and other interpersonal capabilities
Possessing solid problem-solving and decision-making skills
Establishing realistic goals and expectations
Learning from both success and failure
Being a compassionate and contributing member of society
Living a responsible life based on a set of thoughtful values
Feeling special (not self-centered) while helping others to feel the same
Possessing a resilient mindset does not imply that one is free from stress, pressure, and conflict, but rather that one can successfully cope with problems as they arise.
We also use the word mindset to capture an important premise of this book: mindsets can be changed. The development of mindsets, or assumptions about oneself and others, is a complex process based on the interaction of one's unique temperament with one's life experiences. However, mindsets are not cast in stone. The more we understand the beliefs that guide our behaviors, the more successfully we can engage in the process of replacing counterproductive, self-defeating assumptions with those that will lead to a more resilient, fulfilling life. There are guideposts we can follow and activities we can engage in that will facilitate the process of strengthening a resilient mindset. Unfortunately, there are also roadblocks to developing a resilient mindset, roadblocks that may be viewed as negative scripts.
Negative Scripts: Obstacles to a Resilient Mindset
Have you ever found yourself engaging in the same behaviors repeatedly with negative results? If you answered "yes," you are not alone. In our clinical practice and workshops we have heard countless examples of individuals following the same script day after day with predictable negative results. It is as if they are actors who have rehearsed their lines and cannot deviate from the script. The script can dictate a man ending a relationship when he is asked to make a commitment, a woman being fearful of showing anger even when justified, parents telling their children for ten years to clean their rooms with little success, a father asking his son immediately when coming home from work each evening, "Did you do your homework?" or a couple insisting their marriage would be better if only the other person would change.
When we repeat behaviors that lead to positive outcomes, such as a man telling his wife and children each day that he loves them, a woman conveying appreciation to her staff, or a project leader delegating responsibilities to those in his group in order to reinforce their sense of ownership, we are justified in calling these behaviors positive scripts. However, when our predictable behaviors are counterproductive or self-defeating but we continue to engage in them, a negative script is operating. These negative scripts, which can influence all aspects of our personal and professional lives, are obstacles to developing a resilient mindset.
Some individuals are not aware that they are trapped in a negative script, even if it is obvious to their friends and relatives. Some individuals blame their behavior on others, shouting the refrain, "If only my kids [or wife, or coworker, and so on] would change, then I would be more relaxed." Often the first drafts of negative scripts are written in childhood and acted throughout our adult lives. Until you can recognize these scripts and take responsibility for your actions, they will continue unabated. Unfortunately, the longer they exist, the more entrenched they are likely to become, precluding opportunities for improvisation and spontaneity.
"They Just Don't Get It!"
Jeremy Butler was an innovative, brilliant engineer. He left college at the end of his junior year to concentrate all of his time and energy to develop his own company. His work engulfed him. After several frustrating years, a product he designed was successful. By the time he was thirty-five years old, his company was worth millions. He had many employees, but happiness eluded him. At the age of thirty he had married, but the marriage ended within two years. Mr. Butler and his wife did not have any children. After the divorce, he had no other serious relationships.
Mr. Butler came to see us when he was thirty-seven at the recommendation of his physician because of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In the course of our evaluation Mr. Butler focused his remarks on his work. He described all of his efforts to build up his company even when some people doubted him. As he spoke of his accomplishments there was little evidence of any joy or satisfaction. Instead, a sense of sadness pervaded the conversation.
He explained, "My father was the kind of person who thought he knew what was best for me and everyone. He was always telling me what to do, even when I was a kid. When I quit college, he went wild and told me what a big mistake it was, that it was too risky. I told him if the business didn't work out I could always go back to school, but he couldn't understand. I also had a professor for a couple of courses who really reminded me of my father. He always came across in class as having the right answer. Although he said he welcomed views different from his own, when they were offered he had numerous ways of putting them down. When I told him I was leaving college, he said I didn't have the skills to start my own business, that I wasn't disciplined enough. I showed them."
We asked about the business today. He responded, "It's doing OK, but I wish I had a better group of managers. They just don't get it! I've tried to delegate responsibility, but they just don't seem to have the creativity to come up with new ideas. Several of my managers have left. When I ask why, they say I don't really listen to them, that I'm too critical. But when I try to give them responsibility, when I encourage them to come up with ideas, they fail miserably—so what can I do? It's little wonder that I'm feeling down and anxious. I'm surrounded by people who are incompetent and may cause my business to suffer. I've got to learn to hire better people. I wouldn't be sitting here today feeling anxious if I knew that I had managers I could count on. And to think that they blame me for not listening to them! How can I listen if they don't respond to what I ask them to do?"
Mr. Butler continued to attribute his problems to his managers. Because this was his focus we asked him to describe some of the interactions he had with them. He said, "I can tell you something that happened a few weeks ago that is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. We are developing a new product. I sat down with the four managers involved in the project. I outlined the goals of the project and then asked each of them to come back to me the following week with their plans to meet these goals. I really wanted them to take some initiative. When we met the following week I shouldn't have been surprised. I heard ideas that were not very sophisticated or creative. This has happened so often."
We asked how he reacted.
"I was frustrated, as I often am, and I said, 'Is that the best you can do? I expect more. We'll never be successful if you keep coming up with these kinds of ideas!'"
"How did the managers respond?"
Mr. Butler said, "They sat there. I could tell they were annoyed, but someone has to light a fire under them." He then paused and said, "One handed in his resignation letter the next day. He just couldn't take the pressure. I hope I can find someone who can."
In reading Mr. Butler's exchange with his managers, you might wonder why such an intelligent man would say things that obviously create friction with his staff. You don't need an advanced degree in psychology to predict that his behavior would contribute to an unhappy, unproductive group of managers. Yet it was as if he were wearing blinders, unable to see what was so obvious to others. He continued to act out his negative script and was upset when his employees did not improve.
In our work with Mr. Butler, which we will describe in greater detail later in this book, we focused not only on helping him to become more aware of how his behavior influenced others but also on discovering the roots of his negative script.
Spontaneity and venturing beyond prescribed scripts can serve as a source of joy, adventure, and personal discovery. However, if we didn't follow any scripts, then each relationship and experience would be unpredictable and chaotic. Tradition and security often prove to be the foundation for providing us the insight and courage to move beyond current scripts and write new ones. Unfortunately, there are times when particular counterproductive scripts become increasingly entrenched and do not easily invite change. If anything, we are not even aware of the presence of these scripts, expecting others to modify their behaviors without reflecting on our contribution to the situation.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? The Significance of Personal Control
Taking ownership of our behavior and becoming more resilient requires us to recognize that we are the authors of our lives. We must not seek our happiness by asking someone else to change, but instead should always ask, What is it that I can do differently to change the situation? Assuming personal control and responsibility is a fundamental underpinning of a resilient mindset, one that affects all other features of this mindset and serves as a catalyst to change negative scripts. For greater clarity and emphasis we will highlight the concept of personal control in a later chapter, but you will discover that the notion of personal control permeates our thoughts throughout this book.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has eloquently written that effective people focus on what they can control, spending little, if any, time and energy on matters that are beyond their sphere of influence. We are reminded of the words of the Serenity Prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
You Should Change First
In our clinical practices and workshops we have heard numerous examples of well- intentioned individuals who continue to experience a high level of stress and unhappiness because they wait for someone else to change or they focus on an event or situation they cannot control.
Alan and Barbara Manter came to us for marital counseling. They had been married for two years, although they had lived together for a year before marrying. Their marital struggles had many features, and one of the strongest was that each expected the other to change first. Both viewed their happiness as dependent on the actions their spouse should take.
During our first meeting we asked what they thought would help their marriage. Mr. Manter immediately jumped in and said, "Before we were married, Barbara seemed more affectionate and loving. I think our marriage would be better if she could be that way again."
Mrs. Manter responded immediately, "Well, if I seem less affectionate, maybe it's because you're less considerate. You neglect to call when you're going to be home late for dinner. Just last night that happened, and when I asked you why you couldn't call, all you could say is that you couldn't find the time."
Mr. and Mrs. Manter continued this line of discussion for a few more minutes, suggesting how the other might change to improve the marriage. We explained, "You've been able to tell each other how to change. Before our next session it might be helpful to think about what you might do differently to help with your marital problems." We wanted them to begin to reflect on their contribution to what was transpiring in their relationship and to focus on what each could control.
At the beginning of the next session, Mr. Manter offered that he thought a great deal about what he might do differently. "Barbara is right. I can be more considerate and call if I am going to be late for dinner." What a quick, positive response to therapy, we thought. However, this thought was immediately erased when Mr. Manter added what we frequently refer to as the but statement: "But it would make it easier for me to be considerate if Barbara would show more affection and caring."
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Manter responded with obvious anger, "Maybe I could be more affectionate if I felt you were more caring and considerate!"
Their mindsets had quickly resorted to "If only the other one would change first" or "I would be happy if the other one would change." Though we understand this kind of thinking and recognize that it commonly occurs in relationships, it works against becoming resilient because it places the responsibility for change on someone else. We are not suggesting that other people shouldn't change, but rather that we must first look within ourselves and ask what we can do differently to improve a situation.
Are we casting blame? By advocating that people examine the ways they can change, are we implying that they are the cause of the problem? Not at all. We are not encouraging self-blame games in which people set themselves up as martyrs. We prefer to replace self-blame with responsibility. If there is a situation that you do not like, you must assume responsibility to change the situation, regardless of its roots. This stance is not one of blame, but rather one that empowers.
Excerpted from THE POWER OF RESILIENCE by ROBERT BROOKS. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Robert R. Brooks, Ph.D., is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the staff of McLean Hospital.
Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., is on the faculty of the University of Utah and is an internationally recognized expert on child development and neuropsychology.
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Definitely a great book. Need some guidance in bettering yourself and others? Buy this book. It is refreshing.
I have attended one of Dr. Brooks' workshops on building resiliency in children and was inspired to read this book. It is a wonderful read. Dr. Brooks offers exercises in building resiliency in 'self.' If everyone read this book, the world would be a much happier, more peaceful place. Good luck on your road to self-discovery!