The Commitment to Change
To the casual observer, Robert was living the American dream. Through hard work and a measure of serendipity, he had moved through the ranks of a Fortune 1000 company. He and his wife, Jeannie, had just celebrated twenty good years together. They lived in a modest but tasteful home in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, and in a few short years of mortgage payments the house would be theirs, free and clear. Robert and Jeannie's three children, ages seventeen, fifteen, and nine, had always been a source of great joy.
But lately for Robert, the dream had faded. His nine-year-old son had struggled in school since the first grade, and six months ago his academic difficulties were given a label--attention deficit disorder. His vivacious and expressive fifteen-year-old daughter had been replaced by a brooding, rebellious stranger. Once her greatest confidant, Robert found himself relegated to moody yes or no responses, on the increasingly rare occasions when she was home. Robert's job and his marriage had been the two linchpins in his life, but neither provided the spark it once did. He had devoted fifteen years to his company, but his career had plateaued in the last few years, and the promotional path was no longer clear. With the recent rumors of downsizing, Robert became increasingly anxious about his family's financial future. Three college tuition bills lay ahead, and little money had been invested for retirement. And then there was his marriage. Robert and Jeannie had always been close, but between the demands of work and the kids they rarely got any time alone.
At age forty-seven, Robert was ill-prepared to manage the adversities in his life, as routine or commonplace as they may seem. Somehow, somewhere, Robert had lost his way. The parts of his life that had once given him such fulfillment now left him feeling empty.
What Is Your "Bottom Line"?
Which aspects of Robert's situation resonate most strongly with you? What in your life do you most wish to change? Do you want to increase your productivity at work? Is it that your relationships with family or friends are not as rich and fulfilling as you would like? Do you need help balancing work and home? What is it that led you to pick up this book? Whatever you are seeking, you are almost certainly not alone. A majority of people worry about their future prosperity and happiness.2 As a culture we are searching for ways not only to improve our lives but to "supersize" them. We are searching zealously and we are searching en masse.
Most of us can identify with one aspect or another of Robert's disappointments. You might be failing to actualize your career potential and are struggling to understand why. It's unlikely that the problem is lack of commitment; Americans already work the longest week in the world, and the United States is the only industrialized country in which work hours are increasing.
Perhaps you want to increase your intimacy at home. As we work harder and longer, we spend less time nurturing the relationships that matter to us most. It's not that we're avoiding intimacy with our partners and our children. In fact, we're seeking it frantically. John Gray's relationship guide Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus sold over 7 million copies in the United States alone.3 His newspaper column attracted 30 million readers weekly. And still we search for an answer.
For many of you the impetus is more personal. You may be looking to end that nagging anxiety that keeps you awake at 3:00 a.m., or you're wrestling with an addiction. Perhaps recent world events, like terrorism and war, have shaken your sense of security and control. You may have experienced bouts of depression that left you unmotivated and disconnected. You are not alone. At any one time, more than 20 million Americans attend self-help support groups, for everything from drug and alcohol addiction, bereavement, cancer survival, emotional problems, and cross-dressing.4 Or perhaps you have a child with low self-esteem and who feels down a lot of the time, and you want to infuse her childhood with confidence and accomplishments, fun and adventure. How can this book help you?
For almost fifteen years, at the University of Pennsylvania, we have been conducting research on the role resilience plays in people's lives, and we've found that it's essential to success and happiness. To that end, we've developed a set of skills to help people from all walks of life achieve their goals by enhancing their capacity for resilience.5 We have equipped patients with the skills to enable them to bounce back from the adversities--recovering from addiction, coping with bereavement, dealing with job loss or divorce--that so often lead to clinical depression and anxiety. We created a prevention program for children at risk for depression, helping them to overcome the high levels of family conflict and low levels of family cohesion they experienced on a daily basis. As long as two years after they learned the skills, children from the program showed half the rates of depression of their control peers. We designed a parallel program for new college students at risk of underachieving, helping them to steer through the obstacles to success that all freshmen encounter. And we have worked with others who, while generally satisfied, wanted to optimize their lives and reach their full potential. In this vein, the skills we've identified as crucial to building resilience have helped athletes perform to their peak, parents to enhance their parenting, teachers to better address the complex needs of their students, and corporate employees to improve their productivity and job satisfaction and to better balance work and home.
The skills are a means to achieve diverse ends--overcome childhood obstacles, steer through new adversities, bounce back from major setbacks, and reach out to broaden your worlds. In other words, they promote resilience, leading people to solve their own problems, take appropriate risks, and accurately forecast the implications of an adversity. The skills also provide a remarkable opportunity for people to look inward, to get to know themselves--really know themselves--and connect more deeply with others.
Our research has demonstrated that the number-one roadblock to resilience is not genetics, not childhood experiences, not a lack of opportunity or wealth. The principal obstacle to tapping into our inner strength lies with our cognitive style, which we'll refer to in this book as thinking style--ways of looking at the world and interpreting events that every one of us develops from childhood. Humans are not passive recipients of sensory data from the world around them. We actively process information, simplifying and organizing it in idiosyncratic ways. When adversity strikes, we use mental shortcuts to figure out its causes and implications so that we can quickly make sense of the abundance of information that barrages us. At times these shortcuts help us manage the information overload; at other times they lead us astray. As we navigate our way through the world, we assume that we are responding to a direct readout of that world, one that is comprehensive and accurate. But we are not. Our thinking styles bias and color our viewpoint, leading us to develop patterns of behaviors that are often self-defeating. For example, some people have a thinking style that leads them to see problems as insurmountable, so they give up even in situations in which they do have control.
How can you increase your resilience? By learning to understand your thinking styles and developing skills to circumvent them so that you can see the true causes of adversity and its effect on your life. And it is resilience that will help you achieve your goals--whatever it is you hoped to achieve when you picked up this book.
Our Journey, Our Process
We want to accompany you on a voyage of self-discovery. We want to share with you the process that has helped the thousands with whom we've worked--and helped us too, as you'll see from the examples we offer from our own lives. We will guide you to understand your thinking styles and provide insight into what those styles are buying and costing you in your life. We will equip you with seven skills of resilience that you can use to maximize your performance at work, improve your significant relationships, boost your health, and find the courage to embrace new experiences.
The first leg of our journey, Part One of the book, defines resilience. What is this potent quality that underlies all our problem-solving efforts? We share with you research that has revealed seven major factors that contribute to the development and strengthening of resilience. In Chapter 2 we give you the opportunity to measure your level of resilience with our RQ Test and to determine your relative strengths and weaknesses. Overcome your resilience weaknesses, build on your strengths, and you will be amazed at how much easier it will be for you to approach life--and all of its inevitable obstacles and conflicts--with flexibility, adaptability, and confidence. In Chapter 3 we describe the philosophy of our program and the foundations upon which it was based.
We'll give you a brief overview of the skills now, and in Part Two we will take you through each one, showing you why it's necessary and teaching you how to use it effectively.
1.Learning Your ABCs. When confronted with a problem or challenge, are you ever surprised by how you react or wish you could respond differently? Do you ever assume that you know the facts of a situation, only to find out later that you misinterpreted them? If the thoughts running through your head when you're faced with adversity are inaccurate, your ability to respond effectively to that adversity will be severely compromised. We'll teach you to "listen" to your thoughts, to identify what you say to yourself when faced with a challenge, and to understand how your thoughts affect your feelings and behavior.
2.Avoiding Thinking Traps. When things go wrong, do you automatically blame yourself? Do you blame others? Do you jump to conclusions? Do you assume that you know what another person is thinking? When faced with adversity, people regularly make eight mistakes that undermine resilience. We'll teach you to identify the ones you habitually make and how to correct them.
3.Detecting Icebergs. Everyone has deeply held beliefs about how people and the world should operate and who they are and want to be. We call these iceberg beliefs because they often "float" beneath the surface of our consciousness so we're not even aware of them. Often these beliefs guide us to behave in ways that are true to our values. Sometimes, however, these deep beliefs interfere with our ability to live the kind of life we want, and they explain why we overreact to seemingly minor issues or have a hard time making what seem like simple decisions. We'll teach you how to identify your deep beliefs and determine when they are working for you and when they are working against you.
4.Challenging Beliefs. A key component of resilience is problem solving. How effective are you at solving the problems that you encounter day to day? Do you waste time pursuing solutions that don't work? Do you feel helpless to change situations? Do you persist on one problem-solving path even when you see that it's not getting you where you want to be? It's your thinking style that often leads you to misinterpret the causes of a problem, which then leads you to pursue the wrong solutions. We'll teach you how to test the accuracy of your beliefs about problems and how to find solutions that work.
5.Putting It in Perspective. Do you get caught in what-if thinking in which you turn every failure or problem into a catastrophe? Do you waste valuable time and energy worrying yourself into a state of paralyzing anxiety about events that have not even occurred? We'll teach you how to stop the what-ifs so that you're better prepared to deal with problems that really do exist or are most likely to occur.
6.Calming and Focusing. Do you feel overwhelmed by stress? Do your emotions sometimes come on so quickly and fiercely that you can't seem to think straight? Do "off-task" thoughts make it hard for you to concentrate? We'll show you how to stay calm and focused when you're overwhelmed by emotion or stress so you can concentrate on the task at hand. This "fast skill" is often used with Skill 7.
7. Real-time Resilience. Are there times when counterproductive thoughts make it hard for you to stay engaged and in the moment? Do certain negative thoughts tend to recur over and over again? We'll teach you a powerful skill so that you can quickly change your counterproductive thoughts into more resilient ones--with immediate results.
You don't need to use every skill every day to see improvement in your resilience. In fact, many people find dramatic changes in their resilience after mastering and using just two or three of these skills. We will explain what your scores on the RQ Test say about your personality and point out which resilience factors each of the skills is designed to enhance so you can concentrate your energy on learning the skills that will most benefit you.
In Part Three we apply the resilience skills to the primary domains in life--relationships, parenting, work, and reaching out. You'll be able to develop more satisfying relationships with friends and family or with your intimate other. You'll benefit from the same training we've provided to thousands of employees, from senior executives to front-line salespeople and customer service representatives, so that you can maximize your productivity and have greater balance between work and home. You'll learn techniques to help you become a more effective and nurturing parent. We'll show you how you can use the skills of resilience to improve your physical and mental health. And together we'll explore how the skills can help us deal with the large existential issues that all humans must face--grief and bereavement, our own mortality, and creating meaning in our lives.
Copyright © 2002 by Karen Reivich, Ph.D. and Andrew Shatte, Ph.D.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.