Tag beliefs

Resilience IV – Is my dog unhappy?

In an earlier post, I summarized the ABC resilience methodology described by the authors of The Resilience Factor.  In this post, I’ll introduce a very simple example of a belief that seems to affect me on a fairly routine basis.  I will likely progress into more advanced examples in the future, but this is an easy one to explore and share this particular analysis methodology.

Adversity: My dog is staring at me and I am not sure what he wants to do.

Belief: What does he want now?  I need to focus on other things right now and I am not sure I really want to go outside again.

Consequences: A combination of frustration and guilt, and sometimes even anger.

While it’s perhaps easy to see why I would feel frustrated and even guilty, I have often been puzzled why I sometimes feel angry – sometimes to the point of being stressed out!  Let’s explore what these emotions are really saying about my belief system in this particular case.

Question: I take care of my dog almost better than I do myself.  Why does his staring bother me so much?

Answer: Because I don’t know what he is feeling and whether he is bored.

Question: Let’s assume he is bored, what is the worst part of that for me?

Answer: If my dog is bored, then I think he is unhappy.

Question: What does that mean to me if he is unhappy?

Answer: It means that I am not taking as good care of him as I should be and he deserves more than I may be providing.  It may mean that I am not doing a very good job at being a pet owner and that ultimately I may not be able to achieve a good balance between work and personal life if and when I do have children.  In some respects, I feel helpless.

It’s a safe bet that some pet owners don’t experience these feelings, but I am sure that many do.  Guilt, I think, naturally comes with having children or pets.  If you truly care about your pets and/or children, you are always going to want the best for them (i.e. their happiness) and thus any activity that impacts those feelings is going to result in some feelings of guilt.

As it relates to my feelings of anger, clearly these feelings are inward-facing.  My dog has done nothing wrong, and frankly it is unlikely that he is bored; perhaps he is staring at me out of pure affection? (or he just wants another treat!)

My anger is primarily about not being able to understand or satisfy a need that may not necessarily be there in the first place; feelings of helplessness are a natural byproduct.  At a much deeper level, it’s about potentially failing later on in a future partnership or family environment either due to a lack of understanding and/or an inability to make a positive impact / change (i.e. will I be able to attain a balance between my personal interests and those of my wife’s and or children’s?).

As you can see here, by taking a closer look at my emotions surrounding this particular adversity, I’ve learned quite a bit about this seemingly innocent dynamic. Given this in-depth analysis, however, it’s clear that this belief needs to change.  Being resilient in this case means the following:

  1. I’ll never understand what my dog is thinking, so yes I will perhaps always feel helpless but I can do what I can to ensure his happiness.
  2. Achieving a balance in this relationship (and in future relationships) is a simple means of establishing “boundaries” (in this case a loose schedule) and continuously measuring against those same boundaries to see what is working and what isn’t.
  3. There are some things in life that I will be able to change and many others that I will not.

While this is a simple example of approaches recommended in the text, you can see just how much information is uncovered and whether existing beliefs should stay or go.

Resilience II: The ABC’s

“Resilience, then, is the basic strength, underpinning all the positive characteristics in a person’s emotional and psychological makeup.  A lack of resilience is the major cause of negative functioning.  Without resilience there is no courage, no rationality, no insight.  It is the bedrock on which all else is built.” – Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, The Resilience Factor

In my last post, I introduced the topic of resilience and how the key to greater self-esteem is self-efficacy.  The path towards greater self-efficacy is resilience, and the path to greater resilience begins with an understanding of the ABC model – a resilience-building methodology presented in The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté:

  • Adversity – What pushes your buttons?
  • Beliefs – What are your beliefs at that moment?
  • Consequences – What do you feel and what do you do about those feelings?

While it would be easy for me to fabricate an example to illustrate this technique, I think it’s beneficial if I share a personal example from my own professional experience.

In a previous role I was responsible for maintaining a project schedule of nearly 1500+ tasks.  Since the team was still getting familiar with the overall PM structure and methodology, there was bound to be some communication breakdowns, and I eventually found myself in the middle of one.

Prior to this event, I had established a weekly schedule where updates would be collected from the various workstream leads and subsequently incorporated into the larger program schedule.  This particular breakdown occurred because the schedule was compromised, the reasoning was unclear, and I found myself in the spotlight for issues I was also unaware of.

Let’s walk through this example to illustrate how the system works.

First, let’s summarize the Adversity in an objective and specific manner:

“Shortly after responding to inquiries about the project schedule, my colleagues sent follow-up emails that highlighted the urgency of the related changes and asked that these changes be made as soon as possible.”

Next, I’ll describe what I was feeling at that very moment: (my Beliefs)

“What is wrong with these people?  What happened to the schedule that was established weeks ago?  If they are unhappy with the manner by which I am maintaining the schedule, why aren’t they updating it themselves?”

“Ticker-tape” beliefs are beliefs that you may not be immediately aware of.  In this particular case, my ticker-tape beliefs centered around my desire to do work that took greater advantage of my strengths and skill set.  And this task, while important, was not aligned with this desire.  In retrospect, my mind was already looking for potential issues.

When utilizing this approach it’s important that you avoid filtering what you are feeling at that moment.  Doing so can cause you to skim the surface of your true emotions, and you’ll gain less from the experience in the long-run.

The third and final component of this resilience methodology is Consequences: “the way you feel and what you do in the moment of an adversity or challenge.”

The authors go on to present a few standard B-C connections that one can refer to in the midst of an adversity:

  • Violation of your rights … results in … anger
  • Real world loss or loss of self-worth … results in … sadness, depression
  • Violation of another’s rights … results in … guilt
  • Future threat … results in … anxiety, fear
  • Negative comparison to others … results in … embarrassment

In this particular example, my immediate and initial B-C connection was about a violation of my rights and the feelings of anger that soon followed.  But the B-C connection was actually less about my rights and ultimately about loss of self-worth.  After all, in this role I wasn’t really leading – I was maintaining, and to receive any sort of “criticism” dealt a blow to my self-worth.  ”Can’t I do even THIS correctly?”

While I chose to deal with this adversity head-on, expressing my concerns directly to my colleagues, I let the combination of anger and sadness result in a criticism of their abilities in managing related tasks.  Thus, I was faced with yet another B-C connection – one where I inadvertently violated another’s rights, and felt a sense of guilt for doing so.

Events and experiences that I have been faced with over the past several years have helped strengthen some of my ticker-tape beliefs, and it’s those same beliefs that unfortunately played a key role in the consequences I’ve just described.

What is critically important here is the fact that “… our emotions and behaviors are triggered not by events themselves but by how we interpret those events.”  Responding to my colleagues initial requests using an altered belief system could have resulted in a less direct conversation, leaving greater flexibility afterwards for a less charged dialogue, thus obtaining perhaps greater results in the long-run.

The next natural step for me is to take a closer look at my belief system to determine which beliefs are working and which are not.  While my job may not always be 100% in alignment with my strengths, my relationships with others should not have to suffer because of it.