Tag resilience

Generation Four.

What Next?

Now three weeks into this new journey, I’m starting to reclaim a sense of self on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and intellectual – and I am enjoying learning to be myself once again.

True to form, I’ve gone through and purged belongings that I no longer need and increased “security” around those that I still need / want.  My primary objective at this point is to refine the Immersion foundation defined earlier this year and use that as the basis for decision-making and activities in the months to come.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that I have been thinking about:

Portfolio Consolidation: I am considering shutting down both Pixeldust and Ink microsites and consolidating the portfolios, which could very well result in the elimination of many older pieces whose quality lags behind more recent work.  While I think the current site design is sound, I also believe there is too much redundancy.  Strategy: Keep things simple, relevant and focus all attention on my best work.

Self-Promotion: I think the efforts that have gone into my core portfolio and the various microsites have resulted in a solid foundation to build from.  I’m pleased with the results, but I’m at a point where I’m less interested in promotion for promotion’s sake (career opportunities, etc.) and more interested in further expanding the portfolio.  Strategy: Get back to basics.

Research: I am at a point now where the types of books that I am reading are leaning away from self-improvement and towards other subjects: design, technical subjects and fiction.  It’s a direction that I’m becoming more comfortable with.  Strategy: Refocus research efforts on creative and technical topics, and focus more energies on fictional works.

Bionic 2.0: As mentioned earlier, one of the plateaus I’ve reached is the physical.  Now three years into a strength-building plan, I think I can move into new territories.  Strategy: Focus greater energy on core physiology and refine exercise plan.

 

The White Flag.

After much consideration, I resigned from my job of twelve years nearly two weeks ago.

There are many who would question such a decision given that I don’t have another opportunity lined up, and I’m also not 100% certain what, or where, that opportunity might be.  I just knew that this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

For someone who has historically placed logic above all else, admittedly many who hear this news are taken aback.  Unfortunately, after what I’ve experienced over the past five years, I’ve learned that life has other plans regardless of what you may have wanted to happen.

Thus, I’ve stopped trying to make any real long-term plans and to accept whatever comes into my life.  I don’t look years into the future; right now, I operate on a day-to-day basis (that’s 24 hours), perhaps because I don’t have any other choice.

I recently read an excerpt from a business text published by the Harvard Business Review where the author describes the attitudes of POWs during the Vietnam War.  Those who believed they would be in that situation forever fared much better than those who believed they would be released within a certain period of time; the former group’s ability to accept their current circumstances increased their resiliency.

When things aren’t “working,” I think it’s natural to envision a time when things will be working again.  Interestingly, it’s a mistake to think this way.

Since 2006, thoughts of a “better future” have centered on a relationship that no longer exists.  More recent situations have involved my career and where I live: “This will get better in a few months …” or “I’m only going to live here for a short while …”

Anger and frustration at what “should have been” becomes draining and meaningless in time, but difficult to relinquish all the same.  Unfortunately, these same feelings erode one’s resilience, and it’s a downward spiral from there.

Based upon my experience, I think one’s ability to “weather the storm” requires resilience, and surprisingly a pessimistic attitude (i.e. things may never change, but eventually everything ends).  The ability to “live life” centers around the ability to “fail quickly” (i.e. perseverance) and a strong sense of one’s self / purpose.  Everything else is supplementary, and should be considered a “bonus” because nothing in life, and no one, is guaranteed.

 

The Red Tide.

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 III – Core Belief System

“Life can be all too brief, so we must reach out for opportunities when they present themselves.  To do this, you need to better understand the kind of person you are and take control of the forces that, even now, are shaping the future “you.”  Armed with the knowledge of who you are and who you want to be, you can create meaning in your life.  You can do this by using the resilience skills to develop more intimacy with those you love, to fill your life with purpose and meaning via your work or involvement in the community.  You can also use the skills to take on new challenges.”

While the origins of Incubator were based upon loss, it ultimately allowed me to begin understanding who I am and what I want out of my life.  While not yet completely true, the process of documenting my experiences and thought patterns has allowed me to remove many of the negative emotions that comes with loss.  It was this removal that ultimately enabled the end of Incubator and the beginning of Territories.

While the process of healing can, and does, ultimately end, self-exploration does not.  It is created as one experiences new things throughout his or her life.  Coincidentally, self-exploration is an essential part of being resilient.

With the creation of The Visual Journey and the initiation of Immersion, I have a clear understanding of who I am and the experiences that got me here.  But what’s missing is an in-depth analysis of my core belief system.

Thus, one of the areas that I will be focusing on in the weeks and months to come is understanding, and challenging my core beliefs.  Some of my beliefs may fit naturally while others (i.e. those that are not making my life better) require replacement.

Furthermore, some beliefs are centralized to my professional life, while others span both work and play.  Also, some beliefs will be easy to uncover while others may require further analysis.

Future experiences aside, I believe this next step will enable me to truly understand my identity, my role in the world, and will ultimately increase my resilience.

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.

Resilience I: Self-esteem vs. Self-Efficacy

I recently finished reading  Andrew Shatte’s and Karen Reivich’s book entitled The Resilience Factor – 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles.  I found the book incredibly useful as it provides a formulaic approach to understanding the reasons why certain events trigger certain emotions, and to develop constructive ways to work through those events / emotions.  Since adversity is a constant factor in people’s lives, improving one’s resilience is critically important for future successes – both professional and personal.

Now having closed a rather turbulent period of my life, I felt the time was right to take additional steps to improve my resilience.  While my creative abilities allowed me to manage through this period in a constructive way, I felt there were some core lessons I was still missing and needed to develop.  When I stumbled upon this book, I knew that this was the piece that was missing from that journey.

Towards the beginning of the book, the authors make several key points that really set the stage for the remainder of the text.  They talk about the need to focus less on developing self-esteem and more so on self-efficacy.  There is a difference as one is a by-product of the other:

“…self-esteem is the by-product of doing well in life – meeting challenges, solving problems, struggling and not giving up.  You will feel good about yourself when you do well in the world.  That is healthy self-esteem.  Many people and many programs, however, try to bolster self-esteem directly by encouraging us to [...] believe that we can do anything we set our mind to.  The fatal flaw with this approach is that it is simply not true.  We cannot do anything we want in life, regardless of how many time we tell ourselves how special and wonderful we are and regardless of how determined we are to make it so.”

The authors go on to discuss why self-efficacy is the first step to building self-esteem:

“We know that as people start to build a track record of small successes by solving problems, self-efficacy follows naturally.”

The skills taught in The Resilience Factor equip one with tools to solve the problems in one’s life and to meet the challenges that confront her/him.  These tools allow one to develop self-efficacy, which ultimately translates into greater feelings of self-esteem.  And it’s this unique combination that can empower people to do even more with their lives and experience greater joy from the lives they already have.

The book “works” because of the numerous anecdotal examples presented throughout the text.  In fact, the book’s lessons are best assimilated by using them when adversity strikes.  The adage “practice makes perfect” is indeed valid here.

In my next post on this subject, I’ll introduce a few key points from the text along with some personal examples to illustrate just how well these tools truly work.

Related Article: Recalibration I