That is a quote from Bruce Lee. He was teaching his student to be formless, shapeless and adaptable. It is also a lesson in resilience.

Every kid likes to throw stones in a pond to watch the splash and the diverging ripples. The circles expand, but then disappear within seconds. It doesn’t matter how big the rock is, or the size of the disturbance, the water will quickly regain it’s form, stability and calmness.

The pond doesn’t ask when hit with a rock, “Why me? Why can’t that kid throw a rock into some other pond?”, and like water, resilient people have the ability to accept the things they cannot change. With that acceptance comes the calming of the water.

Be like water when hit with the stones that life tosses at you. The concentric circles represent the impact to your soul, mind or other aspects of life. Like the pond though, let the impact dissipate quickly. I’ll admit that it’s easier said than done. All healthy changes are. Everyone has stress in their lives and the sooner you can let go of it the happier you will be.

A river has great strength and power, but it also has flexibility. It bends where the earth bends.

Increasing our acceptance, flexibility and adaptability will increase our resistance to stress, and our ability to bounce back quickly after trauma. Be like water my friend.

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Yesterday I spoke at a conference where the audience was fun, positive and energetic. You’d never guess that they are managers in an agency that is dealing with details of horrible trauma on a daily basis. And because they are managers, they are stuck in the middle between the front line employees and the executive level, which (as anyone who has been in mid-level management can tell you) is a lonely job. There is a high level of organizational stress because of trying to juggle many competing demands from case-load to administration, and from managing human resources to dealing with external agencies that sometimes work at cross purposes.

Being the only manager in a satellite office magnifies the feeling of being alone and feeling a lack of support at times. That’s why this conference was so healthy and positive for these managers. It gave them an opportunity to network with other people that are in the same boat. The theme of the conference was Resiliency, and I really believe it boosted the resiliency of the already very resilient group. And not that I want to downplay my own contribution to the conference, but I think the part that provided the most value was the networking. Not because they need to trade best practices, but because of the support system it provides. The managers, who are normally on their own, now have a group of peers that understand exactly what they are going through. That is often better than a professional counsellor. These managers get each other. They are able to vent and have their feelings validated by others that know exactly what they are talking about. This is extremely healthy.

Just knowing that you’re not alone and that there are others who are there to listen and who really understand your struggles, can have a significant impact on lowering the amount of distress that you’re feeling.

Peer Support doesn’t have to be a formal program to have a positive impact. Sometimes having a glass of wine together after the days sessions, and venting together and laughing together can provide a huge psychological boost.

I really hope they stay in touch with each other, and continue to be an informal peer support network.

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Don’t learn about meditation, just starting doing it.

People have told me that they want to read and educate themselves about meditation and the different types such as transcendental, mindfulness, guided visualization, Japa etc. It seems big and complicated. I understand, because I did the same thing. I bought three books on meditation before I even tried doing it. Having done that I realized it wasn’t necessary and not the best way to begin. Better to keep it simple at the start. Just sit still, quiet your mind, quiet your body and you’re doing meditation.

Learn as you go.

Experiment with it.

Experience it.

Some things you can try; focus on your breathing. As thoughts come into your mind allow them to pass…watch them go. And refocus on your breathing. Or focus on the present moment. Exercise discipline on your mind by bringing it back to the present moment if your thoughts begin to wander to the past or future. That’s harder than it sounds since our mind is occupied with past and future most of the time. Another method is to say an affirmation or mantra over and over in your mind. Or focus on an emotion such as gratitude or compassion. Feel it.

It’s not so much about what kind of meditation you do, but that you do it. It’s about creating the habit. The regular practice of it will bring benefits into all aspects of your life; mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. By learning to quiet your mind and body and just be in the present moment, it will reduce feelings of stress and also reduce the physical reactions to stress.

Meditation will increase our awareness and improve our perception of our challenges or painful experiences. It will enhance our immune function and helps to regulate brain chemicals. Meditation will bring peace into our life. But not by reading about it. So try it.

I spoke to a friend last week that spent nine days in silence at a retreat meditating all day. I thought that was awesome, if you can afford the time to do that. It may not be realistic for most of us to take nine days away from family, career, or Facebook! Fortunately you don’t need to do that to start seeing benefits. Start with a short time. I take 10 minutes at work and close my office door, and meditate listening to solitudes music or Deepak Chopra Soul of Healing Affirmations that I just downloaded recently from iTunes. By taking that mere 10 minutes, it has a huge positive impact on the rest of my day. It reduces stress instantly and gives perspective to whatever else I have on the go.

If you have trouble at the start because of your “monkey mind” that is normal, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t over analyze and evaluate your experience. Simply accept it. With practice it does get easier to be still physically and mentally.

I would like to hear about your experience with mediation. Email me if you have any thoughts, experiences or wisdom you’d like to share.

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I have read articles where the author said that PTSD is a normal reaction to trauma, or a normal reaction to an abnormal event.  But it’s not true.  Usually the people that say that are people that have suffered with PTSD.  However science doesn’t support that view.

George Bonnano a leading resilience researcher from Columbia University wrote in 2011 that the single most common outcome after a traumatic event is recovery without intervention.  Research shows that most people recover after trauma without any kind of treatment.  In other words, most people are naturally resilient.

It is normal to have some type of stress reaction after trauma, but those reactions in the vast majority of cases are temporary.  Most people will experience some type of physiological or emotional reaction after severe stress, at the very least due to the adrenaline dump.  You may have feelings of shock, horror or disbelief and may experience hyperarousal, emotional numbing or have trouble sleeping.  These various reactions are reasonable to expect and usually subside within a few weeks, and do not turn into full blown PTSD.  Most research shows that PTSD rates are in the neighbourhood of 15 percent after a traumatic event.  That means that 85 percent of people do not develop PTSD after experiencing trauma.  That is good news.

The other positive news is that PTSD is preventable in many cases.  Prevention can be accomplished through resiliency training pre-incident, and also through post-incident support.  In a study (Brewin et al, 2000) researchers found that the severity of the trauma had less to do with the outcome than the support the victim received after the event.  A lack of support after trauma will be a major factor in increasing the chances of PTSD, but the reverse is also true.  A strong support system can prevent PTSD onset.

Sometimes people diagnosed with PTSD, and people that work with victims balk at the idea that PTSD is not a normal reaction and that it is preventable.  They feel it is insensitive to the victims.  Like saying they are weak, or mentally inferior in some way.   That’s not what the scientific research is saying though.  It’s research, it’s not a personal attack.  And of course the purpose of the research is to help people in the future.

Let’s compare it to cancer research.  If there was a study that found a method of preventing cancer that was effective 50 percent of the time, it would be celebrated and promoted.  No one would assume that it’s being insensitive to people that already have cancer.  It would just be great to know that much of the suffering could be prevented.

Those victim’s advocates or critical incident stress responders who, because of their sensitivity to victims, don’t want to discuss the fact that PTSD is not the normal response and preventable, really don’t help future victims.

I know that PTSD can’t be prevented in all cases, but that should not stop us from working towards that goal.  There should be a greater focus on resiliency training, not just treatment for those with trouble coping.  Is it not better to prevent somebody from falling, instead of afterwards trying to put all the pieces back together again?

We will all face some significant trauma in our life and will have stress reactions to that event.  It is good to seek treatment and a have a support system.  And it is good to know that those reactions are usually temporary and that over the next weeks we will regain a sense of normalcy.  It’s good to know that odds are strongly in our favour that we won’t develop PTSD.  This positive assumption will help us. 

If people assume they will develop PTSD because they experienced trauma, because they believe that is the most common reaction, it can create a self-fulfilling prophesy.  The placebo effect is well documented, and it shows that beliefs can help or hinder healing.

We need to have a healthy perspective about the natural resiliency of the human mind and our ability to effectively cope with trauma and bounce back.

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Based on informal surveys that I have conducted, I’ve found that almost everyone has heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but almost no-one has heard of PTG (Post Traumatic Growth).  This is surprising considering that PTG is much more prevalent than PTSD.  Most people that go through a major trauma do not get PTSD or other psychological disorder.  They handle it fine.  People are naturally resilient for the most part.  When we hear stats like 15 percent of the soldiers returning from combat develop PTSD, it means that 85 percent did not.  So I look at that in a positive way…the glass is 85% full.

And there have been studies that showed that 30 to 50 percent of people actually grow from whatever trauma they experienced.  So they are better human beings in some way due to the adversity that they were able to pass through.

Just because people experienced growth doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer or go through a period of distress.  They may have suffered intensely, with their entire worldview shattered.  But it does mean that they had positive changes resulting from the event and its aftermath.

Tedeschi and Calhoun have found in their research that people commonly report growing in these five areas:

  • A greater appreciation for life
  • More meaningful interpersonal relationships
  • Enhanced spiritual beliefs
  • New direction and purpose in life
  • An increased sense of personal strength

 

Odds are in your favour that you will experience growth as opposed to PTSD if you are touched by tragedy.  To tilt the scales in your favour even more just make a conscious decision that you will gain something positive.  There is power in simply deciding that you will overcome.  Decide that you will find meaning in your suffering, and that you will grow in one of the ways I mentioned above.

That is life, the human experience.  It is also what most movies are about.  The hero’s journey.  The protagonist experiences adversity, they suffer, they rise to the challenge, they learn, they grow and they succeed. 

I’m not saying trauma is good or we should welcome it into our lives, but when it does find us…rise to the challenge, grow and succeed.

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What’s the difference and which is better?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to significant adversity and trauma, to recover quickly, to bounce back.  Resilient individuals may have an acute stress reaction after going through a traumatic incident.  They may go into a tail-spin and suffer temporary symptoms such as sleeplessness, shock, anxiety, disbelief, and depression.  But it is temporary and within a month they get back to normal.  It may not be exactly the same state as before.  It may be what’s referred to as a “new normal”, which is a little higher or lower than the old emotional state, but it is a state of homeostasis and the individual will be fully functioning.

Resilient people will recover from the stress caused by trauma.

A non-resilient individual by contrast would not recover from the tail-spin and would not get back to normal, and would have long-term functional impairments, and potentially PTSD.

Non-resilient people don't bounce back.

A person who has a high level of stress resistance would never have the tail-spin in the first place.  Whatever the crisis was, it would just be a small blip and then life as normal continues without any acute stress reaction.

Stress resistance is the absence of a stress reaction.

Isn’t it better to be resistant to stress then?  Not in all circumstances.  After going through serious trauma it would be normal and natural to have some stress reaction.  That’s what makes us human.  If you don’t have some acute stress reaction after a loved one dies, then you might just be a psychopath!

Where we need to develop stress resistance is in our regular work and family life.  People that suffer from stress reactions from routine day-to-day issues will potentially develop psychological and physiological problems needlessly.

So it’s ok to let yourself have an acute stress reaction when you go through the odd significant trauma in life, but it’s not ok when it’s from dealing with a bad boss that you see everyday!  So the same person may be resilient in some circumstances and stress resistant in other circumstances, and that is healthy.

Resistance and resilience are developed in the same way.  Incorporate the resiliency factors into your life and it will grow your levels of both resistance and resilience.  I will continue adding posts about the various characteristics and behaviours that will make you immune to the stress caused by the demands of the modern workplace, and give you the ability to bounce back after a major crushing blow to life as you know it.

This ability will help you create long term success and happiness.

(Thanks to my daughter Melissa for creating the graphs to illustrate the point better.)

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Yes, but why?

I have studied research on the various resiliency factors, and the reasons why most of these factors increase resilience are pretty straight forward.  It makes sense at first blush that having a good support system in the form of a loving family would help you get through challenges.  It’s obvious that if you have a sense of humor and meditate and work out, that you will be better off when dealing with stress.

When I read Dr. Robert Brooks’ research stating that self-discipline is a vital component of a resilient mindset, I wondered “What is it about self-discipline that makes us more stress resilient?”  The answer didn’t hit me right away.

As I read a little more of Dr. Brooks’ work I saw the connections with stress and lack of self control.  If you are too impulsive or compulsive you will invite stress into your life.  Typically impulsive people have trouble controlling appetites, and give in to temptations such as inappropriate sex, pornography addictions, over-eating, drugs, alcohol, losing temper, and on and on.  Those are behaviors that cause stress.  In addition they are usually behaviours that compromise our values, so we feel guilt and shame which only serves to magnify the stress.

So I figured that having self-discipline is not as much a characteristic that builds personal resilience as it is a characteristic that helps us avoid the stress in the first place.

However, as I studied a little more about the brain and how it works, I made some new connections.  Generally speaking our pre-frontal cortex is our rational, reasoning and logical part of our brain, and our amygdala and the rest of our limbic system are the emotional and animalistic parts of our brain.  The limbic system is responsible for our “fight or flight” response.  When you give in to temptation by doing something that is pleasurable even though you know it is wrong, it is your limbic system winning out over your pre-frontal cortex.  When you do something that is hard, like writing a presentation when it would be easier to watch TV, that’s your pre-frontal cortex winning out over your limbic system.  But when you quit writing before you are done to go watch the latest episode of Modern Family just to hear Sofia Vergara’s accent, you guessed it, the limbic system is back in charge.

What does this have to do with resiliency?  Worry, fear and anxiety are based in the limbic system.  Most worries and fears are not rational.  The pre-frontal cortex knows that flying is statistically safer than driving, yet the limbic system causes many people to be stressed every time they step on a plane.  Which do you give more weight to, your pre-frontal cortex or limbic system?

People with a high level of self-discipline are people that would have a stronger pre-frontal cortex, and rely more on logic and reasoning.  They would tend not to be influenced by irrational fears.  Their rational brain more often than not would win out over the emotional brain.  So now it makes more sense to me why people that are self-disciplined would be resistant to negative stress reactions.

Yes this is over simplifying a complex relationship between parts of the brain, but for us lay-people the generalization works.  It works because we just need to know the basics so we can improve our odds in this constant battle in our mind.

Self-discipline is like a muscle.  It will be built and strengthened over time as you practice resisting temptation, and are proactive with goals.  It doesn’t happen over night, but with exercising your self-control it will grow.  Another method is meditation.  Research has shown that meditation increases self-discipline, and makes people less impulsive, and more likely to think through their problems instead of reacting emotionally.

As you reach higher levels of self-discipline you will avoid bringing a lot of stress into your life, and the stress that you can’t avoid won’t crush you.

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I’ve always disagreed with the majority of the stress management literature that promotes avoidance of stressors.  Unfortunately in this world of uncertainty we cannot predict nor prevent many of the stressors we face, and furthermore we really don’t want to.  We place ourselves in risky and challenging situations because that is how we grow and achieve.

“If you want to avoid stress then don’t go for that next promotion, or forget about starting that new business, don’t even think about writing that book.”  See what I mean…avoidance of stress is not the answer.

In the Sep/Oct 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind there was an article “Fight the Frazzled Mind”.    The author, Robert Epstein, referenced research that suggested the most effective way to manage stress was reducing, eliminating and avoiding sources of stress.  Ok…that’s obvious.  But effective doesn’t mean the best or most practical.

What I did like about the article is that it said “with the right training and preparation we might be able to face any stressor with equanimity.”  It spoke about relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, visualization, muscle-relaxation and meditation as effective ways to lower blood pressure and make people feel immunized against stressors.  The author also showed that managing thoughts was an important competency.  Those that can reframe difficulties in a more positive light, or correct irrational beliefs will be more resilient.

Avoidance and prevention are good approaches when it’s needless stress, like what we bring on ourselves through procrastination or just doing stupid things.  Clearly I’m not saying we should go looking for stress, but when it inevitably finds us we can still have equanimity.  Manage your thoughts by looking for the silver lining and being realistically optimistic, and manage your body through relaxation techniques.  The best methods allow you to live with high demands, but with peace.

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Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment.  People that live in the present moment handle stress and trauma better than those who dwell on the past or are preoccupied with the future.  If you feel anxiety or worry or shame, chances are you are either ruminating on the past or worried about some future potentiality.  Either way it’s not helpful.  You can’t change the past, and most of what you worry about in the future will never happen.

Of course you already know that on an intellectual level, but it’s not that easy to change.  We are emotional beings and driven by our subconscious minds.  Is it possible to change, and to release the anxiety and other feelings that cause stress?  Yes.  There are things you can do to practice mindfulness.

Focus your awareness on the here and now, pay attention to whatever you are doing.  If your mind wanders, try to bring it back.  Be aware of your emotions and feelings, but learn to accept them.  Be aware of your feelings from a third-person perspective, as if from outside of yourself.  This helps to be non-judgmental and non-reactive so you may respond better to whatever situation you may be in.

Mindfulness meditation is focusing on your breathing, or one of your senses, or your body and how it feels, or even an awareness of your current thoughts.  Choose one of those to pay attention to, for example; focus on your breathing.  Meditate on inhaling and exhaling, excluding all other thoughts.  It takes practice, but with practice you will gain an increased ability to pay attention to only breathing.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and also increase creativity and energy.  Monks who practice mindfulness regularly have high levels of equanimity and well-being.

Don’t dwell on the past which you can’t change, or feel anxiety for the future that you can’t control.  Live in the now.

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Dr. Linda Duxbury, a researcher and professor at the Sprott School of Business has conducted research on what causes the most stress in policing and found that it’s not much different from the private sector.  The majority of stress doesn’t come from the operational aspects of the job, but the organizational aspects.  Sure there is traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, but the day-in-day-out stress from office politics and other administrative demands is much more common and has a more detrimental effect on the most people.

Multiple competing complex demands is a good description of the work environment that we all live in now.  I believe it is one of the most demanding times in human history because of the barrage of information and the expectation to be ever available.  Many people complain of stress caused by the sheer volume of work, the multiple demands, too many responsibilities, unrealistic deadlines, pressure not to say no, increasing complexity of tasks, understaffing, constant sense of urgency, and on and on.

“Doing more with less” is a bad cliché these days, and it’s not sustainable over the long term, unless employees learn how to manage work-life balance and build their personal resilience.

Great organizations realize that they need to support and take an active role in helping their employees achieve balance and resilience.  Unfortunately there are many organizations that don’t understand the cost, and continue to burn-out their people.

I suggest that you don’t leave it up to your organization though, and that you take personal responsibility to learn the factors that build resilience and implement these factors in your daily life.  For example: have a trusted friend to confide in who can support you, try to see the humor in difficult situations and don’t take yourself too seriously, find meaning in suffering, quiet your mind and body through breathing exercises, and don’t neglect your fitness.

One of my quotes is “In today’s world resiliency is power”. What I’m referring to is the personal power it will give you. I believe that in the current relentless and demanding environment, resiliency is the most important trait you can develop to help you achieve long term success in any field.  Multiple competing complex demands aren’t going away, so by working on your resilience and work-life balance, you will have the advantage at work, and will create a rich and meaningful life!

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A friend of mine started a website recently, “Watch Me Bounce, Inspiring Resilience Through Story”.  I met Rocky Reichman at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem while we both attended a course there about trauma and resilience.  I’d like to recommend his website, and not just because he interviewed me for his site!  The interview can be found at this link:  http://www.watchmebounce.com/featured-content/resilience-spotlight-the-story-of-detachment-commander-brad-coulbeck/

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There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was an outstanding business leader.  But what was it about him that made him great?  Was it his genius at tech development, his creativity, his vision, his knack for marketing?  Sure, it was likely a combination of all those things.  What always impressed me with Steve Jobs though, was his resilience, his persistence, his ability to bounce back and his unflagging enthusiasm.

Here’s a man who was fired from the company that he founded.  Fired by the CEO that he himself had hired.  I’d hate to have to come home and explain that to my wife!  He had other failures over the years, the Lisa computer, the Apple 3, the NeXT computer which was a commercial failure, and the Newton platform.  Then there were his serious health problems, being diagnosed with cancer in 2004.  Clearly his success was no cakewalk.

He fought through all his failures, challenges and obstacles to become the Henry Ford of our day.  It’s not just the MacBooks, iPods, iPads and iPhones either.  Steve changed the entire music industry with iTunes and the movie industry with Pixar.

If Steve Jobs was not resilient he would have been crushed by his early defeats instead of going on to become the icon that he is.  He is an example to everyone that has been fired, that has invested in ideas that tanked, or that suffers with health problems while continuing to work.

I will leave you with an excerpt of his commencement address that he delivered at Stanford University on June 12, 2005.  In his own words you will see why he was resilient.

“…We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started?

Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

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. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT.

I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple.  It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”

It is a moving story, and the key reason he is great in my eyes.  Thank you Steve.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

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The concept of the “Open Door Policy” is good in theory and an improvement over times when leaders were not available and not approachable.  In many cases the concept has gone too far though, and many leaders now think they should always be available.

I recommend closing your door and not taking calls for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.  It’s easy to see that by closing your door it will prevent interruptions and increase your efficiency.  However there are additional benefits, such as lowering your stress level.

I’ve read various articles that explain how to deal with interruptions by kicking people out of your office in a polite way, or how to hang up on time-wasters without them knowing you’re trying to get rid of them.  It’s much easier to avoid those distractions in the first place.  Set a standard at your workplace.  “Between 11 am and noon everyday my door will be closed and I’m not taking calls.”

Research shows that the more control you have over your work, the less stress you will have.  Don’t let other people determine when you will deal with issues.  By taking control of this aspect of your work, you will reduce your stress.

There are other ways it will relieve stress as well.  It’s all about what you do when your door is closed.  The first practical thing is that you will get your work done faster, and we all feel less anxiety when we can check off an item on our list.

Beyond that it gives you time to analyze what else is causing you to feel tense, and you can plan your response to those issues.  It will give you time to center yourself, do breathing exercises, listen to classical music, meditate, or any other relaxation technique that you prefer.  I just encourage you to pick one and actually do it!  It will help you get in flow and achieve your peak performance.

Overcome the urge to always be available.  Some guilt-free alone time at work is good for you and good for your business.

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The human condition is such that we all must unavoidably experience loss and pain.  All of us suffer to a greater or lesser extent depending on our own personal interpretation of the loss.  Your belief about what an incident means will determine to a large extent the amount of distress you have.

If you believe in something greater than yourself, a higher power, or a mission in life, you will be more resilient than someone who does not.

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?  The reason may be that you needed this challenge to grow, or maybe you believe that you are being led on a certain path.  It doesn’t matter what the reason is, just the fact that you have faith in this principle is enough to reduce your stress.

I believe this, and can see how it has assisted me when things have gone sideways in my life.

Finding meaning will help give you the strength to get through difficulties from minor to catastrophic.  Whether a co-worker “threw you under the bus”, or you suffered from a tragic death in the family, finding meaning in your suffering will ease the pain and help you to move forward.

My favorite book on this topic is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.  He was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived years of horror in Nazi death camps.  One of the primary factors that helped him endure was his belief in what the experience meant, and what his purpose in life was.  While at Auschwitz he would visualize himself after the war teaching at the University in Vienna.  He knew that he could advance the field of psychotherapy, based on his research while living through unimaginable trauma.  This deep sense of purpose drove him when there was nothing else to live for.

Here’s a visualization exercise that you can try.  Imagine yourself 80 years old and near the end of your life.  Looking back on your life, see the losses and trials that you have experienced, tempered by time and with the benefit of added wisdom.  See how they took your life in a particular direction, how new opportunities opened up or new relationships were forged.  In most cases the most meaningful experiences in life were not the easy times, but the times where you faced and overcame adversity.

Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to figure that out.  Use these visualization techniques to help you understand the higher meaning in your life, and have faith that all your negative experiences will prepare you for your ultimate purpose.

That’s the hero’s journey.  You’re on it.  Looking for meaning and seeing the big picture will help you achieve resiliency and success.

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Can you look back on misfortunes or challenges in your past and laugh about it?  Ok, well that’s pretty easy.  How about finding the humour in your present difficulties?  That’s a lot harder, but it’s also healthier.

People that can find humour in their problems, who can laugh at themselves and who don’t take themselves too seriously are more resilient.

Even research going back forty years showed soldiers returning from Vietnam had lower rates of PTSD when they were able to laugh when facing tragedy and trauma.  Sometimes referred to as “black comedy”, this type of humour is common among police, soldiers, nurses and other emergency workers.  Having the ability to joke about tragic issues such as death seems inappropriate on the surface, but studies have shown that it is psychologically protective.  Of course we have to remember there is “a time and a place”, and the need to be sensitive to victims, however, the joking itself is not a bad thing.

When I was team leader for a police tactical unit in Northern Ontario, we had a guy that could always crack us up.  No matter how cold and wet and tired we were, no matter how miserable the situation was, Ryan could always find something funny about it.  He was relentless with the jokes.  Although it didn’t seem like a critical skill in those emergency situations, I considered him a critical piece.  Why?  Because I knew that no matter how bad things got, morale wouldn’t spiral downwards, and team members wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the demanding situation because he would have them laughing.

Finding humour in difficulties helps to keep things in perspective.  Also, similar to exercise, when we laugh our brains release feel-good biochemicals.

Laughing feels good and it’s good for you.  What has you stressed, frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed?  What can you find right now that is funny about it?  Like I said at the start, it’s hard, but it works.

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