Brain Science – Episode #18
keep going in the face of adversity
In this episode, Mireille and Adam discuss the importance of building resiliency and how we can build skills to navigate unexpected and unwanted adversities. Fundamentally, we are designed to adapt out of a place of survival. Given that, we have to learn how to manage our fear while building awareness of the perceptions we have so that we can learn how to be both flexible and calm. Not surprising, we also talk about the way in which our relationships with others help us buffer the challenges better so that we are able to remain calmer and henceforth, see the opportunities within the obstacles.
Notes & Links
- Building your resilience on American Psychological Association
- 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People
- 25 Ways to Boost Resilience
- How resilient are you? (Resiliency quiz)
CORRECTION!! The phrase in Batman Begins is “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” You can watch it here and again here.
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Good morning, Adam! How are you?
Hey, Mireille. What’s going on?
Doing good… You know, trying not to count the days. I saw this meme recently that stood out to me, and it had the front portion of every day of the week exed out. So instead of Monday, it was just “Day”, Tuesday - “Day”. So it seems as though a bit of the days are blurring together… So it’s a day.
Oh yes, it is a day…
So I’m super-excited to talk about what we’re going to today, because I think it’s really relevant… Not just now, in what everyone is walking through, but just in everyday life. It was Nelson Mandela who said “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” At this is this concept of resiliency. How do I practice, how could I be resilient?
I had this experience when I was traveling in Israel. I was looking for keepsakes that help me remember certain relevant things… And there’s this little jeweler that we went into (my friends and I) when I was looking around in Jerusalem. And it was really, really cool - inscribed in Hebrew on this little ring said “This too shall pass.” I think that that reminder is so important, because resiliency doesn’t mean this sense of “I’m never going to encounter obstacles” or “It’s not going to be painful or upsetting”, but rather realizing I have the opportunity to adapt, and that things even though they’re aversive, will pass on. They’re not gonna last forever, even when it feels like it could.
Yeah. Some might have watched one of the Batman movies, one of the more recent ones, the recent trilogy from Christopher Nolan… In there, the dad says to young Bruce, at the time - he was in this well, he fell down, and there were bats and stuff down there… It’s all part of his psychological breakdown to become Batman, eventually… The point is that he fell into this well, and his dad comes and rescues him, and he says “Why do we fall down, Bruce?” Of course, young Bruce doesn’t understand why, and he says “So we can get back up.” I could be paraphrasing, so correct me if my exact phrasing of it isn’t exact, and makes it a paraphrase… But the point is the reason we fall is so we can get back up.
[04:21] I tell my son this, too… It’s interesting to hinge these things back, this wisdom back to a ring in Jerusalem… “This too shall pass” however is better wisdom. But then also back to Batman, because - we’re gonna fall in life. There is gonna be some sort of adversity that we’re gonna face. We’re gonna have to get back up. And I tell my son this, because I want him to learn this young, “Buddy, you’re gonna fall on your bike, you’re gonna fall in other ways, but the point is how do you get back up. That’s the most important thing.” Because if you get back up with a different attitude of “Try again”, or “This won’t conquer me. I have the power to get back up” or whatever it might be, that’s the framework of your mind in those moments, is super-powerful, and shapes in many ways how you see the world.
Yeah. So the word “resilience” actually comes from this Latin word “resilio”, which means to bounce back or retaliate. So this sense of emotional resiliency is intertwined with self-belief, like what we think about ourselves, what we think about our world, with this sense of compassion, as well as enhanced ways in which we think. It’s the way in which we actually empower ourselves to perceive our adversities as temporary, and keep evolving through the suffering that comes with it.
The temporary thing is interesting, because when you’re in the moment, and there’s obviously a wide spectrum to adversity - it could be today’s trials and tribulations, or it could be a year-long year of grief, it could be a lot of different things which knocks you down; this idea of temporary. Because when you’re in the middle of something, often the thing that makes it hard to get back up or the process of getting back up is because you can’t see the entrance or the exit of the hallway you’re in. You feel lost in this moment of – not so much depression like mental depression, but this depression of your life, like something is pressed upon you, something is keeping you down, for whatever reason… And you kind of get lost.
That temporary thing is kind of key, because there is an end to most everything. What goes up must come down. There’s always an opposite. But you can often get mentally lost in a challenge of life, and just feel like “My only option is to give up, because I can’t see the end of this.”
Right. It’s very much like a tidal wave or a tsunami of like “I got pummeled. I’ve got nothing left to get back up with.” But we are fundamentally designed to adapt. That’s how we’ve survived all these years - the figuring it out. So being resilient doesn’t mean that you’re not going to experience difficulty or distress, but actually much of the time this road to resiliency involves distress.
This is why when I talk about the things involved in it, like how do we navigate it, what is it about, very much perspective-taking in how we think. Because if I really get caught in this emotional contagion of the moment, like “I don’t know how long this is gonna last. I’ve got nothing left. I can’t do anymore”, I’m apt to just be like “I’m just gonna lay down. I’m not gonna get back up.”
Yeah. You feel alone.
[08:06] Yeah, yeah. And that’s another component of this. We spend a lot of time talking about and referencing back the value of social connection. We were designed to be connected to other people. So if I’m struggling and then alone, like I don’t think anybody is in it with me, it is legitimately that much harder to practice getting back up.
We’re so tethered to other people… Your emotion influences my emotion. And if you have no other – I don’t wanna really say “energy source”, but nobody else bringing some energy… It’s a one-way street. If your energy is going down and there’s no other opposite to be bringing it back up, another social component, another person in your life, it’s possible that you will just keep going down the energy road into the negative, versus the positive.
Right, yeah. But think about the difference when people talk to you. You can talk to yourself, because - don’t think you’re crazy if you talk to yourself. We all do.
We’ve covered that. The inner voice.
Yeah. But it sounds different when we hear it from outside of ourselves. It was ironic, I was having a conversation with my sister recently, and she told me something that I had thought or previously said to someone that I was working with to be encouraging, and I laughed out loud; I was like “That is so funny, because I just said that to someone else.” But she was referencing it back to me as I was sort of saying “Hey, this is hard, and I don’t like this…” So it was so humorous… Because I’m on both sides of the coin. I can help people as a profession, but it doesn’t mean that I never struggle either.
Well, yeah, everyone does. Just because you’ve studied it all doesn’t mean you have it all. You still have moments where even though you’re educated around psychology, it doesn’t mean that you have all the bases covered.
There’s gonna be times when you’re missing.
Right, and I think this is exactly what drives me to pursue it further, and to understand more, and why I try to act like a scientist and go “What works? Why did that work in this case, but then over here it was harder, or it felt more aversive?” Because that’s life, and it’s always changing. So if I’m looking at resilience as a sort of construct, and going “How do I do better or be more resilient?”
You can always think of this in sort of a three-tiered or three-pronged picture. We’ve got physical elements to it, because we always have our bodies that we bring to everything we do. We have a physical structure. And then we’ve got the mental or psychological elements, and then this social element. So I’m not gonna spend too much time on this, but taking care of the physical is pretty basic. According to the American Psychological Association, self-care could be a popular buzzword, but it’s legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience… Because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. We talked about this and what happens with our brain and our body when we’re under stress, and our levels of cortisol go up; I get overwhelmed, it affects my thinking, I can’t focus or concentrate… So this is why we have to consider what we’re eating, are you getting enough sleep, are you drinking enough water, and exercising - all of those things help us to adapt to stress and reduce its toll.
[11:59] So if I’m moving on and talking about more the psychological or cognitive aspects, our perception is critical… Because it’s not just what I’m going through, but my perception of it. Can you think of anything you’ve done, Adam, that maybe you had some thought about it before, that it seemed like it was gonna go well, or enjoyable, and then you had the experience, and it wasn’t that? Or vice-versa - you thought “Hey, this is gonna suck.”
Oh, yeah. That’s why I love mountain-biking… Because mountain-biking is all about progressing. You’re a skilled rider only once you sort of gain these skills to conquer certain technical terrain, or decline terrain, so a decent of some sort, with some technical involved… So there’s definitely been several things as I become a better mountain-biker, which isn’t simply just getting on a bike and pedaling. It literally requires strength, and agility, it requires some sort of foresight in terms of the trail, being able to look far enough forward to see what’s coming up and how to prepare for it, and your stance, your ready stance, or whatever it might be.
So for me, there’s a place called Spider Mountain that I crashed pretty hard last year on. I love crashing, to some degree. It teaches you to get back up; it requires me to be resilient. That day, I was crushed. I had crashed hard enough, early enough in the day to ruin those whole entire trip for me… Because it conquered my courage for the day. But the resilience is that I’m not gonna stop mountain-biking because of this crash. It’s just gonna make me think “How can I now go back to that same spot eventually and conquer that thing?” And I’m working towards that.
Thankfully, the pandemic has happened and I haven’t had a chance – and Spider Mountain is now closed because of things, but one day it will be open again and we’ll be good to go. So I haven’t had my chance to redeem. But still, there’s terrain that I faced out there that I had once not gotten past, and now get past easily. So that’s how I look at it - this physical force against me. And also mental. It’s very much a mental game. If you look at your perspective of this thing as once big, and now you conquered it and it becomes small - well, that’s perspective.
Yeah, I’m so glad you said that, because that very much has to do with perspective-taking in the sense of “How do you think of failure?” A lot of people will see failure as a binary construct. And by binary I mean either or. I either can do it or I can’t. I’m sure before you went out riding you weren’t thinking like “I totally can’t do this.” There’s a sense of “I’m gonna go try. I’m gonna go have some fun.” You were looking for the opportunity.
Right. Part of the adventure is to discover what you’ll find.
What terrain will try to defeat you or you can defeat.
Right, and I’ve heard it said a number of times, especially in the sporting world - I’ve learned so much more from my failures than I did my successes.
So the challenges, when we perceive or believe ourselves to have failed, it has a lot of feelings of disappointment, which you’re talking about. You’re like “Man…! That stunk. That’s not what I wanted.” But when you can see it as this sort of approximation and as part of the learning process it becomes fun, and you then aren’t as aversive, which then doesn’t set off the cascading emotional events, so that you sort of spiral down into the negative feelings, negative thinking, and then the lack of action.
What do you think would happen if people took the negative things like that, the times when they fail, or perceived failures? If every time you failed it wasn’t “I failed”, it was “It’s time to learn.”
[16:09] Oh, I love that. Yeah, because that’s life. I have had the opportunity to be much more involved in the sport of soccer than I ever have before, and I have fallen in love with it for just that reason… Because it’s a very fluid game. You’ve got community, you’ve got your team, another team, and you’re playing offense and defense simultaneously, and it’s shifting fast. There’s decision-making, there’s strategy, there’s skill… There’s so many things with it, and so it’s this perpetual exercise of effort. But if I see “Oh, I failed. I didn’t make that shot” or “I didn’t get this pass” or fill in the blank, it’s gonna disrupt my desire to try again.
That’s where it’s maladaptive… Because we want this perspective of try, try again, try again. This is sort of ironic, given other episodes of “Try harder”, that I’m saying “Okay, maybe the try harder approach doesn’t work in all cases”, but in the concept of resiliency and life, of going “How can I get back up?”, and not really try harder, but try again, maybe a different way, or route, or constraints.
Yeah. I think the “Just try harder” - I look at that as sort of the mindless approach towards “Just trying, just trying”, with no real wisdom involved.
And I look at the try harder in the resilience lane as “Do it with purpose and wisdom, rather than just simply, mindlessly just trying harder.” You’re sort of like swapping out components. What’s gonna work? You’re constantly building this new puzzle to get to this picture. That’s how I look at those two - “just try harder” is patronizing, whereas “try harder in the resilience lane” is more like “Do it with learning and wisdom.”
So maybe what you’re getting at conceptually is what I’d call flexibility.
Well, do you mean in terms of the phrase having a negative or a positive or a certain connotation?
Well, as it relates to the effort we put forth, that I wanna be flexible. So while I’m gonna practice getting back up, the way I get back up. Whenever you’re learning a skill, or you fall down, sometimes you might need some other buffering. You lower the resistance. So maybe you would try mountain-biking on a different course, or a different terrain.
That’s what I did. When I crashed, I took the easy trails after that. Or the “easier” trails. Not all trails are easy, so it was just the easier of the available trails. So I just took it easier that day.
And how did that go?
It went fine. I still had fun that day, I still kept riding. I didn’t just quit, even though I crashed and I was hurting; I still got up and I still went out and rode, I just didn’t ride as hard, with the same of confidence, because I had just had a pretty hard crash that shook me up… But I still rode. I didn’t just put my bike in my truck and drive away, and pack it up and leave. I stayed. So I got back up, and… It’s a process.
Yeah, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but coaching gymnastics in balance beam, girls fall a few times, as you can imagine, on four inches of wood. But it was always so important, within a really close approximation of time, to get them back up on the beam.
Right. The time between the fall and the get back up has to be…
Yeah. Because the fear sets in, right?
[19:54] Well, I’ve seen this recently, too. I have an example. Last Friday my son, four years old, is now a bike rider. He can ride a bike. So this is awesome stuff. Moments before he was a bike rider he was saying “I can’t do it. Dad, I can’t. I can’t.” I was like “Buddy, listen. I’m right here with you. I’m supporting you. You’ve got this.” And I just helped him through it and gave him the courage and reminded him he could do it, and just had to keep trying.
So he got to this point… But of course, like any new rider, you crash a couple of times. Thankfully, his crashes aren’t that hard. They’re just sort of falling over. But in terms of falling down and getting back up, I’m like “Come on, let’s go. Let’s go.” And I’m not rushing him, but I’m supportively saying “Let’s go, let’s get right back on and keep going again to get past this.” Because if you let it sink in too long, your perspective changes.
Your perspective on what you’re doing changes. The pain sets in, to some degree. The mind perspective of failure seems to set in. Or maybe even embarrassment, because he looks up to me and I see him in his eyes failing; if that sets in, all negative things begin to – the roots get to be planted and grow into something else it’s not.
Right, but do you see how learning is a critical process in that? The get back up and going “Oh, I can try it again, and do it a little bit differently.” That also gets at this way in which our locus of control, things that help us be more resilient is believing that “I actually have control over my life and my choices.”
Your son didn’t have to get back up. He could have pushed back and said “No, dad.”
“I give up.” But he didn’t.
But he didn’t.
Do you know what he said? “That’s why I’ve got these elbow pads on, dad”, and he slapped his elbow. “They help me with my fall”, and he was just so cool. “That’s why I’ve got this knee pads and elbow pads on. They protect me when I fall”, and he gets right back up. I’m like, “Buddy, that’s right. That’s exactly why we have those things on us, to protect us… So 1) we don’t scuff up our elbows, but then 2) because they’re tools to use.” It’s just one more physical aspect in this tool belt that we have, of resilience of – we have things, people even… So a buffer in the case of bike-riding might be an elbow pad, but it might also be a person in a different context.
Having people who won’t condemn you in failure is crucial. Because if you have people who condemn you in failure, they support that failure as being real and don’t give you the resilience or opportunity to get back up.
This is so paramount. I’ve heard it called failure recovery. We all have to get good at doing failure recovery. It doesn’t mean “Oh, I didn’t mess up” or “I didn’t get hurt” or that didn’t go well, but “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re okay.” This is part of learning. And it doesn’t mean we’re not disappointed, but we can see the value in it. This is really – when I’ve looked at research, if we’re sort of looking at this idea of perfectionism, when it works well versus when it doesn’t, and it’s this sense of “Oh, I was so close. Even though I erred, or even though I fell down and got hurt, I’m that much closer to approximating what I want, where I wanna get, how I’m trying to achieve.”
Yeah. I believe it was Thomas Edison quoted as this, and I’ll have to double-check to make sure… But he was quoted as saying “I haven’t failed 10,000, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
Which is perspective, right? Glass half full, glass half empty. 10,000 failures or 10,000 attempts, or 10,000 ways that don’t work.
Because one day I’ll find the one that does.
[23:58] So life, and even upsetting circumstances are gonna happen… But that we practice “How do I get back up?” It doesn’t mean even sometimes we don’t sit down for a few days, because we got really bludgeoned by some news or some other challenge… But the perspective of it goes “What do I have access to? What resources are available to me? How could I be flexible? Are there ways in which I can buffer?” Thinking about doing other tricks… Just like your son said, “This is why I’ve got the pads, dad. I’ve got this intercept”, so that there’s a buffering and it doesn’t hurt to the same degree or in the same way… And I also have the opportunity to build my sense of strength and belief in myself. Even when it’s hard or uncomfortable or scary, I did it anyway. And that’s the internal feel-good, like “Yeah…! I didn’t need somebody to tell me I did a good job, because that sucked, and it was hard, and freaking yeah! Look at what I did!”
Yeah… It is nice though, and I wonder if you can have - maybe specifically to this context of my son, would he have the same kind of confidence if, not so much that I gave it to him, but I didn’t support him in getting it? You know what I mean? Because it’s easy to just give up on your own when you’re isolated, or when you’re on your own in an endeavor. He might not have the same desire to get back and just try again… But that I supported him in finding it. Not so much giving it to him. I’m not the power there, I’m just a component of discovery.
Well, I would say you provided a sort of framework that was multi-faceted… Because I suspect that you guys have talked about him needing his pads for protection at other points in time, right?
Like, “This is why you wear a helmet, and you have these other things.” So there’s language around it, there is an actual item that he had that helped buffering, and then you also had the layer of the social connection. So he knew he wasn’t alone in it. Think of how many things we are more prone to do because we know we’ve got somebody with us.
Yeah. I’ll take risk if I know that even if I fail, or it doesn’t work out, if I’m not alone in the endeavor, at least I’m not alone. How often do you hear that, “At least I didn’t do it alone. At least I didn’t fail alone”? It’s not that you want somebody else to fail with you, it’s just this aspect of being supported. Not being literally in a situation.
But I want you to think about it too in terms of a feedback loop. I’m sure from other experiences that he actually – although he couldn’t articulate this, but that he effected his achievements. It wasn’t just a chance, or somebody else that enabled him to do it. And this is the beauty of really growth and learning and development and resiliency, wherein “I did it.” He had enough of a sort of scaffolding to that point to be able to then take the risk that it wasn’t too big, so he was willing to try.
Yeah. Tangential of course, but one other aspect to perspective at least is I also gave him some motivation to try harder because of like “Listen, when you get this… Do you see your little brother over there, who’s four months old? When he gets to be your age, you’re gonna help me teach him.”
[27:58] And he was like “I wanna do good, so that I can teach my brother, and be a part of that.” That’s perspective. It’s not just like an opportunity, it’s perspective. This is bigger than just simply this one moment here. Once you master this, once you get past this moment, you’ll have the skills and you can hand this down, and influence your brother with me. So we’re a team in the future, so I’m sort of building this new opportunity for the future; me and you as friends, and as dad and son, and team, to take what we’re doing today, what we’re conquering today, and it will have a new thing in the future, with my son and your brother.
Right. So would you say that that was empowering to him?
Oh, yeah. As soon as he heard it, he was like “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
But you gave him a stronger Why. A more positive emotion around the aversive or potentially aversive experience, right?
I think this is really important. George Bonanno, who is a psychologist at Columbia University’s teacher college, and he heads up this Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab, which he’s been studying resilience for like 25 years. So what he has found as one of the central elements of resilience is whether or not you conceptualize an event as traumatic or as this opportunity to learn and grow.
He says “Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic.” So if I call something a traumatic event, I believe that it belies that fact. So I’m saying “This was traumatic for me.” Maybe it was, but it makes it more factual, instead of saying “It was a potentially traumatic event.” So every frightening event, not matter how negative it could be from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not, to the person experiencing it.
Does this go back to “name it to tame it”?
I keep hearing you in the past and recently saying “name it to tame it”. Because if you name this event as trauma, then it is trauma. And you’re taming it by what you name it.
It’s like a lion.
Yeah. Imagine I’m assigning a label and I’m saying “This was”. Now, it doesn’t mean there aren’t certain things that are traumatizing, but going “How do I react? Where do I go? What resources do I look to if that was overwhelming, painful, too big, too heavy, too scary etc?
I like this idea of turning failures into learning experiences… Because you can’t avoid failing.
It’s gonna happen. And if you’re out there and you have not had failure, I wanna speak with you, because I wanna know what you’ve done to avoid it. But if we can all have that perspective of taking these things that happen to us, that are possibly traumatic, failures of some sort, and say “I’m gonna use this as a vehicle for learning, versus a vehicle for depression of a new sort.”
Yeah. I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned this… Have we talked about grit, as the concept from Angela Duckworth?
Not that I’m aware of, no.
She is a psychologist who really went into greater depth in studying what is grit. What makes people gritty, or able to be resilient. As far as I’m recalling her background, she was a teacher in a more inner city environment, and she was curious around why some kids who were in really adverse situations still thrived, whereas others really didn’t. So why were they different.
[32:07] She ended up doing research around – I believe it was West Pont cadets, because there’s a pretty rigorous formula, acceptance, like who gets it. They have to be vetted according to certain criterions. Anyways, what she discovered in her research was really around effort. So her equation for grit is this - talent x effort = skill. Skill x effort = achievement. I’m gonna say it again, because it’s super-important. So talent x effort, so what I start with, times the effort I put forth, equals the skills I get. But when I take the skills I get and I put forth effort, that gets achievement.
So when I focus on learning, I can see 1) I’ve got an internal locus of control, like I get to participate in my world and what happens to me. And I put forth effort in a direction, over time, in a certain way, I get to achieve more of what I want.
Is there a psychological or a medical term for grit?
Not that I’m aware of yet…
Because Angela also says that grit can grow, which is helpful, because like all things we think we’re not good at, we think we’ll be condemned to never be good at, because we’re not good today at it… And eventually, if we work at it hard enough, or continue to evolve our thinking around it, we can become better at it. She says that there’s scientific evidence that grit can grow.
Yeah. I think it gets at this way in which we’re pliable. As humans, we’re adaptable, and we know that our brains can change, hence what we call neuroplasticity. So if anything, grit as a skill, and life – look, nobody was born with everything they needed to get through life. Nobody. Nobody’s like “I got it, and even if I did a [unintelligible 00:34:11.23] with my parents till 18, and it was amazing…”, it doesn’t mean that you’ve got all the skills that you’re gonna need throughout the entirety of your life. So it’s really learning how to be resourceful when you’re met with obstacle.
You said something earlier, but sort of circling back and recognizing that emotional control is a component of this… Because if I can’t manage my feelings, if I am so out of control because I’m like “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” or “I can’t. I’ll never…” If that’s what I’m telling myself, I’m not going to have the cognitive resources to be able to see different opportunities or options, because I’m very narrow-minded, trying to regulate the feelings, and not the obstacle.
Another person in the field of psychology that’s added a lot around this concept of resiliency is Dr. Rick Hanson, who has done a lot of research incorporating neuroscience around positive psychology, mindfulness… And he even wrote this book called “Resilient.” It’s very practical, super-good, I highly recommend it… And he sort of breaks it down and going “These are opportunities for how to respond when we encounter things that are hard.” Three options. Let it go - you have to practice just letting go of what you expected, how you wanted it to go. There’s “Let it be” - it just is; I can choose to respond and just sort of accept what it is and move forward… Or “Let it in.” Let in the negative emotion, aversive experience, and then how do I integrate that which I would prefer not to.
[36:06] So again, this gets at “I get to choose.” I participate in the choosing of things in my life and the way in which I respond to them, because look, there’s so many things that we’re gonna encounter that we didn’t pick. So there is and there are and there will be injustices throughout our lives. So while those things happen and when those things occur, how can I practice adapting, instead of getting stuck in this aversiveness, injustice and emotional reactivity to that big thing.
It seems like a core component of this is how to deal with the negative things that happen in life. How you compartmentalize those, how you release them, you’re perspective on the negative… There’s positive too, of course, but how you deal with the inevitable negative things that will happen in life. Failing a grade, doing terrible on a test, not hitting that achievement, falling down off the bar, crashing on a mountain on a mountain bike, crashing on a bike in [unintelligible 00:37:16.18] All these things are all failures – you intended to do one thing, and the opposite or not what you expected happened.
What is your perspective and framework for processing that scenario.
Right. How do I interpret or how do I make sense of disappointment when it occurs.
Exactly. And it’s true, disappointment is probably a better perspective there on that one, because failure is a bigger word in terms of what it means and what it encompasses… But you intended to do something, something different happened - now what?
Yeah… Which is why it’s all about recovery, it’s not about planning in advance, and like “Oh, I just prepare, prepare, prepare”, but rather… You know, I think about it with things that I navigate now professionally… When I was more of a novice, it was like “Wait. Hold on, I’ve gotta get my bearings. I’ve gotta figure this out”, the flurry of questions… As opposed to “Okay, I know my level of skill and flexibility, and if this then that, sort of things…” But sometimes, in a lot of these, as a result of aversive experiences, are like “Oh, that did not go the way I thought. I think I want to navigate that differently in the future.”
So I don’t wanna separate the feeling of disappointment and learning. Disappointment is a part of the learning process. So if I nix, and I’m like “I don’t wanna feel bad, ever”, oh, shoot, I just cut myself off from the opportunity to grow.
So you almost have to embrace and even enjoy to some degree the painfulness of disappointment and failure. The whole process is a key component to learning, and the point is to learn from whatever the scenario was, for a future opportunity to potentially fail again, fall again, disappoint again, however you wanna frame that, so that you can either get up or recover. I like the “recover” word a lot, because we’re all in a position to recover from something. The recovery process is bound to happen.
You said it even, it’s not in the planning or the process and things like that. When making a plan to do something, you often don’t consider “If things go wrong, how will I recover?”, or how to best recover. You often plan to do, not plan to recover from not the way you intended/anticipated.
[40:14] Right. I think about it analogous to agility training in physical fitness. There’s a lot of value in training for agility, because things might not go exactly the prescribed way, or the way in which I thought it was gonna go. And this is why if we’re talking about disappointment, the community and our social relationships or the fabric of our people matters. Because if I’m disappointed and I reach out as a sort of an olive branch “Help me”, like “Hey, can you come back with some compassion?” and I’m met with criticism, or a demeaning response, or like “Ugh, man… Yeah, you really mucked that up.” That’s like daggers.
You reinforce the existing negative thoughts that you’re trying to suppress, I suppose, overcome, not let win…
Yeah. I can share - when I was in college, I went to school in a colder climate, and it was like a sheet of ice. And I had a situation – I was already upset, because my roommate at the time had locked me out and my keys, so I couldn’t go back into my dorm room at the time… So I happened to come back and my room was now accessible… And I was walking back out to meet up with a friend at that time, and I literally flung the door of the dorm open and stepped out onto the sheet of ice… And like in slow motion, how you see it, feet kicking up in the air… Totally [unintelligible 00:41:58.21] on my bottom… Which, of course, as you can imagine, if I was already angry, it didn’t help the anger… Because now I’m angry, and embarrassed, and hurt. And then my friend, who was waiting in the car - maybe not the best friend ever - fell out of the car, laughing.
That’s a terrible friend.
Right? [laughs] And just like I’m already mortified. And then it’s like “Yes, bring on the shame.” And then perpetuated the laughter, and it just felt horrible. I can laugh about it today, because it was some time ago… But at that moment it hurt. I was already upset, I was trying to do something, and go somewhere, and I had this impediment. I finally got that resolved, only to then make a fool myself and hurt myself in the process.
Did you get up?
I did get back up… I did.
Are you still friends?
[laughs] Well, yes… Distant friends.
Yeah… So not really.
Well, life has its way of changing things. But I don’t harbor that any longer, nonetheless.
And it might seem like a silly example, but it still gets at the way in which people respond to us, and how that makes a difference in how we feel, and then what we’re more prone to do.
We were talking, to some degree, as the subject is the center the failed person… But what do you do whenever you are the relationship to the person who failed, so the friend in the car? How can we respond to other people’s opportunity for resilience, opportunity for learning from these falls, or these get-back-ups, or these failures?
Sure. In that case, it would have gone a lot better to be like “Ugh… That sucked. Are you okay?” Checking in more with me, instead of the laughter. And it’s not to say that in relationships, too – they’re all different. If you are more prone to already laugh at yourself in situations, that would play a role. But really, leading with empathy.
[44:21] Think of all the times you’re on teams; a lot of people work in teams. So what’s your response to a team member who doesn’t do what you need them to do, or they do muck it up, and it has implications for you… Like, you now have to stay late at work because your team member messed up the project, and now you get to get punished along with them, so to speak… Because it really is leading with empathy, and flipping the lens, and go “If you were that person, how would you want to be treated?” Because I think everybody knows it’s already painful.
You don’t need somebody to load more weight when you’re already feeling disappointed.
Right? It is.
The position of empathy is interesting, because [unintelligible 00:45:15.28] see often in a sort of doubling down on or talking about other people’s missteps… Regardless of whom, or severity etc. It’s almost as if we thrive. Not we as like you and I, but the proverbial we. I think maybe even potentially just media. They thrive on somebody’s failures, and point it out, and discriminate it, and criticize it, and slice and dice it 17 ways, and shoulda/woulda/coulda… And I think the reason why I asked that was because we’re often looking at somebody else’s failure, how can we respond? What’s a better way to respond if we’re looking at the negative and trying to spin it positive? How can we take failures and take it as learning? How can I support somebody else in looking at a disappointment, a failure as a learning opportunity, instead of a position just to fall further down?
[46:25] Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with you. It really does help when we lead with more questions or curiosity… To go “Where were you at? What was your frame of mind when you said X, Y or Z, or when you did X, Y or Z?” …that I can find out more from them, as opposed to me telling them. Think how good it feels when people tell you why you did something. It doesn’t.
It doesn’t feel good.
It doesn’t. And really, who literally wakes up each day and is like “Let me try to figure out how bad I can feel today, how much I can fail everyone I care about and myself?” No! We don’t do that. There is just a sort of narrowing latitude for people to be people. I sort of joke in going “If social media was present back in my day as it is today, would I cringe at what I would have posted at that time?” Because look, we’re all in process. I swear, everybody should have the little figure, the “Still loading…” T-shirt. We’re all still loading.
So why do I think it’s helpful to judge somebody else’s process, when I’ve got my own? And just because mine doesn’t look like theirs, or theirs doesn’t look like mine, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable for learning to get them where they need to go to cultivate the skills they’re gonna need, to be their best selves. I don’t wanna hinder people from that.
I really enjoy being able to talk about these things, because we can say these are the things we know about the brain, and ways in which we can be better humans, and work better together. There isn’t a formulaic approach, it really does come down to going “How can I adapt? How can I be flexible and how can I manage the aversive things, and learn how to buffer them in terms of the way that I think, the people that I surround myself with, and the adaptations I make to mitigate my perception of the threat? Because that’s how we keep growing, and that’s how we keep learning, and that’s how we get better.
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