1.3 Resiliency Equation
In this section you will learn:
- The attributes of the resiliency equation.
- Where it came from.
- The difference between reactions and responses.
- About the amygdala [ uh-mig-duh-luh ] hijack and how to override it.
- The basic principle of why people keep getting the same outcomes.
- The missing piece that can add significant value to your life and how to find ways to do this.
We often equate the events that occur in our life to the outcomes in cause and effect statements. For example: getting your job eliminated equals, I am not worthy or wanted or not passing my exam equals, I am a failure. However, this is simply not true.
Best-selling author and personal development expert Jack Canfield has studied resilient and successful people for more than four decades. Jack was driven to learn what the difference is between resilient and successful people and those who were not.
The first thing he found was a very strong correlation between resilience and success. Successful people also experience traumatic, tragic, adverse stressful and uncertain events in their lives. The difference is that when they do, they have mechanisms and practices in their life that allow them to respond to these events in more helpful and resourceful ways. In essence they have taught themselves to respond rather than react.
- Reactions are instinctual and stem from the unconscious mind. There’s no filtering process when you react in a situation – you’re running on autopilot or habit. When you react, you do and say things without thinking first and don’t consider the implications of what you do or say – you just act. Reactions are like a puppy who hasn’t been trained. That untrained puppy is going to bark at every dog it sees, jump at every passing neighbor, and then he’ll eat your dinner… as soon as they see it.
- Responses are more thoughtful. Responding is a conscious, deliberate way of acting that engages your prefrontal cortex to do critical thinking and problem solving. When you respond, you first explore in your mind the possible outcomes of your reply before acting. You may weigh the pros and cons and consider what would be best for yourself and others in the situation. Responses are more like the well-trained and well-behaved dog who comes when you call him, barks only when there is a reason to bark, and waits patiently for his treat.
Would you rather be the type of person who creates a calm and happy environment around you, is able to influence people positively and build strong personal and professional relationships?
Or, would you rather be the kind of person who is a wild card – totally unpredictable and can cause yourself and the people around you stress and angst. The type of person who is unable to develop solid relationships and is unable to influence people around you in positive ways.
The good news is that you get to choose this.
Just Choose a Better Response - Yeah Right!
It would be easy for us to sit here and say just choose better responses to the events that happen in your life. If only it was that easy, right?! If it was, we would all be choosing more helpful responses and be getting better outcomes. The reality is that it is not that easy. It takes time and practice to be able to do this. We are having to replace old and un-useful habits that our brain has established as well as a mechanism known in science as the amygdala hijack.
The Amygdala [ uh-mig-duh-luh ] Hijack
The amygdala hijack is an immediate, overwhelming emotional response with a later realization that the response was inappropriately strong given the trigger.
The amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fight/flight, is your primitive, biological, evolutionarily driven stress response. It was especially useful for our ancestors 50,000 years ago, because back then most events and stressors were short-term and life-threatening.
However, most of today’s stressors are long-term and are also not a threat to our life and so for this very reason the amygdala gets in our way and hijacks us. In other words we spend more time than we need in fight/flight stress response.
If you want good long-term health and relationships, then it is critical to find ways to override the fight/flight response to today’s overwhelming stressors. Not only do we spend a lot of our day in fight/flight, we are not even aware of it. We have become so accustomed or acclimatized to being this way it has become the new normal.
When our ancestors had this response, they would “play it out”. In other words, they would fight or flee, which would allow them to remove the neurochemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol from their body, allowing them to hit the reset button and return to homeostasis.
In today’s world, we do not do this very well. We are in fight/flight mode and not only are we staying in it, but the neurochemicals and neurohormones associated with this state are staying in our body for long periods, which they are not designed to do. This has significant health impacts such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity to name just a few.
Why Does this Always Happen To Me? - Your Brain Loves Habits
Have you ever heard someone ask the question - "Why does this always happen to me". While this question has a level of complexity to it there are also some basic answers to this question. The common factor in this is called habits.
Our brain loves habits. It will always try to turn things into a habit. The reason being, is that it is energy efficient and the path of least resistance. In other words, it is easy. The moment an event occurs, your brain will immediately check, "do I have a habit for this?". If the answer if yes, then it will go to the habit, whether it is a helpful or unhelpful habit.
In fact, in recent research it was shown that our unconscious brain will respond within 0.07 seconds, while our conscious thinking brain takes 0.10 seconds.
We often think of habits as being behavioral (e.g., biting my fingernails, twirling my hair, eating when upset etc.) What most people do not realize is we have habits for the way we think and the way we emotionally respond.
Yes, we have habitual "thinking patterns" and habitual "emotional patterns" as well as habitual behavioral "patterns".
Events in our life + habitual thinking patterns + habitual emotional patterns + habitual behaviors = "Habitual Outcomes" - this is part of the reason why things always happen the way they do.
The Missing Piece - Find the GAP
Have you ever traveled on the London Underground? If you have you would be familiar with the recorded message that is continuously played over the loudspeaker at all stations. It is a recorded voice message that warns people to "Mind the Gap" between the train doors and the platform when boarding or disembarking a train. When Mal lived in London it was a mantra he became so used to. What he didn't realize was that several years from there and with a slight change it became an incredibly helpful mantra for him in dealing with stress and challenge.
What Jack Canfeild and many others have found in their studies is that highly resilient and successful people work hard to consciously "Find a Gap" between the event and their response. That is, they create space to think, reflect, calm down and get themselves into better emotional states.
Finding or creating the GAP is the missing piece in the day-to-day struggle for many people.
The Benefits of Finding the "GAP"
By creating the gap between the event (stimulus) and your response you gain some very useful benefits. Some of these include:
- You get more information in relation to the event that may contradict or change your initial judgment.
- You get to challenge some of the unhelpful assumptions that you may be making.
- You can challenge some of the negative thinking or negative dialogue you may be telling yourself about the event.
- You allow yourself to calm down.
- Your prefrontal cortex begins to function properly again, allowing you to make decisions based on rational thinking as opposed to emotional thinking.
- You can ask yourself more helpful questions (e.g., Is this such a big deal after all?, Is getting worried like this adding value to my life?).
- You can have better relationships with people.
- You are able to influence people around you better.
The Story of Viktor Frankl
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Neurologist and Psychiatrist who passed away in 1997. He was also a Holocaust survivor. Upon his release he wrote a book called "Man's Search for Meaning" based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps. Most of his time was in Auschwitz. Over and above that he also developed his own form of therapy known today as Logotherapy.
During this time, Frankl experienced significant tragedy and adversity on a daily basis. His wife, mother, father and brother were all killed inside the concentration camps as well as many men, women and children he knew and befriended.
He states that his sanity and survival was based on finding and creating space where he could undertake the quest to find more helpful meaning and purpose. What he is talking about is the GAP.
Here is a famous quote from Viktor Frankl.
“Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Exercise 1 - Finding The "GAP"
Take the next 15 minutes and find a quiet space to reflect. Use the "Ways to Find the GAP" template (below) as a guide. Brainstorm ALL of the ways that you can create or find a GAP for yourself that creates space for you between the stimulus and your response.
Think about this in several ways.
- How can I create or find a gap when I am caught in the moment e.g. I have a customer being difficult with me?
- How can I create or find gaps that are short-term gaps (e.g., 1 min, 5 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins, 45 mins, 1 hour+)?
- How can I create or find gaps that are longer term (e.g., a day, a weekend, a week)?