Dr. Suzy Green: The Power of Positive Psychology #33

Warwick Fairfax

August 25, 2020

Understanding what science has to say about learning the lessons of a crucible experience — from reframing what happened to embracing forgiveness — can be an overlooked key to moving past the pain and toward healing and significance.
To learn more about Dr. Suzy Green, visit https://www.thepositivityinstitute.com.au/

Highlights

  • The roots of positive psychology (9:13)
  • The focus of positive psychology (12:33)
  • The scientific way back from a crucible (16:25)
  • Why the insights of positive psychology should be taught to kids in school (20:29)
  • Lessons in positivity from FDR’s life (21:42)
  • The benefits of cognitive reframing in moving beyond a crucible (25:28)
  • Why some people bounce back more easily than others (31:43)
  • The importance of choice in moving beyond a crucible (34:39)
  • Why forgiveness is critical to overcoming crucibles (38:58)
  • Lessons from Winston Churchill on not holding grudges (42:46)
  • Key takeaways from the episode (53:52)

Transcript

Gary S:
Welcome, everyone to Beyond The Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the communication’s director for Crucible Leadership and the cohost of this podcast. And you have clicked play on, we hope you’ve clicked subscribe too, a podcast that deals in a subject that’s extremely important. And that is crucible experiences. Those moments in life that are painful, those moments in life that can be traumatic, failures and setbacks, traumas and tragedies. Those things that can knock you off the trajectory your life was on.

Gary S:
And the reason that we talk about those things, the reason that we interview guests, who either have had those experiences, or can give us a perspective on how to bounce back from those experiences, is so that we can point toward what Crucible Leadership calls a life of significance. That’s the end goal here, of moving beyond your crucible to finding, pursuing a life of significance. And with me, as always, if he wasn’t here, it wouldn’t be called Beyond The Crucible, is Warwick Fairfax. The host of the program and the founder of Crucible Leadership. Warwick, welcome.

Warwick F:
Great to be here, Gary.

Gary S:
So today we have, what’s going to be a really exciting interview. For listeners who’ve been with us for a while, you know that a lot of the things that we talk about, a lot of the crucible experiences and the tips for bouncing back from them, are experientially based. But we’ve got a guest today, who has a more scientific approach to how we get through that. And that guest is Dr. Suzy Green, a clinical and coaching psychologist and founder and CEO of The Positivity Institute. A positively deviant organization, dedicated to the research and application of positive psychology for life, school, and work.

Gary S:
Suzy lectured on applied positive psychology as a senior adjunct lecturer in the coaching psychology unit at the University of Sydney, that’s in Australia, for 10 years. And is honorary vice president of the International Society For Coaching Psychology. Suzy also currently holds, this is a long list and an impressive list, honorary academic positions at The Positive Psychology Center, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, The Wellbeing Institute, Cambridge University, and I got to hear more about this one, The Black Dog Institute. Suzy is also an ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. And she is one of two people with really great accents on this show, the other one is Warwick. Take it away Warwick.

Warwick F:
Well, Suzy, it is wonderful to have you and just love the whole concept of Positivity Institute and post-traumatic growth, which we’ll get into. When I looked at your website and saw that your company’s based in Double Bay, Australia. For those who aren’t from Australia or from Sydney, Double Bay is a suburb of Sydney and it’s the same suburb where I grew up. So it was a kind of wild we were chatting off air about one of your sons went to the same high school I did, so incredibly small world. But again, Suzy, wonderful to have you. So before we get into just the Positivity Institute and post-traumatic growth, tell us a bit about who you are and your story and what led you to get into psychology, in particular, the positive psychology aspect of that.

Suzy G:
Yeah, well firstly, thank you so much, Warwick and Gary for having me as a guest on the show today. It’s been a long journey as I guess most people’s journeys and stories are. But to make it a little bit shorter, I guess, I left school when I was 16 and no one in my family had gone to university, there was no expectations. It was get married and have children. And I actually married my childhood sweetheart from school and he had done quite well, had studied medicine and had decided to study psychiatry. And so at the time I was working in administration, secretarial work in my early 20s and he used to come home and tell me these incredible stories about patients. And I just became completely intrigued and I never thought that I would go to university.

Suzy G:
But it was thankfully, and you’ll often hear, and I’m sure you do in these stories, it’s somebody that sees some strengths in you and encourages you to go forward. So we’re divorced now, but I have a lot to thank him for. And he encouraged me to apply to attend university, which I did. I think it took me about 14 years and two children. And I ended up with a doctorate in clinical psychology. But one little, it wasn’t quite a crucible experience, but perhaps one of more of those aha moments, I remember sitting in the lecture theater at the University of Wollongong. My very first lecture, absolutely petrified thinking, “What am I doing here? Everyone’s so much smarter than I am.”

Suzy G:
And the lecturer started by saying, “There’s about 100 of you here today. There’ll only be 12 of you, possibly that make it through to the very end with doctorates.” And I had no reason to believe that it was going to be me, but something went click and I just knew. I just knew it was going to be me. And look, I studied other subjects. I did history and literature and I did okay, but I just excelled in psychology. I think I had the opportunity to talk to my husband when I came home in the evenings at night.

Suzy G:
And then I started working at a psychiatric clinic, again, through connections through my husband or ex husband as it turned out to be. And then I’ve been on this incredible journey over the last 20 years and I’ve sort of grown up with this field of positive psychology. So it’s also been a matter for me, of being in the right place at the right time. And I actually do believe that this is what I’m meant to be doing. And there’s some wonderful research in positive psychology around callings. I do feel like this is my calling and what I’m meant to be doing. And mini crucible experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t say I’ve had big ones, like some of your guests, but the mini ones have certainly informed who I am, and what I’m doing, and where I’m going.

Warwick F:
It’s sort of interesting when we look back at how we’ve got to where we’ve got. It’s often as you look back, again, I’m a person of faith. So you think, “Gosh, there was sort of a line of breadcrumbs or somehow that was laid, that if certain events hadn’t happened, who knows?” And we never know the what ifs because it’s unknowable. But like with your first husband and maybe in the long term, it didn’t work out. But the fact that he was in medicine and was exposing you to certain areas. If you had married, I don’t know, an accountant or somebody different, I mean, who knows, right? I mean, it’s like you can’t get excited about something that you’ve never heard of or haven’t experienced. I mean-

Suzy G:
Exactly.

Warwick F:
But somehow that happened. And what was it about psychology that really intrigued you, that sort of called out to you? It’s almost like you hear a tune and it’s like, “This is my tune.” What about it just led you down that road?

Suzy G:
And you know, I didn’t really understand that for a long time. But I think more recently, as I’ve become familiar with character strengths and virtues, and I have my strengths up behind me on the wall here, and there’s a whole body of research around that. One of my top strengths, two of my top strengths, so we often talk about our top five character strengths. These are morally valued strengths. One is curiosity. Sometimes my partner will tell me I overplay that and I ask too many questions that might become nosiness. So curiosity and I have love of learning. And so those two strengths combined, once I guess I found a passion as well. And I mean, most people find psychology interesting. Whether you go on to become a psychologist or not. And in fact, I saw some research showing it’s, I think, one of the top subjects that’s studied as an undergrad, regardless of what professional career you go into.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I think maybe there’s this natural curiosity of how are people wired? How do they think? What makes them tick? And then obviously, in your case, how can I make a positive contribution in the field? Not just intellectually, but in a way that helps people. So there’s something about that, that really drew you and just one point I also want to clarify for listeners in the US. In the US, an enormous, well, a significant proportion of people go to college. It’s not that way in Australia. At least not when we were growing up. I mean, obviously I come from a family where the expectation of going to university was pretty clear, everybody did. And it wasn’t just go to university. It was good to Oxford. So that’s where I went, my dad went, my grandfather went, so there was clear-

Suzy G:
Exactly.

Warwick F:
But for most Australians, that didn’t grow up the way I did, that was a big thing. It wasn’t like, of course you should go to college. It’s like, well, why? You got to be practical. So that was a big decision, a big choice for you. And also at a time where, I don’t know if women weren’t as encouraged as much to do that as boys, so again, I’m a reflective person. So I’m always curious about how you got to where you got to. So I know psychology is a big field and you know much more about it than I do. But positive psychology, I had not really heard of that. I mean, is that a fairly new field, at least? I mean, how long has psychology been around, at least as an intellectual discipline? Would you say, is it like-

Suzy G:
Yes, around 1900. William James, the founding father of modern day psychology. Actually, I visited Harvard, not last year, the year before. So, that was sort of where it was born. And I went to the original building, I wasn’t there very long. But it was such a, it was wonderful to go and visit. So William James, 1900. And if you look back, actually, anytime I go and do some research on a different area of psychology that I haven’t looked at for a while, I’ll generally find, it leads me back to William James. So he was such a thought leader. He had something to say on every topic that we’re talking about now.

Suzy G:
And then into, jumping ahead a little bit, into the ’50s and ’60s, there was the movement, humanistic psychology was born. And it was looking at, I guess, human potential. And there were people like Abraham Maslow, who many of us now are familiar with the term self-actualization. Carl Rogers, another incredible psychologist. And there were a group of these people, mainly in the US, I would say. And then what happened was, cognitive psychology came in the ’60s and ’70s. People like Beck, Aaron Beck and humanistic psychology was sort of forgotten about for a little while because there wasn’t enough rigorous science to really understand what does it make for us to be fully functioning individuals.

Suzy G:
We couldn’t really fully scientifically investigate that. And then what happened, moving on from, I guess, the cognitive movement, cognitive behavioral movement, was Professor Martin Seligman, who was very well known in the US, from University of Pennsylvania. Doing wonderful work on pessimism. He published that wonderful book, Learned Optimism, which many people will be familiar with. And he, I guess, I don’t really know the full story, but there is some story that his daughter commented that he was always in a grumpy mood.

Suzy G:
And he had a bit of an epiphany. He then founded this field of positive psychology, which the term itself had actually been coined by Abraham Maslow in the ’50s. But Marty Seligman brought it to life when he became the president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. I was doing my honors year in psychology at that time. And he, in his presidential speech said, “The time has come for psychology to focus on what’s right with people and what’s right with the world, rather than what’s wrong with them.”

Suzy G:
Because since the second world war in particular, there’d been a lot of investment, which was required for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression from the second world war. And so Marty Seligman really started to flip psychology on its head again, in his presidential year and founded this field, which is now 20 years old. But to be honest, it’s still not mainstream. I mean, clinical psychology, which is my background, still probably has the foothold in psychology. And it’s needed when we look at the statistics of people suffering with mental illness.

Suzy G:
But positive psychology has brought a breath of fresh air to psychology for people like me, that when I was doing my clinical training, I remember getting in trouble from my supervisor saying, “There’s too much laughter coming from the clinical room, Suzy.” And look, so I realized fairly quickly that when I worked in a psychiatric clinic for a number of years, it wasn’t for me. We do need people to do that sort of work, but it’s very hard work. And again, I think through a series of fortunate events, I’ve been blessed to be able to do this. I would describe it as much more proactive work. So the space we work in is helping people proactively learn the skills of wellbeing, resilience, optimal human functioning, so they can live their best lives.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I almost think of just like traditional medicine. Is it valuable to know how to cure cancer and heart attacks? Yes. I mean, if you have cancer or heart attacks, you want that to be the best medicine, the best technology. But on the other hand, are there things that we can proactively do with diet, exercise, mental, spiritual disciplines that are shown to have positive health benefits? Well, yes. So why wouldn’t you want some prevention, right? Because if you’re fit and healthy doesn’t mean you won’t get sick. But maybe if you eat the right diet, the chances of getting diabetes is not eliminated, but it’s significantly lower.

Warwick F:
And so it’s like why wouldn’t, on a psychological basis, yes, it’s important to understand depression and schizophrenia and all sorts of mental disorders and mental challenges. But why wouldn’t you want to understand what are the things that can help keep us psychologically healthy? And I wouldn’t say prevention, but somewhat ameliorating factors. I mean, it seems logical. Like you wouldn’t hear people in medicine saying, “Well, why are you talking about health and helping people be healthy, and fitter, and losing weight? Well, that’s stupid. We should just focus on cancer and heart attacks.” You wouldn’t have that discussion, right?

Suzy G:
No, absolutely not.

Warwick F:
But so it seems like in the world of psychology, there’s still a little bit of that discussion. Is that kind of what you find still?

Suzy G:
Yeah, it’s starting to change. And I’ve been really fortunate to have been involved with the field of positive education, which actually emerged in Australia when Geelong Grammar brought Marty Seligman and his team of academics from UPenn out. And trained all of the staff, nine days of positive psychology. This was in 2008. I worked at the second school, which was Knox Grammar at the time. And now for the last 10 years, I’ve worked with numerous schools across Australia. And our approach is, we work primarily with the teachers directly. But it’s about supporting the teachers to teach the children the skills of resilience and wellbeing, as a preventative approach for mental illness. But also to improve wellbeing and improve their academic performance as well, because there’s some great and growing research showing, which we all intuitively know, that when you’re well, you do well.

Warwick F:
Well, right and when you’re getting poor grades, there’s usually some reason whether it’s a family or poor self image. And yeah, exactly. So one of the things that really intrigued me about this whole discussion of positive psychology is with Crucible Leadership, it’s not grounded in science. It’s really grounded in stories, anecdotes, if you will. In part my own story of, the Australian listeners will know and past podcasts listeners will know, of just growing up in a 150 year old family media business, which amongst other things, had The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney and radio, TV, a bunch of things. And it kind of went under on my watch. And so that was obviously a lot for me to grapple with and get over.

Warwick F:
And so obviously, in my own life I have some thoughts, about at least what worked for me, which mightn’t work for everybody else. But certain things. And then just chatting to other folks who have been through all sorts of different crucibles. I’m always fascinated by people who’ve gone through a crucible experience, which to me, is a transformational experience in which who you are afterward is significantly different than who you were before. And it’s typically it could be abuse, it could be losing a business, it could be getting fired, a death of a loved one, all sorts of things that we talk about crucible experiences. And I’m fascinated by the people that find a way to bounce back. Yes, they are always scars, but how do you bounce back?

Warwick F:
And there are phrases like pain for a purpose or all sorts of different ways that people have of coping with it. But I’m fascinated by, you’re actually talking about a similar thing, but you’re talking about it from a scientific basis. That’s what’s really exciting to me. So you’ve got a number of phrases you’ve mentioned, like post-traumatic growth, which is a fascinating discussion. I think on your own website, Positivity Institute, it’s creating a flourishing world, something like that, which I love that phrase. I mean, wow. So talk about, what are some of the elements that irrespective of the crucible or the trauma, that lead some people to growth in a way that maybe wouldn’t have been possible without it? What are some of those elements that you’ve discovered?

Suzy G:
Yeah, I mean, it’s really interesting and I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to work clinically in my early career and particularly down in the area that I worked, which was in Wollongong in southern side of Sydney, because I know when I moved to Sydney and started work in the CBD, I didn’t see anywhere, I guess, the range or the severity of psychiatric and psychological disorders that I saw.

Warwick F:
That was, that was central business district for-

Suzy G:
Yeah, sorry, sorry.

Warwick F:
For the listeners-

Gary S:
Yes, for people like me, that was… thank you.

Warwick F:
Basically, downtown Sydney basically.

Suzy G:
Downtown Sydney, yeah. So I guess, yeah and I was really thrown in the deep end. I worked in a psychiatric clinic. I pretty much heard every horrendous, traumatic story that I’ve ever heard in my whole life. There’s nothing, I usually say now, that I haven’t really heard. And I’m really thankful for that experience because firstly, it made me realize what a blessed and privileged life I really did lead. I had two loving parents, who pretty much have given me everything my whole life to enable me to do what I can. And they didn’t have a lot, to be honest, but they gave me everything. So hearing those stories, helping people make sense out of often very senseless things, which I’m sure you’ve heard, things that you could never have imagined would happen in your life. And often we talk about this when we’re running resilience type training, which I might add is very popular right now as well, is that-

Warwick F:
I can imagine.

Suzy G:
Exactly, is that sometimes you can see, whether you call them the curve ball, you can see the adversity coming. So I have two elderly parents, 93 at the moment, and I’m really grateful for every moment that I have with them now. I know that we’re talking about people living to a hundred, but I know that I’ve got limited time left with them. I can see that regardless of how skilled I am as a psychologist, that I’m going to be challenged by the loss of my parents, who I’ve had a very close relationship with. I am already psychologically preparing myself for that. But there are situations that come out of left field, which again, I have only had some minor ones compared to some of the ones that I’m sure your guests have had, that have absolutely shock you or break you to the core in a sense.

Suzy G:
And so I’ve had the privilege of working with people like that. And I guess for me, it firmed up two things. One is that you can recover and you can bounce back. And in fact, when it comes to this growing area of post-traumatic growth, they talk more about bouncing forward. So you’re not just getting back to where you were, you’re actually stronger, faster than you were before. And I guess also, the other thing that occurred for me at the time was, my children were in primary school at the time. And I thought, why aren’t my children learning these skills at school?

Suzy G:
These are life skills, they’re skills I’m learning as I’m training to be a psychologist, they’re skills I’m teaching people after the curve balls hit them. But why on earth aren’t we teaching these skills at school? And that’s what’s starting to happen now. Not in all schools I might add, but it is starting to happen because I believe that we can, and we should be teaching these skills proactively. They may not prevent every episode of mental illness, but they certainly might equip us to perhaps even proactively take on challenges rather than waiting for the crucible experiences to occur. And now I believe that I think part of personal growth and self-actualization, there’s a good chance, it does require those crucible experiences.

Suzy G:
But I think we could possibly complement that with proactively seeking out growth opportunities for ourselves, which most people like to stay in their comfort zones. They don’t tend to like to sit with the discomfort that accompanies moving out of our comfort zones. So I think for me, I’ve been really interested in this and I would love to hear your thoughts on this too, with having the need for these crucible, character building experiences versus how do we also proactively teach our children to stretch themselves and put themselves in perhaps not traumatic experiences, but growth experiences?

Warwick F:
Right, I mean, where it’s some risk.

Suzy G:
Yes.

Warwick F:
You enter into a school prize or you go for an athletic event or there’s a ballet recital, or you want to be in a play, whatever it is, there’s the risk of rejection. There’s a risk of somebody saying, “You’re really actually pretty awful. And I can’t believe you actually tried out for this part.” I mean, really-

Suzy G:
That’s right, which doesn’t tend to happen these days very often at school, unfortunately.

Warwick F:
No, but yeah, I mean, I’m somebody that loves history and you’d be hard pressed to think of a great leader that didn’t become who they were because of trauma. I mean, I think of one example in America, of Franklin Roosevelt. He was this happy go lucky, rich kid basically, which I wasn’t happy go lucky, but I could identify with the rich kid part. When he was growing up, man about town, good looking guy, candidate for vice president in I think 1922 election. And then kind of lo and behold in the ’20s, he suffered polio, which as an adult, was very rare. But it really at the time was a death sentence, at least politically he was considered, his mom said, “You should just stay home,” because it was almost like somehow you were blamed for it.

Warwick F:
But somehow between his wife and one of his close advisors, they got him back on his feet. So the person he became as president during the midst of the depression and encouraging people, the only thing to fear is fear itself. If some like rich kid in the middle of the depression, who could relate to that. But somebody, even though he didn’t talk about it, you could see him trying to get up to the podium to speak, with his boys is helping him. And he’s in great pain, as he’s actually trying to shuffle along in these hideous metal braces on his legs. The person he became would not have been possible without that crucible experience. So I mean, nobody would wish to have polio, but he became the person he was.

Warwick F:
I think of one other story that I personally can’t understand from a psychological perspective, because it makes no sense. There’s a woman by the name of Joni Eareckson Tada, who’s somebody in the faith realm, she had a radio show that’s listened to by, I don’t know, maybe millions. I mean, it’s very big. And she suffered a accident while diving, when she was a teenager. She’s athletic, very good on horses and she became a quadriplegic and that was probably maybe 40, 50 years ago, a very long time ago. And she’s had a huge impact on people with disabilities and wheelchairs. And she says this thing that I think is, it’s almost hideous. But she calls her wheelchair a passport to joy.

Suzy G:
Wow.

Warwick F:
Now, I don’t know what that means. I’m not saying I agree with that in any way, shape, or form. To me, that’s like wrong. But somehow she says, you’d have to understand the full context of that because that sounds repugnant. But I think what she’s getting at is the person she became through that horrendous, life altering accident was different than who she was before. I think that’s what maybe an inartful way or a way that’s at least grating-

Suzy G:
Exactly, it’s a major-

Warwick F:
Is that what you’ve seen? I know these are-

Suzy G:
Absolutely. I mean, for some people it might initially be a coping mechanism to reframe. And in fact, part of the psychological treatment is in part a reframe. We call it cognitive reframing, cognitive restructuring. So looking at a situation differently and I mean, that’s an amazing reframe to view it that way. And in fact, that’s what Seligman’s work around learned optimism draws on heavily. He has a very simple tool actually, that people might be interested in, called the ABCDE technique. So A is the adversity. So what is it that’s happened to you? B is the belief. Now that’s the belief that you hold, your perspective on that situation, which then leads to C, which is the consequence.

Suzy G:
So due to your beliefs on the situation, you can lead to a variety of emotional and behavioral consequences and Warwick, in 2008, I was working in Sydney through the GFC 2008, 2009. And I had a clinical practice and I had a executive coaching practice. I was just transitioning at the time and so I saw this in real life. I had people that were coming to me for exactly the same adversity, loss of job out of the blue. And these were people, I had one man say to me, “If you told me I’d be sitting in this chair a year ago, I would’ve laughed at you.” Very high performer in his role, loss of job. And so some people came for clinical treatment because they had beliefs of, “This is it, I’ll never get another job. I can’t put my kids through school.”

Suzy G:
A whole range of these types of beliefs, which then led to depressed mood, behavioral consequences in terms of not looking for another job even, “They don’t employ old people.” I heard that said so many times versus people that came to the exec coaching, which had the same situation, but had a belief, “Okay, I didn’t really expect this, but it might be just the opportunity to explore other areas of interests that I have. It might be an opportunity to change careers. So I could see it in real time, same situation, different perspective. And which they had, in a sense, had done by themselves before they’d even come to see me. But yeah, that reframe, the way that you look at a situation, has been found to have a significant impact on how you feel and how you do.

Gary S:
And this brings up an interesting point in an article that you sent us, Suzy, from the Journal of Loss and Trauma. And we talked at the outset about the scientific underpinnings of what Suzy does as compared to the experiential things that Warwick does, through Crucible Leadership. And the summary of this study on post-traumatic growth really gets to the point that you’re talking about, about reframing what happened and seeing it as an opportunity to move ahead. I’m just going to read a couple of lines from it.

Gary S:
“It would behoove humanitarian interventions to abandon erroneous assumptions and consider the other side of the coin in order to guard against undue bias toward making drama out of the trauma, however ‘justified’ it might be. It is the duty of applied anthropologists, psychologists, and others to venture beyond the fence of their own disciplines and acquire new skills to enable them to engage in interdisciplinary inquiry into the human spirit, which often rises above the trauma of war and other disasters. Understanding resilience, recovery, and post-traumatic growth, and transformation will help illuminate rather than eclipse paths leading to light at the end of the tunnel for disaster stricken individuals and their communities.” That right there is science unpacking what Warwick has talked about since founding Crucible Leadership and what you just talked about a few minutes ago.

Suzy G:
Exactly, and look, it is an emerging field and we do need more research on it. But all of us know people that have suffered adversity. And in fact, the early studies on resilience looked at children that were in adverse situations, that maybe twin studies, where one actually develop a psychiatric disorder and the other one’s flourished. And trying to understand what is it about those children or those qualities that allow them to do that. But yeah, the area is very, very interesting and it also talks about a shattering of our fundamental beliefs or schemas.

Suzy G:
And that’s often, it’s like what we call it in Australia, a what the moment, like what just happened? And then it does. And look, in many cases, particularly with trauma, as you would know, it does require professional assistance to work with a professional, to work through that process. Part of a post-traumatic stress disorder is because brain is like a filing system. It likes to be able to neatly file things, when life happens, it’s like, “Well, that fits here and that fits here.”

Suzy G:
And when something that comes out of left field, that doesn’t fit anywhere, the brain keeps bringing it up. It keeps re-emerging, which is why you have nightmares and dreams about it because the brain’s trying to file it. And so part of the healing process is often with, whether it’s a psychiatrist or a psychologist, trying to create a narrative around what happened and some meaning making through it. And then I guess a creation of a new, transformed self and what you’re going to do with that experience going forward.

Warwick F:
I mean, I think that’s so important. I think it’s changing a bit, but there used to be a case where unless you got to be locked up somewhere, you should never see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. There was the stigma about it. But it’s like with anything else, if you had some health issue, cancer of some description, you’d go to a doctor to seek help. Well, same with psychologists or psychiatrists. I think it’s very important, because for me at least, understanding kind of what I went through and why I was feeling what I was feeling, was very helpful. And maybe some of the things I was exposed to growing up, some of which were positive and some of which, like all of us, weren’t such positive influences. We all have our scars.

Warwick F:
So yeah, I mean, it’s hard to understand how some people bounce back and others don’t. I mean, obviously that’s what you study. I mean, it’s that whole thing with kids, nature or nurture. Anybody that’s had kids know they come out of the box a certain way. They’re influenced by us, and by life, and community, but some come out of the box, they’re athletes, or they’re scientists, or they’re artists. And I have no idea whether that’s true psychologically in terms of a tendency towards optimism, whether that’s learned, choice, nature, or all of the above. I mean, it’s probably a… Do you have any feeling on that? What mix is it? Is it a mix?

Suzy G:
Yeah, it is, definitely. And the area that I’ve been looking at, I guess more intensely over the last probably eight years, is called mental toughness. And it is actually a scientific construct. So it’s just a construct, a topic that’s been studied rigorously in science, primarily in the UK. And it’s being looked at in education as well. It comes off the back of some earlier research on cognitive hardiness and there was some great research done by Kobasa and Maddi and I think looking in the military as well.

Suzy G:
And so they have found that there is a genetic component and that some people are just born a bit tougher, if you like, than others. And some of the great insights that we have when we’re running this program, in leadership programs, is that for those that are scoring higher and you can actually take an assessment as well. For those that are scoring higher on the mental toughness assessment, they often don’t have patience or tolerance for others that aren’t like them.

Warwick F:
Interesting.

Suzy G:
So yeah, I have a partner who’s ex military, and I know in the early stages, we spoke a lot about, that not everybody’s like that. In fact, you’re possibly an outlier when it comes to this. And so, it often does bring great insight to people when they realize that no, not everyone is like that. Not everyone can just move on and build a bridge and get over things. In fact, the research says the majority of people aren’t like that. But the good news is, that we can learn some skills to cope a lot better with the dramas and the traumas that come along.

Warwick F:
That is the wonderful, maybe gift of crucible experience, it does teach you a bit of humility. I mean, certainly for me, humility has always been one of my highest values, even before the whole takeover thing. But yeah, I mean, when you lose a 2 billion plus business and if you Google me, that Wikipedia entry is still not favorable and probably never will. I often say you don’t want your self worth defined by Google or Wikipedia, at least not-

Suzy G:
No way.

Warwick F:
But one of the things I’d be curious is, I mean, one of the things I’ve viewed from my world at Crucible Leadership is, to a certain degree, you go through trauma, you can’t always control what happened. And yes, it could take years to get over and there’s counseling. And sometimes you could say, I’m going to get over it tomorrow when it could take 10, 20, it took me a decade or more to really begin to get beyond. But the word comes to mind is sort of choice. Am I going to try and deal with it and move forward? And that could be seeking counseling, and that could be saying, “Okay, what are the positive things I can learn from it?” Like in my case, not all of it was my fault.

Warwick F:
A lot of it was my fault. Okay, how do I accept ownership of that and blame, if you will, and then move on and forgive myself? A lot of thoughts going through my head. One is choice and the other word is forgiveness. Forgiving yourself, forgiving others. Like you think of abuse victims, is the classic case of how can you forgive the unforgivable? And from my perspective, not having gone through that, it’s like well, if you don’t, it holds you back again. Again, I’m not a psychologist, but it’s like you’re worth forgiving, even if they’re not. I guess I asked about three different questions in one. But basically, really the core one is choice and do you feel like there’s some degree of choice about how you deal with it, and one is positive, the other one leads to a not so positive path?

Suzy G:
Yeah and I think one of the major components of developing mental toughness or resilience is around our mindset. But the thing is, Warwick, it sounds really simple. Like I’ll just think differently, just change your thinking. But it’s actually really difficult to do. And nobody has got the silver bullet around how to change those neural pathways a lot quicker, because they’re well-worn pathways, which have often been there from our early childhood, adolescence. And the longer they go on, the stronger they are.

Suzy G:
So I mean, sometimes it is through these crucible experiences, that there has to be a rewiring and we have to start or we start seeing ourselves in situations differently. But yeah, so a large part of it is through our mindset. Now for some people, that’s relatively easy to do. And in fact, a lot of the work we do in the corporate sector, we find some people do it and they don’t even realize that it’s a skill. And then you have other people in the same team, where it’s like an aha moment, that they realize that they don’t have to be a victim to their thinking.

Suzy G:
That thoughts are not necessarily facts and that you can learn to be an observer and you can choose to think differently. But again, I think it depends on your environment. There’s a lot around who’s in your family, the messages you’ve been given as well. And so some people, a lot of people still, I guess, would think that they can’t change their thinking, which is why I’m going to use this opportunity to encourage people, why we need to learn it at school, because we may not be learning it at home as well. So I think yes, absolutely choice. But sometimes I think, sometimes we can judge people so harshly that they haven’t chosen to think differently or chosen to move on as well.

Warwick F:
Yep, that’s so true. I mean, you can never judge somebody, especially if those are shoes you’ve never walked in, circumstances you’ve never been through. But yeah. I mean, I think you mentioned a number of things there and in your writings about community mentorship. I know in my case, I’m blessed to have a amazing wife, I have three kids in their 20s. And yeah, I had some mixed messages growing up about my value or not value. But certainly from my own family, there’s always been one message, it’s unconditional love, which again, I’m not a psychologist. But you give somebody unconditional love, just like a flower, they will grow and thrive.

Suzy G:
Absolutely and I mean, so much research on that. Absolutely, and again, not everyone has that experience-

Warwick F:
And if you don’t have it, if you have continual and perpetual abuse psychologically and physically your whole life, from everybody you know, then recovering from that would seem to be difficult, if not close to impossible. I mean, if you did that, that’d be miracle. If you get-

Suzy G:
Yeah, and I guess that’s where like, yeah, where you said it might be a mentor comes along or it might be a school teacher that plays that role. So those roles are really important in our community,

Warwick F:
Right, because you don’t always have it from your family because you can’t choose where you’re born into. But you can choose your friends and that kind of thing. So please go ahead.

Suzy G:
I was just going to say, because you mentioned forgiveness and I think that’s a really important topic. The character strengths assessment that I mentioned before, forgiveness is one of the character strengths and having used it, it launched in 2004 and I’ve used it extensively over the years. And I haven’t actually seen any studies on it, but my experience has been, it’s quite rare that it occurs in someone’s top five character strengths. You often see it more so in their bottom five.

Suzy G:
I usually suggest to people, take this as an opportunity to reflect because there’s actually been probably over 30 forgiveness interventions that have been conducted now, to show that letting go of those strong negative emotions that we hold, that stony unforgiveness, is really bad for both your psychological and your physical wellbeing. Now having worked clinically again, forgiveness, I know, particularly if there’s been horrendous transgressions made, it is a quite a process to go through. But there’s also some great research around just letting go of grudges that people hold onto. So firstly, if you do the assessment, have a look at where it sits.

Suzy G:
If you do have some insights that you’re not a very forgiving person, I would absolutely encourage you to work on that. But what I have found is, for people where it’s in the top five and it may very well be in your top five Warwick too, is that when I’ve inquired about, “Why do you think that is?” I’ve had a couple of different responses. The first is, that I grew up in a family where it was a topic. Maybe something had happened to the family and it had been a family discussion or it had been a value, a value that the family had placed value on. Or they had been through an experience where they’d had to actively work on forgiving someone else or forgiving themselves. And that’s why it turns up in the top five.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I know for me it was like both. I had to forgive myself, if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have been very functional. But again, maybe forgive some other people in my own family for sort of certain negative role models or impact on my life. But for me, growing up in a powerful family media business, I used to joke, you know how some kids in, I don’t know, middle school, primary school, they have like, somebody sticks a note on their back that says, “Kick me,” it’s fun. I always felt like I have one that says, “Betray me.” I mean, it’s like I had a lot of experience in different financial things and what have you.

Warwick F:
So to me, it was like a survival, it’s like, okay, in an ideal world, when somebody wrongs you, they apologize. They say, “I’m so sorry, please forgive me.” In the real world, that rarely happens, unfortunately, even when you try and have that conversation. It’s like, “Oh, not my problem,” or there’s the dreaded sorry of, “I’m sorry if that hurt you.” Which means nothing. It’s almost demeaning I find, when people say that. But for me, from my paradigm is, I come from a faith based paradigm, so that helps to a degree, in that from a Christian perspective, you forgive because we’re forgiven, which obviously is not going to help everybody. But it does to a degree, in the faith community. But it’s almost more practically, I feel like forgiveness is important because we’re worth it, because-

Suzy G:
Yeah, it’s a gift to yourself, actually.

Warwick F:
Even if what they did to you was horrendous and wrong and ‘unforgivable’, by holding that grudge, it holds you back. So it’s not so much they’re worth forgiving because objectively they might not be. But you are, by letting go, it helps you move on. And by not forgiving, you’re in a cage and why let them win? You win by letting go. So again, I think if so many great leaders, they don’t hold grudges. I think Winston Churchill was a great role model for that. Time and time again, he made a lot of his own mistakes, but he never held grudges.

Warwick F:
And there was the classic 1945 election where Clement Attlee, the Labor politician won. Here is Churchill thinking, “Look, I just saved Britain, maybe the world, from Hitler and Nazism and this is the thanks I get. Voted out of office. They want national healthcare and other things. I get that, but really?” So somebody made fun of Clement Attlee, then the Labor Prime Minister and he said, “Don’t you dare do that. He’s our Prime Minister, I may disagree with his politics. But you don’t make fun of him. He’s our Prime Minister. We don’t go there.” But he was somebody that really, he made a lot of mistakes, but he had a tremendous capacity, maybe forgive isn’t the right word in this case, but not hold grudges.

Suzy G:
Yes, absolutely.

Warwick F:
So, that required a huge resilience in his mind.

Suzy G:
I think that would be a huge part of this. And depending on what happened to you, whether it was someone or something that happened. That, that process of, I mean, acceptance is the other, the word I guess, that comes to mind. And often you’ll get people pushing back on that. Why should I have to accept that? Again, it is quite a process of accepting what is and what you can’t change. But what can you change or what can you influence going forward as well?

Warwick F:
The other fact I’d be curious to get your thoughts on is, we talk about it a bit, pain for a purpose. And it’s obviously impossible to know fully, in terms of some higher power and why things happen or why things are allowed to happen. That’s a whole vigorous debate and theological or spiritual circles, which would be a whole ‘nother discussion. But I often find that the people that bounce back, they’re able to find some meaning, whether it’s a breast cancer survivor, just helping other people who’ve gone through that.

Warwick F:
They’re using their pain to help others. It doesn’t mean it’s right or fair, but somehow, by finding some purpose in what you’re going through to help others, that anecdotally seems to be very, there’s a healing balm. There’s a healing component when you’re focused on using your pain to help others. I mean, even if your value system doesn’t say you should do that. From a psychological helping, if helping other people is going to help you, why not be self centered and help other people? At the risk of being facetious. But have you found out in your research that helping others can be healing to a degree?

Suzy G:
Yeah, there’s a huge amount of research that even sits separately around altruism and the psychological benefits. I mean, obviously the people are benefiting that are on the receiving end, but we get a boost to our own psychological wellbeing through the giving and the altruism. But as I said before, I mean, part of I guess, the recovery or the treatment for trauma is often that sort of meaning making process, which can be difficult to do and can take quite a bit of time, as you said.

Suzy G:
But I mean, I’m really interested in that sort of intersection with the spiritual aspect of it as well. And in fact, that is an area that hasn’t received a lot of attention in the field of positive psychology, up until recently. And there’s a recent group that’s just formed with the International Pos-Psych Association. I’ve been asked to be part of that group, to have some discussions around spirituality and religion and the role that they play in our wellbeing.

Warwick F:
It is an interesting discussion because even if you look at it from more of a humanistic perspective, I think the whole spiritual thing, irrespective of religion, that it’s all, I remember what Karl Marx said, that religion is the opiate of the masses. That was his perspective. But even if it’s not real, if it works and it helps, then maybe there’s some delusions and obviously I don’t think if it is an illusion, but even if it is, if it’s helpful, a sense of purpose, there’s a better place that you’re going to.

Warwick F:
God loves you no matter what, just like even if you don’t have unconditional love from any human. The fact that there’s a spiritual entity that loves you unconditionally, even if it doesn’t exist, that sheer notion if helpful. The fact that there’s meaning and there’s certainly components of that, that can help. But to me, sort of the message what I’m hearing you say, Suzy, is that I love your caution in the sense that it’s not a choice where, okay, today I’m a broken person. Tomorrow, I’ll be functional and healed.

Warwick F:
I mean, I didn’t go through massive abuse or that kind of thing, but even in my world, the family business thing, it took a decade or more to begin to claw my way back in terms of positive self esteem. And it was baby step, by baby step. I mean, if there’s one word from the uneducated person in this field, it would be baby steps. What’s a baby step I could take and yeah, take a job. And it was low paid thing in the financial services. But okay, I can do something well without screwing up. Okay, great, and then little by little, then you get approval from what you’re doing and self esteem comes back. But it’s not overnight, but it is a journey, it is sort of mission possible, if you will, to recover from… What does recover mean? I don’t know exactly, but to at least be in a better place than you were.

Suzy G:
Yes, I had a wonderful mentor when I first started off as a psychologist. She was a psychologist and she’d heard I was working in a psychiatric clinic and actually rang me. She didn’t know who I was and said, “Will you come and work for me?” She said, “You can sit in with me for two weeks and watch what I do.” And she only passed away last year, she was 93 as well. And oh, what an incredible experience that was. Again, it was down in the Illawarra, so we had really diverse clients coming in. People that had lost children, people with cancer, just everything that you can imagine.

Suzy G:
And I always recall, I’ve actually kept some notes from those sessions, I call them Patsy’s Pearls because I learned some amazing pearls from the stories and the way that she worked with people. But I remember how she said to many people, “Right now this is awful, this is painful. But in time to come,” and she said, “And that time will come, you’ll be able to look back at that situation and you’ll be able to understand perhaps why or you’ll come to terms with it a lot better than you are now.” But she said, “There’s no science to this, but you’ll find that you come across somebody or people that are going through a similar experience and you’re going to be able to help them.” And now in my life, that has absolutely been the experience.

Warwick F:
And that is very comforting, to think that I can help other people. So that’s why I find this whole post-traumatic growth, it’s so encouraging, I love the fact that you’re thinking of and now, are trying help kids because giving, as kids, they can go through horrific experiences, very sadly. But oftentimes, there’s more to come and so giving them some tools to be proactive. I mean, that does help. I think that’s really well worth it. So I love this whole concept of post-traumatic growth. So hopefully, it’s gaining traction, it will gain more traction and people will realize, this is worthy of studying. If it’s going to help people, why shouldn’t psychologists study it?

Suzy G:
Absolutely, and there’s also another emerging field, called post-ecstatic growth, Warwick, which is looking at people that have I guess, really uplifting moments of awe or elevation in their lives. And they seem to have similar outcomes in terms of a recognition of a spiritual life for example, or an increased focus on really working out what is a meaningful relationship? And changing their priorities in their life. So that’s again, fairly new out of the University of Pennsylvania again. But yes, some wonderful areas of research that do fall under this umbrella term of positive psychology.

Gary S:
That is an excellent point for us to begin the process, I like to call landing the plane. So we’re not quite on the ground yet. But I can hear the gear going down and the guys with their little flashlights on the runway. One of the things I want to stress for listener, as you’ve listened into this conversation between Warwick and Suzy, is that you’ve heard some of the same language used from Warwick, who built Crucible Leadership as a brand, rooted in story, rooted in anecdote. And from Suzy, who is talking about things from a scientific, psychological perspective. And one of the things Suzy, frankly, that led us to reach out to you to be a guest, is the acronym for the Positivity Institute that you’ve created.

Gary S:
Actually, I’m looking at an acronym for CIVIL and one of the things that shows up as I’m looking at it, I could be reading the Crucible Leadership website because I see words like character. I see words like integrity, I see words like authenticity, I see legacy. I see this commitment to making a difference in the world, mentoring and developing young people, doing meaningful work for causes that matter. That could be right off of the Crucible Leadership website that Warwick has created. So in our last couple of minutes here, for listeners who’ve heard this and are intrigued, want to know more. How can they find out more about the Positivity Institute and about you?

Suzy G:
Oh, thank you, thanks so much. Well go to the website, the positivityinstitute.com.au. We’ve got a number of resources in there. We do offer services for individuals, we do virtual coaching. We do, as I mentioned, some wonderful work in schools. And most of our work is actually in the corporate sector, in the workplace as well. So yeah, absolutely, first stop there. You can contact us if you’ve heard anything on here today that you want to learn more about. The email address is on the website, but it’s just info@thepositivityinstitute.com.au. Happy to share for those that really want the academic, rigorous papers. Happy to send those through.

Suzy G:
Also, point you in the right direction. We also have, I put together a document for further recommended courses, in both positive psychology and coaching psychology, which range from certificates right through to PhDs. And I’ll also give a plug, there are a couple, possibly even three now, MOOCs. So a MOOC is a massive open online course, that you can do for free through the University of Pennsylvania. They have one on positive psychology. Yale has, apparently the most popular course at Yale, on positive psychology. And you can do these courses for free, if you don’t want certification. So if you want to learn more, that would be also a great place to go to.

Gary S:
Fabulous, I’m going to wrap up here in just a second, Warwick with some key takeaways from this discussion. But I want to give you one last chance to ask Suzy any question. I know you well enough to know that there’s one in there somewhere, so.

Warwick F:
Well, maybe just an observation, is just I think it’s so encouraging, Suzy, what you’re doing with positive psychology and helping people find meaning in what happened and acceptance and mentors, relationships. It’s not easy, but even if you hadn’t been born with certain characteristics or skills, you can learn. And psychology should indeed focus on some of the clinical traumas, but it should also focus on the positive side, how to come back from a crucible experience. So as Gary said, just the whole CIVIL acronym connectivity, ingenuity, vitality, integrity, legacy.

Warwick F:
I mean, wow. It’s just like I mean, I agree with everything that’s there, it’s so positive. So yeah, I think it’s encouraging, more people need to hear about what you’re doing. That it is possible to bounce back from crucible experiences and from trauma. And it is possible to have a positive attitude to life and it’s not easy, it’s not going to happen overnight. But even if people knew, okay, it won’t happen overnight, maybe it will take 10, 20, 30 years, maybe a lifetime. But there are baby steps of growth each day, that gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Even if it’s going to be a long journey, right? If it’s like, okay, I made a positive step today, hooray, right?

Suzy G:
Yup.

Warwick F:
It may not seem big to others, to me, it seemed like leaping a chasm, that’s what it takes.

Suzy G:
Yeah, and it builds a sense of confidence, those baby steps. You stop and think, “Right, I can do it, I can do it.” And then you’re building those positive, hopeful. Again, lots of research around hope theory and in psychology as well. So we’re building hopeful narratives for the future. But we do need more people talking about this. So thank you also, for the work that you do because I can assure you it’s underpinned by science, based on what you’ve been referring to today as well. So yeah, thank you, thanks for the opportunity, for speaking with you today.

Gary S:
This is when I know that we’ve had a great show, is that I always at the end do, here’s three key takeaways. And Warwick just stole every one of them, in what he just said-

Warwick F:
Sorry.

Gary S:
No, it’s beautiful. His observation of his conversation with you, Suzy and listener, just summarized everything I was going to say. So I don’t need to say what I was going to say for those key takeaways because Warwick summed them up beautifully. And what I want to leave you with, listener, is a couple of things. One, hear the similarities in what Warwick has talked about, experientially, in his own story and the stories of other guests that we’ve had on the show. And what Suzy’s talked about, scientifically. She said it, right at the end, just a few minutes, like two minutes ago. That what Warwick speaks about, what Crucible Leadership leads you to, is underpinned by the science.

Gary S:
That is, if you take nothing else away, know that, that is both experientially true and scientifically true. And that’s a powerful recipe for moving beyond your crucible. From our perspective at Crucible Leadership, to learn more about what Warwick does, you can visit our website at crucibleleadership.com. You also can subscribe to the podcast, if you’re just listening to it because a friend passed it along, find the subscribe button on the app that you’re listening to and subscribe to it. Because if you do that, you will not miss any episodes. You’ll get every new episode when it comes out.

Gary S:
And we have a new one almost every week, three times to four times a month. You’ll get a new episode every time and it will help us, if you subscribe, to reach more people. So share it with your friends. If this conversation enlightened you, if this conversation encouraged you, share that with your friends, so that, that enlightenment and encouragement can get passed along. So until the next time that we’re together, thank you for spending time with us at Beyond The Crucible.

Gary S:
And remember this clarion truth, as we have discussed here, both experientially from Warwick and scientifically from Suzy, that crucible experiences are difficult. They’re painful things that can knock the wind out of your sails and knock you off the course that your boat was going. But they’re not the end of your story. In fact, if you learn the lessons of those crucible experiences, if you manifest resilience, you can write a new story. And the first chapter of that story will lead you down a path toward the ultimate goal, a life of significance.

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