Harnessing Resilience V: Craig Dowden #84

Warwick Fairfax

September 21, 2021

Dr. Craig Dowden describes his coaching practice as bridging the gap between what science knows and what leaders do. What science has found, he says, is that harnessing resilience is two-part process: first, finding our way back to baseline – i.e., where we were before our crucible hit; and second, charting a course to move beyond that point. To not merely bounce back, but bounce forward. “We as human beings,” he tells us research has shown time and again, “are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.”

To learn more about Dr. Craig Dowden and his research on resilience and positive leadership, visit www.craigdowden.com.

Highlights

  • Crag’s definition of resilience rooted in research (2:03)
  • How we’re more resilient than we give ourselves credit for (3:53)
  • The importance of reframing crucibles as “gifts” (7:03)
  • What research says about the importance of having “bigger than self” goals (12:57)
  • Hurts will happen amid crucibles (20:56)
  • Emotions are our best early warning signs (23:48)
  • How avoidance is a roadblock to resilience (27:32)
  • The importance of forgiveness … including self-forgiveness (33:30)
  • How leaders can help their teams be more resilient (40:33)
  • Resilience is not just about digging deeper; it’s also about reaching outside ourselves (42:23)
  • Why understanding fear is so critical to harnessing resilience (50:02)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Gary S:

Welcome to episode five of our series on harnessing resilience. I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. Up till now, we’ve been talking to guests who’ve spoken in detail about how they mustered the resilience to overcome their setbacks and failures. This week, our focus shifts from anecdotes to evidence as we speak to a researcher who offers practical insights and action steps all of us can take to strengthen our ability to rise above when the crucibles come. That researcher is Dr. Craig Dowden, who describes his coaching practice as bridging the gap between what science knows and what leaders do. What science has found, you’ll hear him tell us is that harnessing resilience is a two-part process. First, finding our way back to baseline. That is where we were before our crucible hit and second, charting a course to move beyond that point to not merely bounce back but bounce forward.

Warwick F:

Well, Craig, thank you so much and love all your work on resilience and obviously you’ve also written a book, Do Good to Lead Well, which we’ll have to have you on again to talk about. I love the concept of leaders often believe they can be values driven or they can be successful by just the whole concept of doing good to lead well. Values driving your leadership, a great concept, but we’re here today to talk about resilience. We live in a pandemic ridden world where everything’s so uncertain. If ever we needed resilience, it’s it. One of the things I’d like to start off with, you have this great phrase in which you say that… Your definition of resilience is our ability to bounce back, how quickly we take to bounce back to baseline in order to move ahead. Talk about just this concept of moving back to baseline to move ahead and what your definition of resilience and just give us an overview as we get into the subject.

Craig D:

Well, thanks so much Warwick and Gary for inviting me on your podcast and it’s such an important topic. I love the thesis of what you have in terms of, well, it’s about what happens when we encounter these events and how do we push forward. I think that’s really critical, and appreciate that question because that comes from the decades of research that have been conducted around, so what does resilience look like? What does it mean when we’re talking about resilience?

Craig D:

Fundamentally across all of the different pieces of research, it’s essentially how quickly we bounce back to “normal” and how do we move ahead after we encounter challenging events. It makes a whole lot of sense because the quicker that I can restabilize and then move forward with purpose. Well, then now that by definition represents enhanced resiliency. The longer that takes, the longer that recovery period, the more challenging it is, well then the less resilient I am because once I get back to that balanced state, now I’m able to step forward with intentionality.

Warwick F:

That’s such a good point. I think you used the image of a slinky, which some of us remember from our childhood going down the stairs and just this elasticity, this flexibility, talk about what does that mean elasticity, flexibility in enabling us to get back to baseline as quickly as possible.

Craig D:

Absolutely. Invariably, when we encounter setbacks, it’s really challenging. It’s tough and we can get into that negative mindset and cycle around that. Yet from the neuro-scientific research and elsewhere, we, as human beings are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. We can come back from these pieces. What’s critical is to shifting our thinking, shifting our emotional management system, if you will, in terms of reframing things. Daniel Gilbert out of Harvard University talks about how we’re far… His research has shown how much more resilient we are.

Craig D:

When you ask people to anticipate how they’re going to respond when a particular challenge comes up, one of the worst imagined scenarios possible, and they think, “Oh, I won’t be able to do this.” When the moment comes, we are extraordinarily resilient. We are able to dig deep and move forward. I appreciate your appreciation of the slinky because that’s fundamentally, it. It continues to move. It can get stretched. Then the critical part is it reforms and moves ahead each step. It’s a really great metaphor for us in terms of how we approach our lives and how we move.

Gary S:

I want to jump in for a second and emphasize a point so clear in the beginning of this discussion because we’ve done now… Gracious, we’re in the mid eighties for the number of shows we’ve done, Craig. One of the things we hear from time to time when we’re talking to a guest who’s been through a crucible, they talk about how it’s not about bouncing back because they say bouncing back means you’re just back to where you were. You are saying though something I think somewhat different. It’s a both and. You have to bounce back to where you were first. Then part two of the process is bouncing forward from there. Is that a fair enough layman’s understanding of what you’re saying?

Craig D:

Absolutely. I think it’s a great way of looking at it because also one of the interesting things we talked about at the beginning about being in the midst of a pandemic and one of the key insights from a lot of the thought leaders and researchers is that how agile are we, how adaptive are we to those circumstances? I think what’s critical is that when… Again, invariably things aren’t always going to go our way or turn out as planned. Then when we return to baseline, that’s fantastic. Now it’s, how do I take the insight, the learning, the teachings that that experience has shown to me and now integrate that into the future?

Craig D:

Now, I’m better equipped to deal with similar challenges or the same challenges. This is where I find, and to me, the research in this space is fascinating around mindset and perspective is around, so now how do we evolve, how do we grow as individuals once we’ve encountered this particular situation? I think that’s where there’s even additional motivation is that, so now I can expand myself as a human being and my capacity.

Warwick F:

What’s interesting is every guest we’ve had on is almost a superstar in resilience. Their mindset is unbelievable. I can think of just a few stories that really illustrate I think the point you’re making about mindset. I can think of somebody that we didn’t have on the podcast, Joni Eareckson Tada, who has a top-rated Christian podcast, really Christian radio program and certainly did have. She became a quadriplegic in the ’60s in a diving accident in Maryland. Funnily enough where I live most of the year. It took a while. She’s been in that wheelchair, it’s got to be 50 plus years. She says something that makes no sense. She talks about her wheelchair as a passport to joy. That, to me, makes no sense. It’s almost obscene to say that. There’s mental shifts and then there’s crazy mental shifts. That makes no sense.

Warwick F:

But we’ve had an Australian woman that was injured in a diving accident, became a quadriplegic at 12, has some movement now. She talks about how it was a gift. There’s this sense of some of these folks that obviously nobody wants to go through that physical crucible but used it, they’ve reframed it in a unbelievable way to help them move forward. Talk about this, not everybody’s going to talk about that. I’m not suggesting that’s a good thing but it seems reframing and seeing value in what you’ve gone through and being able to use it to help others, there’s something about that, that really helps you not just come back but spring forward a whole heck of a long way. Does that make sense from your perspective?

Craig D:

Absolutely makes sense. I think what’s crucial around that, it’s also… This is where sometimes it can, as you say, just seem completely out of bounds to frame it that way. I think sometimes that can, again, that profound search for, “Okay. Look how great this is.” It’s not meant to minimize the experience. I think that’s the other piece about it because it is challenging. It can be extraordinarily traumatic and it’s essential and decades of psychological research highlight that as well. It’s essential for us to acknowledge our emotions and accept them, not try to move past them too quickly. But then I think once we’ve gone through that, then the power is… You make such an important point, Warwick, which is around, “Okay. Now, what do I do? How do I move forward?”

Craig D:

Just like the pandemic, really interesting. I facilitate CEO forums and leadership forums. One of the powerful questions that we’ve reflected on and talked about is that, okay, what are some of the insights? What are some of the benefits of this experience through the pandemic? People talking about, “I spent more time with my kids.” Or, “Now, I’m much more reflective about how much time I’m going to spend in airports and what kinds of meetings do I need to go to versus not.” It doesn’t mean that the pandemic has been joyful and wonderful yet at the same time, there are things from it that, hey, it shifted my perspective. I love that you talk about that mindset shift. As another quick example, I remember speaking to this CEO on one of my webinar series of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association here in Canada.

Craig D:

She talked about she reports to a board of 40 members. People were saying, “Yeah, exactly. Oh boy, six or eight is challenging enough. Now, you have 40.” She had such a powerful insight where she said, “Well, you know what? What I do is I choose to look at them as 40 really smart, highly accomplished people who are looking out for my best interests and the best interest of my organization.” Now, rather than fear the exchanges or try to avoid it, what she does is look to facilitate relationships. I think again, the same situation can be viewed very, very differently. Looking at what can we control?

Craig D:

What do we move forward? What do we learn through this experience? Again, decades of research has shown us that we are incredibly meaning making creatures. As human beings, that’s something that defines us. I love, again, the core thesis around moving ahead with purpose that you talk about. That is at our core as people. Now, finding ways to be able to do that successfully once again doesn’t minimize the experience. It enhances it and it brings us forward in a different way.

Warwick F:

It’s so true. Really, we’ve had maybe 70, 80 guests on the podcast and this is, I guess, qualitative, not quantitative research. But qualitatively, every single guest who has bounced back, whether it’s a physical tragedy or a business failure or victims of abuse, every variety, we’ve had different genders, race, nationalities, they’ve all sought to seek meaning in their crucible and they’ve all bounced forward, if you will, by looking at it in terms of how can I use what I’ve been through to help others, whether it’s other victims of abuse, other people of physical challenges, other people who have had a business failure?

Warwick F:

Every one of them, they’ve not held grudges because that can pull you down. As we often say on Crucible Leadership, lack of forgiving other people puts you in prison. It’s almost like drinking poison. It’s not good for you irrespective of how bad and how wrong other people may have been to you in that incident. But just this concept of using what you’ve been through to serve others, to serve a bigger purpose from your perspective, does that show up in the research too as being one of the factors in resilience and bouncing back?

Craig D:

Absolutely, and in a parallel line of research around accomplishing goals. In other psychological motivational research, they… The bigger than self goals. Once we look at serving a purpose bigger than ourselves, outside of our own self interest, and we all have self interest to some extent, that’s absolutely natural and wonderful. Then it’s now, how am I contributing to my broader community? I love the point that you’re making because now what I can do is elevate the meaning that I extract from that challenging experience, because now not only can I grow and extend end as a human being and test the limits of my potential, I can also support others in their pursuits and I can let them know and give them a red flag, some warnings in advance, “Hey, this tripped me up.”

Craig D:

You see that, mentorship. That’s a lot around what that is. Taking my lived experience and supporting others so that they cannot encounter some of the challenges that I did or adopt different strategies. The more we can reframe that, look at it in that lens… I think the power within that as well is that it’s more balanced. It’s a more balanced perspective on things that, “Yeah, this is…” I love Gary, you said earlier too, an and idea. This has been incredibly challenging and I can learn forward from it and move ahead as a more developed individual. I’ve expanded my toolkit as a result of this experience.

Warwick F:

That’s so well said. I guess in my own way, as listeners would know, growing up in a 150-year old family business in Australia and did a two billion plus takeover, which I made a lot of mistakes. I was fresh out of Harvard Business School, young, foolish, naïve and idealistic, within three years company went under. That was painful. Most of the ’90s were painful years. Look what I did. I hurt other family members. I’m a person of faith and felt like, “Gosh, maybe God had a plan.” I blew that, which poor theology, but didn’t matter. It was still painful. Lost a lot of money, which wasn’t so important to me but just that sense of loss of self-esteem, self-belief. Eventually, I clawed my way back and focused on serving others. Hence, with my book coming out this fall, using my pain for a purpose to use that off used aphorism. It’s somewhat similar now. Is there still a scar?

Warwick F:

Of course there is. Do I have regrets? Sure. But when I’m somehow using what I went through to help others, it does make meaning out of it. It does bring a sense of fulfillment and joy. It’s somewhat similar but you’re right. It’s not like it wasn’t painful. It’s not like it didn’t take years to bounce back. It’s not like, “Oh, if you read this book and have the right mindset, you can get over this in five easy lessons or your money back in six weeks.” Lose 50 pounds in four weeks, guaranteed. That’s not what we or you are saying about resilience. It’s not easy and it can take… In my case, it took years to fully bounce back.

Gary S:

That’s the great thing, I think, that we can’t emphasize enough here on the show. That is, there is no statute of limitations on your crucible, on coming back from your crucible. Warwick, I love that you just described your story. I was sitting here hoping you were going to do it thinking, “Am I going to have to jump in and play interviewer and ask Warwick this question?” Because your story, as you just expressed it, is what Craig’s been talking about. That one, two punch, that getting back to baseline, deep breath, and then moving beyond that to what you call a life of significance. We’ve never looked at it. I don’t know. I’ve never looked at your story in that context before but it fits perfectly for your story. While you guys are talking, I’m sitting here going, “That was this guest’s story and that guest’s story and that guest’s story.” Clearly, the science proves this to be true. Right Craig?

Craig D:

Absolutely. I think what’s really powerful as well… This is critical is that the way in which we approach our lives, as you say Warwick, it’s decades. These are habits and ingrained frames that we have. Then to move beyond those, I love that you say it right, it’s not a, “Oh, we’ll follow these five steps and in a week, this will…” This is constant level of awareness. One of the other things that I think is so powerful, resilience is a muscle, leadership is a muscle. In order for us to grow that muscle, we have to practice it. If I want to improve my stamina, I got to jump on the treadmill. I got to go for walks. I got to go for jogs. If I want to build lean muscle mass, I got to go in and do the reps.

Craig D:

That resiliency requires intentional practice, dedicated practice, every day looking for opportunities for how can we be more resilient? How can we test ourselves? That’s really crucial. That is one of the key ways in which we can continue to grow and expand. Here’s where I think is so powerful because you’ve talked about how the common thread amongst all the guests is, “Well, look what they’ve done.” Encountered this extraordinary setback, this unbelievable challenge, then what they’ve done is figured out a way, “Okay. How do I move forward?” They’re looking at, and Warwick in the same space for you, “What do I take from that? Now, how do I move forward within it? I’m not stuck in the past or I’m not stuck where I was. Now, I’m moving ahead with a very different perspective and as you said earlier, one of the other… Blessed with that or that was a passport to me to have different frame on things.

Craig D:

I think that is what’s really key. All of us are going to go through challenging situations and now the critical choice we all must face is that, “Okay. What do I do with that? What do I now do when I have this crucible moment and then what’s really…” Back to the resilience research that now I have a choice about how I’m going to respond. It doesn’t take away from the process of mourning, of grief, of frustration of anger. It’s just that now once I move through that, what do I do? Where do I go from here?

Warwick F:

Absolutely. I want to get to something else you said but before I do, one of the things you said, I think I love of your metaphor of exercise, it’s like a muscle. It’s not a one and done thing. “Oh, I got over that crucible. I’m good to go.” Life keeps hitting at you. It’s funny. We had a former prime minister back in the ’70s who in a moment of madness before an election said, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” That’s political suicide for a prime minister or president running for reelection but he did. He might have even been reelected. I don’t know. Wow. Crazy talk. Life isn’t easy.

Warwick F:

But I think of this example as Gary would know, I don’t know it was a month or two ago. I’ve largely gotten over if you will, air quotes, which for the listeners as best as I can, but the book’s coming out and I guess there’s a free chapter available online and some Australian journalist gossip columnist picked it up and read it and just read a really snarky column. It was like Warwick will give you his advice in his book for a price. It’s like, who sells their book for nothing? Come on. Then it’s like, well Warwick will tell you how to bounce back from failure, well, he’s an expert in that, isn’t he? It’s like one after another snarky comment. Was I bulletproof? No. Did that hurt my feelings? Yes, I got over it.

Warwick F:

I don’t know if it took me a few days or whatever it wasn’t immediate, but it’s like, stuff’s going to come at you. Unless you are a machine and no human being is at least not with current technology anyway. We’re all flesh and blood, it’s going to hurt, but the question is, do you wallow there for… This wasn’t worth wallowing for weeks, but you’re going to get hit with something, it’s going to hurt your feelings. It’s going to take you off the rails. Well, have you built enough resilience muscle and friends, like in this case, Gary, who can say, “Hey boy, this hurt my feelings.”

Warwick F:

This part of the muscle is, and I think you talked about this, the internal and the external. Talk a bit about, it’s not one and done and you got to build that muscle so that when stuff comes at you you know what to do because your feelings are going to get hurt. Your self-esteem is going to be under assault from time to time. You write a paper and let’s say 99 people love that peer reviewed paper. There’s one loon out there somewhere that says what Craig Dowden it’s stupid, it’s idiotic. You might know who that a person is and the guy doesn’t have a clue, but it’s still going to hurt your feelings even though 99 people said it was brilliant because you’re human.

Craig D:

So many amazing things there that you’re touching on Warwick. Number one thing I want to share back to the science, there was a paper done. I think it was about 20 years ago on the annual review of psychology. The title was bad is stronger than good. They reviewed about five decades of research. We as human beings have a strong negativity bias. This is why we tend to react more strongly to negative news and stories. When negative events happen, it’s much more challenging for us to recuperate from them when they occur, which is why once again, that mindset, that perspective, that shift, that dedicated focus. It’s just absolutely natural that’s going to happen. I think to your point, it’s funny you sharing your story. I remember I wrote an article for the Financial Post, first article on national paper here in Canada was online.

Craig D:

I was super excited. I was talking about positive leadership and there were many helpful comments. Then one person said, “No wonder this guy is shilling positive psychology. I wonder what pays his bills.” I was like, “That hurt.” That was the first comment on my column. Once again, going back to the science, to the practices. Okay, I acknowledge that. That did hurt and it did challenge. Then it was accepted. The reason that I felt this is that I care about the column and I wanted to add value. Then when I sat back and took some time to have that sting and go to people say, that was hard then recognize, okay. My message is not going to connect with everyone. People are going to have different perspectives and that’s okay.

Craig D:

Now I can have different conversations as a result. That process, and I think this is really key and you touched on it as well, Warwick and Gary is that it’s that awareness. Once things happen, fully acknowledge that they’re happening and not to run away, not to avoid, because basically, and this is what I think is so powerful, our emotions are designed. They are the best early warning signal we have. They’re absolutely and one of the things that I talk about with my clients it’s almost like taking a Sherlock Homes’ approach to emotions. Whatever is being triggered in whatever experience we’re feeling, our emotions are the most valuable data points we have. Unfortunately, sometimes what we do is then if we feel we’re being irrational, we then judge the emotion and try to not feel it anymore, which is not an effective way to go about it based on the psychological research.

Craig D:

What we want to do is exhibit curiosity and say, okay, I totally get I’m feeling irrational about it. 99 people said this was awesome. What’s going on with that one person? Now if I can get closer to, and let’s link it back to again, the thesis around beyond the purposeful. What’s the purpose? What’s driving my reaction. Now, what it does is two things. Number one, I can make a stronger linkage because it’s meaning making creatures, this is important. Now in the future, I can equip myself when someone else has an equally unhelpful thing to say, or even nastier I can go, okay, I can return back to that, reframe it, and then move forward myself.

Craig D:

What’s interesting, emotions we can see them as messy and mucky and unreliable and all these kinds of things, which is for us, that’s what’s beautiful about being human. Now when we sit back and look at them with curiosity, it’s such a powerful perspective in terms of building our resiliency.

Warwick F:

What you just said Craig is so profound. I want the listeners to really reflect on that. Just the idea of getting in touch with your emotions and a bit like Sherlock Holmes, as you say, solve the puzzle, solve the case. Again, anecdotally, I’m a very reflective person and analytical and certainly in the last X amount of years, if I’m feeling bad, I have to know why. Often for me, I’ve been blessed to be married to my wife for the over 30 years. Our spouses, partners, good friends, family members, they know us. People who you trust obviously. And I’ll say, “I’m feeling down. I’m just not sure why.” After we talk it through, once I know why then I can do something about it. It can be as simple as, we have kids from like 30 down to 23 and a few years ago, let’s say, hypothetically some of it’s not that hard to figure out, but your oldest goes to college, most parents or many will start feeling a little down.

Warwick F:

“My kids were at home, they’re not home anymore.” Well, you’ll still have that relationship, but it’s going to change. There are certain times in life and it’s okay to feel that, sometimes it won’t be as easy to diagnose but some people, when they feel bad they stuff it down. Talk about why from a research perspective, how stuffing it is not the way to go and just the value of solving the puzzle, solving the case, understanding what those data points mean and why that’s so effective in building resilience.

Craig D:

It’s so powerful. Let’s use a parallel track because I think this is so compelling. It’s like medical research. What’s one of the things they tell you? Early warning signals, go get it checked out. Early intervention is key. Let’s go to another area of psychological research, conflict and conflict management. What’s one of the top recommendations? Get to it early. When something surfaces if you and I Warwick or Gary and I are having a challenge, well, it’s better for us to talk about it early on because otherwise what happens? Does it go away? No, it doesn’t. What does it do? Festers.

Gary S:

That was the exact word I was thinking of, festers.

Craig D:

Good. What’s really interesting is right. Then once we don’t explore it, what’s happening with our mindset? Then we’re drawing a stronger conclusion around it. What is happening? Now I’ve got a stronger and stronger frame. The critical piece for us is just to sit there and say, okay, what are our emotions trying to tell us? We need to figure that out earlier. Then because if we avoid, what do we do? We procrastinate. We can engage in maladaptive coping, like binge drinking or binge watching all kinds of things, which once again, in the moment may prolong or extend the time we’re going to take before we address it, but it’s not addressing that core issue. It’s essential to acknowledge it. Sometimes we’re so uncomfortable with our emotions we try to push them away. It’s a natural part of being human. Acknowledge it. Then to your point, and here’s what’s really interesting, just to build on the example.

Craig D:

My oldest is going to university, going to college. Okay, yes, I’m feeling that. I acknowledge that emotion and this comes from the science of emotions. Acknowledgement is the first step. The second step is acceptance. You know why I’m feeling this emotion? Because I care. I care about my child is going to university, going off. Our relationship is going to shift and adjust and all those kinds of things. Then I can be mourning the loss of what was, and then what’s to be. Now afterwards, so that’s the first two steps. Then the third one is commit the energy that I have now from that emotion. I acknowledge it, I accept it. I have activation energy. That’s what emotions also provide us.

Craig D:

Now I get to choose what to do with that. If I’m thinking about, well my child going off to university or what have you then I can sit down and say, “Hey, how are we going to stay in touch? What would work?” Once again, investing that into a purposeful activity that addresses what’s at its core as opposed to ruminating or procrastinating or trying to avoid it, pretending they’re not going to go off. Then what happens? How many times have you heard people say, well, I wish I had that conversation or I wish I had done something earlier. Once again, we have this energy, it’s part of our natural biological and genetic disposition. Well, let’s choose to use it wisely.

Gary S:

Hearing you both talk about the dangers of avoidance of our emotions. I’m just going to throw this out here. This is dangerous because I’m doing it in front of a PhD who can tell me I’m wrong, but it strikes me that is it in some universe true that avoidance is the opposite of resilience or in some ways blocks resilience. It’s an inhibitor of resilience. If you’re avoiding something you can’t by definition, be resilient. Is that close to fair?

Craig D:

I think it’s a wonderful linkage. I absolutely agree because looking at the thesis, that resilience is a skill that we can grow. Well, if we’re avoiding something, it’s just like being afraid to go to the gym or jump on the treadmill. I don’t want to raise the speed of my treadmill because what’s going to happen if it breaks or I fall off or are we going to enhance our cardiovascular health? Well, we’re only going to stay at that level. What’s essential is we have to put these things in practice. I love the linkage you’re making, because if we avoid it, we’re not doing anything about it. We’re missing an opportunity to be resilient. We’re missing an opportunity to explore how could we be resilient? This is the other piece because it diversifies our thinking because there’s a lot of different ways in which to approach a particular situation.

Craig D:

The most critical to me because I think this is another really important point. If we avoid because we feel like we have no other choice, but to avoid that can be incredibly psychological damaging. If I’m avoiding engaging in a difficult conversation with my boss, because I’ve made an intentional decision that the consequences of moving forward now are going to negatively impact me, that’s entirely different. We may say, hey, the same choice was made. Yes. One was made with intention. One was made with more purpose, again, linking it back, because I can say, for me, I’m a single income earner for my family and now we have a more this and that and the other. I’m in an unfortunate situation. I’m going to choose not to engage on this particular topic. Once again, that’s resilience building because I’m making a choice. I’m not avoiding, I’m acknowledging and I’m accepting it and now I’m choosing to stay and here are the reasons I’m going to do that. That is once again we can see almost counterintuitive. You can build resilience even if the choice is, well, I’m not going to take action right now.

Warwick F:

It’s so profound what you’re saying about intentionality and what you’re saying Gary about avoidance and resilience being the opposite of resilience. Use another analogy. It’s like gardening, you want to get the weeds early before they grow and overwhelm the garden. In my own way, I try to do that but it’s just so important. There’s so many elements that are tied together, it’s like forgiveness. If you are bitter against somebody that grows and it certainly won’t help you be resilience and sometimes you have family members or friends that I like to call the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like I’ve just forgiven you for that. Can you stop because I’m having trouble catching up. Some times we’re “blessed with those people.” Especially if they’re family, there’s nothing you can do. You just got to deal with it.

Warwick F:

Again, forgiveness, as we’ve talked about, it’s not so much for other people it’s for your own mental health. Just whether it’s forgiveness, fear, loss of self-esteem, whatever the issue is that’s holding you back the sooner that you deal with it, identify and come up with an action plan, whether it’s to talk to somebody or not talk to somebody, have an intentional plan. That is the way it seems to both mental health and resilience and the passive stuff and not deal with stuff and letting anger conflict loss of self-esteem grow. You don’t want to be endlessly visiting the psychiatrist or psychologist, not because it’s good to receive help, but if you’re not doing anything and you’re making things worse, no professional wants to see somebody endlessly because they’re making their life worse. The goal is to heal the patient, not to have a patient that never leaves because they won’t deal with stuff.

Craig D:

Well, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said and I want to build on. This is awesome because I love that you talked about forgiveness and then what I’ll play with that and build on it and say self forgiveness is also extraordinarily important. Then the psychological research self-compassion. How do we, again, forgive because we’re all human beings. Guess what? I’ve made countless numbers of mistakes today and that’s all right. Now the critical part is, okay, so what happens? I encounter a setback, how forgiving am I of myself? This is what’s really interesting too about that research. Again, Warwick, I’m so glad you talked about forgiving others because that’s powerful and that’s a really important linkage for own resilience our own mental health.

Craig D:

What’s really interesting about the research around self-compassion is that we tend to be, the average person tends to be better at forgiving others than they are forgiving themselves. We tend to give other people far more leeway than we do ourselves. That counteracts our resilience. That’s another core finding in the research, the less self-compassionate we are, the less resilient we are because what we’re doing is holding ourselves up to an incredible standard that we never expect someone else to hold up to meet. This is really important. It’s essential for us again, when we look at this, in our relationships, it’s relationships with others, for sure. It’s also the relationship we have with ourselves.

Warwick F:

Unfortunately, profoundly you are right. I am unfortunately a very good example to justify your thesis. As Gary and listeners would know with the whole takeover, the most of it was my fault. In the 90s, most of the pain was how could I be such an idiot? I have an undergrad degree from Oxford. I worked on Wall Street. I have an MBA from Harvard Business School. I’m meant to be somewhat intelligent. How could I do that? Okay. I was 26, but then over time I cut myself a bit of slack, but it took years to go over with, I hurt so many people, hurt myself, family members. How could I have been so dumb? How could I have been so dumb? How could I have been so dumb? It’s like an endless negative mantra. Eventually through faith, prayer, friends, and family and some work I could do and not mess up, I was able to bounce back. For many people forgiving yourself, that’s hard and you cannot move forward until it doesn’t mean that you don’t. If you’ve wronged other people, yes. There’s accountability and restitution, but you’ve got to find a way to be able to forgive yourself.

Gary S:

We’ve seen that so often, listeners go back in your mind to some of the previous guests we’ve had on this show. Warwick asks of many guests who’ve gone through crucibles that they played a role in, or they feel they’ve played a role in who’ve had physical traumas. Who’ve had financial traumas. Who’ve had relational traumas. Warwick will ask at some point did you blame yourself for that? Many of them will say, yes but, and then they’ll talk about the but is the important part. They’ll talk about how they got past that. Initially they were like that they blamed themselves like you Warwick. They were like, it was my fault. It was my fault. It was my fault. They can’t get unstuck off that. It’s almost like a record that’s stuck.

Gary S:

For listeners who were too young to know what records are google it, but it’s like a record that skips and what we’re saying here, what I’m hearing you saying Craig is, we’ve got to push the needle forward. We’ve got to get beyond that. When that happens, that’s when resilience can kick in, our resilience muscle is no longer atrophied but it’s being strengthened. Then that’s where we move forward to that second stage that you talked about, which is beyond baseline, going into something new and better.

Craig D:

Absolutely, I think what’s really interesting in and Warwick you mentioned it yourself, that accountability piece. I’ll link it back, Gary to what you opened with. Again, I love that you did the connector, it’s an and. People can look at self-compassion as like, well, I don’t want to absolve myself of that accountability and that’s not… Self-compassion is the balance. It’s, hey, I did something and I did something quite unfortunate. I did something catastrophic or I was a part of something that was really challenging. Then the other side of the equation as well. It’s bringing that balanced perspective.

Craig D:

One of the best things, one of the best insights from that research, they’ll say, okay, if so for your listeners who are maybe struggling with self-compassion one of the best pieces of evidence informed insight that has come out of that work is that ask yourself if you’re in a space where you’re just constantly that self critical voice is going on ultra blast, ask yourself, what advice would I give to a friend who came to me in the same situation? If they shared exactly a loved one and a family member, a friend, they presented to me what I’m going through right now, what would I say to them? Would I sound as harsh and be as negative and ruthless in my dialogue? Then if I wouldn’t be, so then what makes it okay for me to say this to myself if I wouldn’t say it to someone else?

Warwick F:

One of the questions I’m curious about is you deal with a lot of CEOs. You obviously coach them in how to help their organizations and their teams have more resilience. I know you’ve got several things you say, like what talents do you have? What do you need? What are some of those key things that leaders of any organization can help their teams be more resilient?

Craig D:

I love that question. I’ll start with there was fantastic work out of the Center for Creative Leadership and they separated the difference between pressure and stress. They defined pressure as the extent of the demands that our external environment places on us. They define stress as our belief in our internal ability to deal with those demands. This is so powerful because this exemplifies why two people can go through the same situation and have entirely different stress responses. For the leaders I work with, the CEOs that I work with, I will talk to them about and this is born out in the resilience research as well, taking a resource based approach and customizing it to every individual employee.

Craig D:

Hey Craig how are things going? Checking in, there’s lots of data that shows just checking in and saying, how’s everything going today, Gary? How are you doing Warwick? Then here are the really critical things. What do you need from me as a leader? What do you need from the organization? In what areas are you finding things are going well? Like you don’t need additional support, being curious, being empathetic, exploring things from a resource perspective, extraordinarily powerful in building resilience in our team members and resilience in our organizations.

Gary S:

That brings up an excellent point about resilience in general. It’s come up a couple of times in this series and we tend to believe if we’re just doing a drive by thought about resilience we think it’s all within. We say things like suck it up, or power through or you’ll figure it out. We say those things like all we have to do is dig deeper within, but we’ve discovered, and I hear you talking about it now, Craig, in the science we’ve discovered in talking to guests, it’s not just digging deeper within it’s reaching out wider without externally to the resources that are out there. There are resources within and there are resources without those two things have to come together for resilience to be robust.

Craig D:

I couldn’t even have asked you for a better… Because one of the most scientifically supported resilience building exercise really builds on that, takes that framework. Here’s again an exercise for your listeners today. Do you want to build resilience? Here’s a great way to do it based on the science. The first step they’ll say is think of a challenging situation you’ve faced in the last six weeks, six months. Doesn’t matter what, where you thought that it was impossible. I’m never going to make it through this. Then you made it through. Then you ask yourself three critical questions. First question, what strengths did I draw upon? That’s really cool because you start to think about, and Gary I’m going to build on it, that internal side. That’s an internal resource that you have, my strengths. Great. how did I leverage them?

Craig D:

This is really interesting because now, hey, this can give me some insight about how I want to apply them right now. Then the second question you ask is that what resources did I draw upon? This represents the external community, friends, family, colleagues. Did I take a course, read a book, attend a webinar, listen to a podcast. All of those things are resources. Then the third question is what did I learn about myself? What’s so great about these three steps. The first question gets us focused internally. What do I have that I bring to the table right now? How does what I have apply to this current situation? Or what other strengths do I have that are better suited in this situation that I’m facing? Same thing with at the resource side, what resources did I draw upon?

Craig D:

Do they apply in this situation now that I’m facing today? If they don’t, what process did I go through to identify the most appropriate resources? Then the last step, which I think is so important as well, what did I learn? I learned that I can overcome a situation that I felt was impossible and I did it through applying my strengths and drawing and leaning into my community. If I did it then, and I thought it was impossible, why can’t I do it now? I just love that three step process because what it does is it reminds us, we move through life so quickly. We can forget about our profound successes, how resilient we have been. We have our own data to support it.

Warwick F:

I love that bounce between the internal and the external because one of the things about advice is they’re going to be more objective. Maybe it’s a slight nuance on this. Talk about how by getting advice it helps you get some objective information to acknowledge that in some areas of our life, we are not going to be objective and our brains are just not going to be able to think straight.

Craig D:

Absolutely. You captured it quite, quite well around. Everybody around us is going to have a different line of sight on us and, and they’re not going to have same emotional potentially and not the same emotional connectivity that we will have around the different challenges that we’re facing. Then the more we can lean into that support network, and ask for their advice. Ask them what would you do in this situation? This is also really important. This comes back to building our resilience muscle once again. I remember speaking to Doug Stone who wrote the bestseller Difficult Conversations out of Harvard. We were chatting and he said, just because people provide you with feedback, doesn’t mean that you have to do anything about it. We’re empowered to, and then what you can do is crowdsource lots of different perspectives, lots of different insights.

Craig D:

Then we choose the path that authentically connects with who we are. That’s what’s so powerful. Once again, once we back to mindset shift. Which is, hey, these people are all here trying to give me some insights, some guidance that I can apply to move me ahead in something that it’s important to me. What’s going to prevent me from hearing it. It is so, so important. One other piece, because I love you talked about the support Warwick. My dissertation on entrepreneurs looked at over a hundred entrepreneurs, the top predictor of entrepreneurial success and over a hundred entrepreneurs that I studied was level of emotional support received by the people around.

Craig D:

It wasn’t about any business idea. It wasn’t about all these other things. There were smaller weaker predictors. None of that meant what was crucial was around did they get support from the people that they cared about most? Were they there to offer a caring ear, some insight, some advice. I think again, entrepreneurship, we can feel like, well we’re going it alone. It’s all around. No, no one is an island. Don’t forego the extraordinary strength that we can get from the people around us as well as the extraordinary insight. The emotional support as well as the information, the perspective they can provide absolutely invaluable.

Gary S:

It is sometimes difficult in my co-hosting role to know when I jump in and say, that sound you heard was the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign and it’s getting time where we’re going to have to land the plane. The reason why that’s normally hard is because you have to judge when you think a conversation is kind of coming to its natural conclusion. What makes it a little easier for me here is that we’ve been sort of gathered around different facets of it, but this idea of the elasticity, the two axes on which we find resilience internal and external. Dig deep reach wide.

Gary S:

We’ve talked great other examples about it, but we’ve kind of stayed in that zip code for a while. It seems like a good time to to say the captain’s getting ready to bring the plane on the ground. Not quite there yet, but before we let Warwick ask you the last question or two Craig, I would be remiss in my role if I did not ask you to tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your services online.

Craig D:

Well, thank you. You can go to Craigdowden.com and my Forbes talk is there. Lots of articles that I’ve written for different publications are available that you can access. You can also sign up for my newsletter as well and there’s an assessment online if you want to take it and happy to connect with people on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter. Always love. I have extraordinary passion around the science and practice of positive leadership and resilient leadership. Love opportunities like this to talk about this essential topic and to join because we’re all part of the same community. Thank you for asking Gary.

Gary S:

Sure. Warwick put the wheels on the ground. Ask Craig the last couple questions here.

Warwick F:

Well, thanks so much, Craig. I love all your wisdom on resilience. I wanted to ask about the F.E.A.R. Acronym but before we do that, just one last beat of what you shared because some people when they hear, “I’m going to get all this advice and gee, what do I do with that?” I think if you are a leader or really a human, trust your informed gut. When you get wise advice, you will know what to take and what not to take. You will know. Trust that. Don’t fear advice. You’ll know what to discount. Then once you’ve got informed advice and you in a relatively level peaceful place, not in panic mode, trust your ability to make the right decision. Otherwise, the reverse is that way lies madness. If you don’t trust yourself ever, then that’s not healthy. Anyway, let’s just for this last question, I love this F.E.A.R. Acronym, False Evidence Appearing Real. Talk about why that’s such a valuable concept this F.E.A.R. acronym as we conclude.

Craig D:

Thank you. I love the acronym. I share it all the time and I think what’s really… We all have fears. Once again, they’re there for a reason. I mentioned Daniel Gilbert out of Harvard earlier and his work. He talked about anticipatory anxiety, his area of focus and that our fears… What can happen is that we fear our fears right now and get all derailed around them. Then in the future, we go through the exact same process again. What’s really powerful about the research and they’ve done this in a variety of different domains, one study in particular, they looked at what percentage of our fears actually come to fruition? I could ask you what you think that percentage is. It’s actually less than 10%.

Warwick F:

Wow. That’s amazing.

Craig D:

Then here’s what’s even more, ready for the mic drop on this one, over almost a third of cases, people say it turned out way better than they could have ever imagined. Not only did it not come to pass, which is baseline, in almost a third of cases, it was way better than… It was a gift to them only in, again, less than 10%. I think this is really powerful when it comes to okay, how do we build resilience remembering that acronym, False Evidence Appearing Real? I’ll say, “Okay, great. You have a fear. Don’t judge it. Acknowledge it. Write it down. If you’ve got one, if you’ve got 10, don’t judge the number of fears you have.” Then what you do is systematically walk through each fear and say, “What evidence do I have supporting that fear?” Then the, I know what’s going to happen is not legitimate evidence. You wouldn’t go to a court and say, “Well, I know.” Okay, tell me what that is.

Craig D:

Then what’s really powerful, again, from taking that approach is that now we can take a more balanced view of what’s happening and we can look at the evidence in the light of day and then say, “Is this just me anticipating worst case scenario, which as we talked about earlier is a natural human thing to do, or is this something legitimate? If so, now what actions do I take based on my evidence? What do I do to prepare for that? What’s the worst case scenario? What are going to be my fallback strategies if this comes to friction?” Very, very powerful way of reminding ourselves what fears actually are.

Gary S:

The great thing about this discussion on fear here at the tail end and yes, the captain has put the plane down on the tarmac. But why I love that discussion at the end of this conversation about harnessing resilience is that everything that you just described about fear is a road block to resilience. If you’re caught in fear at any of those points, if you’re trapped in those kinds of things, fear can block us from pursuing resilience to use your words, Craig, can block us from exercising, can keep us out of the gym, keep us from exercising that resilience muscle.

Gary S:

Speaking of exercising your resilience muscle listeners, we hope you have had a chance to do that over the last five weeks that we’ve had this series, harnessing resilience going on. We will now turn next week to the sixth episode of this series. That is where Warwick and I are going to talk about everything we’ve learned from all five of our guests now that we’ve had. We’re going to pull out the key learnings, the key insights and action steps that you can take as you move on beyond your crucible, harness resilience on your own.

Leave a Comment