In Stronger, George S. Everly Jr., Douglas A. Strouse, and Dennis K. McCormack discuss people’s ability to overcome adversity and develop resiliency. They focus on five core factors of personal resiliency: optimism, decisive action, moral compass, tenacity, and support. Because people’s responses to their situations matter more than the situations themselves, resilience is an important trait for any person in any situation. Much of the data for the book came from observations of the norms of the Navy SEALS and their unique training to build resilience, as well as scholarly reviews and the authors’ personal and professional observations.
ACTIVE OPTIMISM AND THE SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity and make good decisions, even under pressure. Regardless of what causes pressure, some people are able to respond in ways that help, rather than hurt, them. However, with intentional practice, all people can control how they respond to negative events by retraining their brains. The first step to retraining is optimism, or the lens through which people view the world.
Optimists take positive views of their situations and expect the best. Because of this mind-set, they tend to be happier and more successful than pessimists. Their hope and belief that things will go well allows them to see opportunities in adversity. Unlike pessimists, they have different interpretations of setbacks, and their responses to failure impact their resiliency.
Entrepreneurs, who are risk takers with new ideas, are usually optimistic. Because they have the characteristic of active optimism, they do not see risk-taking in a negative light; instead, they believe they can make things better. They persist in their actions and try again when they fail.
As optimists find success, they better understand what it takes and continue the actions that made them successful. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy that demonstrates how much a person’s state of mind really matters. But self-fulfilling prophecy will become negative if people use it to predict failure. Belief systems are related to individual performance.
Active optimism is not necessarily an inherent personality trait. It can be developed through four modes of learning:
1. Personal attainment. Taking action and achieving some small success helps reverse negative feelings from previous failures and increases optimism. To keep from being overwhelmed, people should start by breaking down big ideas into small, doable tasks and not being afraid to ask for help.
2. Observation. Watching what others do can help motivate people to take action as well. Also effective is seeing other people be successful and belonging to a successful group, as members expect one another to become successful.
3. Encouragement. People need positive support networks in which to share their dreams. With a mentor or a like-minded group, people feel more connected, and connection is a powerful influencer of resilience.
4. Self-control. Thoughts are powerful, and thinking positively is a must for developing optimism. How people interpret their physical responses (e.g., increased heart rate) to specific situations can impact what happens next. If they interpret a response as anxiety, they will practice avoidance; if they interpret it as anticipation, they will be more inclined to put that energy into positive action. Learning calming techniques and using biofeedback can help people regulate physical responses and feel in control, which conveys confidence.
THE COURAGE TO BE DECISIVE AND TAKE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Those who are able to act decisively often reap the rewards of their actions, whereas hesitancy can lead to defeat. Consider Winston Churchill’s actions during the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II . Rather than evacuating wounded soldiers first, he made the decision they would be last because able-bodied soldiers were needed as long as possible. This counterintuitive action mitigated additional adverse effects of the war.
Decisiveness is also proven to help people bounce back from adversity associated with health. A study of nursing home residents in 1976 revealed that residents given responsibility and the authority to make decisions regarding their care were more active and happier overall. These results were still present even 18 months later.
Decisiveness is a quality clearly seen in good leaders. George Masi is the executive vice president of Harris Health System, the third largest hospital in the nation. Many of his lessons about resilience were learned during his 27 years in the Army. During that time, he was in charge of a field-training exercise to test the team’s capacity for combat operations. When it came time for a real-life scenario, the team was deployed but failed in its mission. Masi believed this failure was because his team had not been trained properly by the previous leader and asked for more time for training. Rather than only seeing failure, he wanted to learn from the mistakes and was not afraid to address the problem at the core.
Personal responsibility takes courage during times of failure, but enables people to also take credit for success. It also earns the respect of others who see decisiveness during and after adverse events as evidence of courage and strength. Others will begin to make assumptions that these are people who have the capability to take decisive action in other areas of their lives.
Taking personal responsibility and increasing decisiveness is not easy, but people can become more decisive by:
*Realizing that failure is simply part of the process; the response to failure is what matters.
*Surrounding themselves with advisors who appreciate their differences and can support their decisions.
*Breaking down large tasks into smaller pieces, which makes it easier for people to decide the next step.
*When approaching problems, first evaluating the needs, causes, effects, and actions before diving right in. People should not make decisions blindly.
THE MORAL COMPASS: HONESTY, INTEGRITY, FIDELITY, AND ETHICAL BEHAVIOR
A moral compass guides the actions people choose and is based on meeting the needs of the greater good. One aspect of the moral compass ishonesty. An example of a wavering moral compass was seen with Lance Armstrong, who started his professional cycling career in 1992. In 1996, he was diagnosed with cancer from which he recovered. When he returned to his career in 1998, he had the support of legions of fans who admired his spirit. However, in 2012, as a result of doping charges (which he initially denied), he was banned from the sport. Armstrong justified his usage by stating others were doing the same thing.
A different scenario occurred with golfer Brian Davis. In a championship game, he called a penalty on himself. Since the official did not see Davis’s error, they watched the action in a slow-motion replay, which revealed it. Although his honesty cost him the game, his demonstration of integrityearned him the respect of colleagues and fans.
Fidelity describes people who demonstrate faithfulness. In May 2013, Edward Snowden leaked top-secret papers about Internet-surveillance programs. Some felt his actions were wrong. He defended himself by stating his intent was right because he wanted to inform the public about questionable actions of the government. The answer to whether he acted with fidelity depends on who is asked.
George Everly Sr.’s family came to America in the late 1600s and farmed for 300 years. Although farming was a long tradition in his family, he chose to attend college and join the Army. When he spoke of his service in WWII, he focused on duty and camaraderie rather than the stories of destruction that are inherent in any war. When he was offered a D-Day medal in 1994, he was reluctant to accept it because he was simply doing what he said he would do, being guided by his moral compass. This is a sharp contrast to today’s modern world, where many people expect a trophy just for showing up.
Ethical behavior is demonstrated by people who do the right thing. It is a natural response for those who operate with honesty, integrity, and fidelity. Tylenol demonstrated ethical behavior in 1982, after seven people died from taking their capsules. When it was revealed that those tablets were laced with cyanide, Tylenol recalled all the products still on the market. They also implemented tamper-resistant packaging to prevent this from occurring again. Although the financial costs were huge, Tylenol become known as an ethical brand.
People who are not comfortable with their past actions can form a new moral compass by:
*Believing in themselves. People must realize that they can act with a moral compass. When they make an effort, they will eventually find that honesty and integrity become intrinsically rewarding. When reward results from an action, it increases the likelihood of that action occurring again.
*Surrounding themselves with people who operate with honesty and integrity. Individuals who operate with a moral compass encourage others to do the same. Spending time with such people makes it natural for all members of the group to operate with a moral compass.
*Receiving encouragement and support from others. A peer group is important beyond the teenage years and needs to be composed of quality people.
*Learning to manage impulsive behaviors. This helps people develop a better sense of control and reinforces the positive actions they are capable of. Small successes helps people believe they can have even more success.
RELENTLESS TENACITY: TRY, TRY AGAIN
Resilient people do not give up when they do not achieve immediate success. Rear Admiral Garry Bonelli, a Navy SEAL, enlisted after dropping out of college. Being a SEAL requires rigorous training, including physical tests. When Bonelli failed the 1.5 mile run by a few seconds, he immediately asked for the opportunity to do it again. Although his score was worse the second time because of fatigue, he was accepted into his unit because of his tenacity.
Patrick Rummerfield is a living miracle. At the age of 21 he was in a horrible car accident, was told his death was imminent, and at best he was a quadriplegic and would never walk again. Going against his doctor’s advice, he began an intense physical therapy program and become the first fully recovered quadriplegic. As if that was not enough, he also competed in an Ironman triathlon in 1992. He states the key to his recovery was never, ever giving up.
People who believe they lack such personal tenacity can build it up through several methods:
*Persevering to attain small successes, which help tenacity become self-sustaining.
*Learning about tenacity by reading stories about people who have it, such as Bonelli and Rummerfield.
*Creating a team that supports their efforts, which makes reaching a goal much more doable.
GAINING STRENGTH FROM THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS
When people bond together over shared beliefs, they are able to build resilience among the group members. Interpersonal support is a requirement for building resilience and is demonstrated in the stories of Donald Gene Tyson and Erika Brannock.
Raised on a small farm, Tyson quit high school to join the navy at 17. Although he failed the written exam, he begged for an opportunity to be accepted with his friend, who enlisted at the same time. The navy chief relented and accepted him. Later, when facing a disciplinary hearing for under-age drinking, Tyson answered truthfully and performed his sentence; his division officer then had the incident expunged from his record. Being supported by an authority figure helped Tyson believe he was worth investing in. His went on to become a SEAL, even though he initially did not know how to swim, and earned a college degree. Tyson credits the attitude and the support of others for his resilience.
Excited to watch her mother run in the Boston Marathon in 2013, Erika Brannock was standing near the finish line. Unfortunately, she was close to one of the two bombs planted by terrorists when it exploded. When she woke up in the hospital, she learned they had to amputate her legs. Shocked and saddened, Brannock quickly decided that being miserable was not an option. After initially feeling isolated and defeated, she used humor to cope and made a choice to focus on what she had, which was the encouragement and support of the people in her life, rather than what she lost.
Group support does not just happen, but it can be built because of five elements that lay the foundation for interpersonal reciprocity:
1. Direct reciprocity, or quid pro quo. One person helps another, knowing that someday help will be given in return.
2. Spatial selection. People help others they know through proximity.
3. Genetic selection. People help out others they are related to.
4. Indirect reciprocity. People help, not expecting something in return, but because they admire something in a person.
5. Group selection. People choose to help because they are unselfish and wish to benefit the “greater good.”
Surrounding oneself with positive people is an important step for building group support. Those who lack a personal support system can build it by:
*Seeking out people with similar attitudes and compassion.