Giving Thanks

Last week I wrote about resiliency. How funny the timing was on that in hindsight. Many of us had to practice resiliency like no one’s business as we gathered with family and friends yesterday. Whether we had to find patience and bounce back from the not so funny jokes from Uncle Hal or challenge our digestive tracks to bounce back after Carb fest 2011… we were all practicing resiliency.

And for that, this will be a short blog as I’m still recovering.

I mentioned that I wanted to talk more about strengths as one way Dr. Seligman teaches resiliency — becoming very aware of our strengths and leveraging them. I will get to that in my next blog. Instead of noticing my strengths today, I’m going to notice the strength in others on which I depend to be resilient. For these I am thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the dry and witty humor of my children that keeps me grounded and laughing everyday.
  • I’m thankful the strength in numbers that accountants have…  Lord knows I don’t.
  • I’m thankful that my sisters all bring a different perspective to managing an aging parent.
  • I’m thankful for Margaret who shows me everyday what it means to be Gen-Y and all the fabulousness it brings.
  • I’m thankful for Steve Hill who has the strength to constantly believe in me, no matter how or when I might doubt myself.

I’m just plain thankful. 

I hope you, your family and friends are blessed with happiness and peace this holiday season.


Resiliency

Last week I talked about optimism and the role it plays in the lives of entrepreneurs.  Just to recap, I say that optimism is an important tool for any leader, and it is especially important during times of adversity.  However, optimism itself isn’t enough, it’s an “ingredient” but it, alone, does not “bake the soufflé.”

This week I want to talk about resiliency as a deeper use of optimism.

One of my favorite definitions of resiliency was given by a 15-year-old high school student who, after a semester of resiliency training, described resiliency as,

“Bouncing back from problems and stuff with more power and more smarts.”

In these trying times it is easy to see the importance of resiliency.

When we’re on bumpy waters and the raft we are on is going up and down in the tide… we are thankful for the air that is in the raft. It is the optimism that keeps it afloat. But, we are equally thankful that the overall raft is structured in a way that creates resiliency… allowing it to bend, ebb and flow with the waves, take the impact and bounce back when the storm has passed. That’s the engineering that truly gives us the power and the smarts.

How do we shift and modify after the storm to weather the next storm that comes?

Currently our armed forces are utilizing a training they call “Master Resilience Training” developed by Dr. Martin Seligman. The Harvard Business Review recently did an in depth article on this topic which was extremely interesting (http://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience/ar/1). Dr. Seligman has spent years developing training based on the premise that while we may have a disposition for resiliency that we are born with, we can actually learn resiliency.

I offer you a quick recap for you on the article on building resiliency.

The master resilience training is a type of management training where they teach leaders how to embrace resilience and then pass on the knowledge. The content of MRT divides into three parts—building mental toughness, building signature strengths, and building strong relationships.

The article states, “Building mental toughness starts with Albert Ellis’s ABCD model: C (emotional consequences) stem not directly from A (adversity) but from B (one’s beliefs about adversity). The sergeants work through a series of A’s (falling out of a three-mile run, for example) and learn to separate B’s—heat-of-the-moment thoughts about the situation (“I’m a failure”)—from C’s, the emotions generated by those thoughts (such as feeling down for the rest of the day and thus performing poorly in the next training exercise).”

Easier said than done, right? Particularly if I’m someone who has always believed that A + B = C. Basically, what he’s saying is it’s about stopping and pausing when the adversity happens, questioning what you believe that means, making a choice, and then drawing the conclusion.

This takes awareness and practice. Lots of practice. It’s about stopping our autopilot assumptions and making a choice.

Next they focus on thinking traps, such as over-generalizing or judging a person’s worth or ability on the basis of a single action.

They also discuss “icebergs” which is what many of us we refer to as “limiting beliefs” or “mental models.” Beliefs that are held so deeply for us, that they unconsciously drive our behavior. One such belief might be “Asking for help is a sign of weakness.” The MRT teaches a technique for identifying and modifying these “icebergs.” It’s an important step in altering your “B”s as mentioned above.

Finally, the Master Resiliency Training deals with how to minimize catastrophic thinking by considering worst-case, best-case, and most likely outcomes.  All of this training teaches optimism as an important tool for “bouncing back from problems and stuff with more power and smarts.”

The second and third parts of MRT training deal with identifying your strengths, and practical tools for positive communication.  Do you know what your strengths are?  What would be the value of really knowing what your strengths are when it comes to being resilient?  What sort of tools do you utilize for positive communication, and how do those affect your team’s resiliency?  Share your tips, or an example of your resiliency in the comments section, and be sure to link us to your blog or facebook page too!

My thoughts on strengths and positive communication are best saved for another blog post.  Check back next week where I’ll continue the conversation on strengths.


Optimism

In 2008 as the tides turned in the fall, many companies were feeling the stress of times.  Now, not to say that I was or that my clients were oblivious to the economic hardship, but there definitely wasn’t the weight of the world I was hearing from others.

But, why? Why was it different?

One might chalk it up to the fact that I work with entrepreneurs…  people who dare to dream the impossible and are just audacious enough to think they can make pigs fly. No wonder they’re not feeling it. You could also say, maybe they’re addicted to risky environments. Or maybe my clients were just a bunch of “Pollyanna’s” and the realists would be laughing at us all in the end.

I was curious about what was playing out… why were my clients singing the Mary Tyler Moore theme song while others were barely humming?

It actually starts with common core beliefs. An entrepreneur believes:

  • I can offer a product or service that others truly need or want; even if they don’t know it yet.
  • I am capable and can surround myself with others who offset my blind spots.
  • With every no, I’m one step closer to a yes.
  • Hard work and sacrifice is worthwhile.
  • I’m inventing the future.

This last belief was so instrumental to the experience my clients were having in 2008. A lot business leaders base their prediction on the future by the past. This is the way it works… If I do A + B it almost always equal C. Entrepreneurs are inventing the “A+B”… way it will work. They are inventing the future based on this core belief that they can.

Our latest loss to entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

All these beliefs that entrepreneurs have make them optimists.

It must be optimism, I thought. That’s it. Entrepreneurs must have a higher propensity for optimism. All the people I was working with had the same level of positivity I possess… No wonder we were attracted to one another.

So,what is optimism?

Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, ultimately means one expects the best possible outcome from any given situation. This is usually referred to in psychology as dispositional optimism.

Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix, once said, “In my past life as an entrepreneur, this optimism was a critical tool.  I just always believed we would succeed.  Even when everyone else said my ideas were ridiculous. Even when we were almost out of money.  Even when the metrics were all upside down.  I always have confidence that I’ll figure something out.  I just have that confidence that things are going to work out fine.”

Okay, so in order for individuals to not only survive, but thrive through times of adversity, it’s simple… be optimistic! Or is it that simple? Can I choose to be optimistic or am I born optimistic? What do you think?

Is optimism alone enough? If I go back to the definition of optimism there is the idea or illusion or hope of good outcomes. Hope is not a plan. It is an ingredient, but hope alone does not bake the soufflé.

Maybe we need to focus on a deeper use of optimism… resiliency.

What does it mean to be resilient?

Let me know what you think in the comments section, and check back next week where I’ll be continuing the discussion of resiliency.