The Resilience Paradox with Dr Brock Bastian
Ellen: It is my great pleasure to have with me today, Associate Professor, Brock Bastian from the University of Melbourne. Brock is a researcher, a practitioner, and an author. His research focuses on issues related to ethics and well-being and his passion is connecting the more abstract ideas that he works with, in his research, to the everyday problems and issues that people and organizations face.
Ellen: In his practice as a psychologist, Brock sees private clients dealing with a range of mental health and well-being issues and his role as consultant for organizations, he assists with issues related to ethics, well-being and organizational culture.
Ellen: Brock is here with me today to talk about The Resilience Paradox and why we often get resilience wrong. Welcome Brock.
Brock: Thanks Ellen. Great to be on the show.
Ellen: It's great to have you here. As I was saying to you off-air, I read an article of yours recently in: Psychology Today, regarding this very topic; The Resilience Paradox. [inaudible 00:01:21] an over-used phrase resonated with me, I found it interesting and useful. It would be something our listeners could perhaps benefit from, a deeper more evidence-based understanding of what resilience is.
Ellen: I'll ask the obvious opening question, which is: what is The Resilience Paradox?
Brock: I coined that term to describe what I see as a divide or distinction between, what it looks like to be resilient, and how we build or develop resilience. People who are resilient, tend to remain calm. Tend to be able to deal with obstacles in life well. They don't bounce off things, well they do bounce off things well but not with too many waves.
Brock: They manage life well. This persona that we observe when we look at someone who has resilience, is the thing that we want to achieve. We might have tried to achieve that through building those sorts of calm qualities. Trying to engage those sorts of abilities, to remain calm.
Brock: One of the things we forget in that space is that's not how build resilience. Resilience is built through exposure to difficulty. That in fact means sometimes feeling that difficulty and experiencing it fully. I don't think you can build resilience if you don't experience difficulty in life.
Brock: It means; getting it wrong, falling over, failing, feeling overwhelmed sometimes. It's only through those experiences that you learn or develop that capacity to respond well next time. One of the struggles is we often think in those moments, that our failure to be resilient or that exposure experience of ourselves is not coping like we think we should if we were resilient, we often get down on ourselves for that.
Brock: Or start to think we're not doing a good job at life because we seem to be struggling with it. But the whole time we're really getting stronger.
Ellen: It's a misunderstanding of what resilience is and how we get there? We like to get jump to the end point, and say, “This resilient person looks so calm, they look so in control, maybe I need to feel calm and in control, or at least look like I'm calm and in control, and therefore I'll be more resilient.” But you're saying we're missing all the important steps of how that person go to be there in the first place?
Brock: That's right. One of the reasons for that as well is that the research hasn't provided us with very much evidence of that yet. Most of the research on resilience talks about, if you look at it, it's all about individual characteristics, individual difficult positions that make people resilient. These factors are background factors.
Brock: We know what kind of people are likely to be resilient, what we don't know is how they built that resilient in the first place. Obviously, there are some people who are naturally more resilient than others, probably that's the extent of what we know at the moment. What we haven't examined is that dynamic process of being exposed to everyday setbacks, everyday hassles, failures, things like that in life and how that then feeds into a dynamic and developable process, where you actually build resilience.
Brock: This is one of the things many resilience researchers around the world are now calling for, is a better understanding for how this actually works. One thing we certainly do know is that if we are going to build resilience, it's probably not through just pleasant, easy, laid-back times. It's probably going to be through the hardships that resilience is getting built. We're yet to understand all the processes involved.
Ellen: That's really interesting because obviously resilience has been a particularly hot topic in schools, in education, in workplaces, online, through the media. There is a lot of supposed tips, strategies, processes that we should undertake in order to make us more resilient, but what you're suggesting is that whilst we might know that there are personality characteristics or other things we can say: that's what a resilient person looks like, we actually don't know much about how to develop that resilience.
Brock: No. There's not much science out there at this point. We know some basic things, but there is a lot more to be done, a lot more work to be done. Our misunderstanding of what resilience is comes from lack of research around that aspect of resilience. How to build it.
Ellen: How do you define resilience? How did the researchers define resilience?
Brock: The definition of what it is, is straight-forward. It's the ability to deal with the set-backs in life well. The ability to bounce off difficult times. That's quite obvious, and I think that's absolutely true. That's what it is, what it describes. It's more the point of how that's developed and how people come to be able to do that.
Brock: One of the things that I think is really important in there again and what I said before, is exposure. The exposure to those very circumstances themselves. If you haven't had a difficult failure in life, then you're first failure will be more difficult. It's not possible to develop that toughness or ability to respond well [inaudible 00:06:58] before.
Ellen: I know we'll have a lot of parents listening who are obviously going to be interested in helping their children develop resiliency as a protection for things that will occur later in life or at some stage during their life. What does the current research suggest, or what do you think they need to be doing in order to help?
Brock: It's a really tricky question. I'm a parent as well. I could target this whole thing at me as well. We all look back at our childhoods, and we go, the way we treat our children these days is more protected than it used to be. The reason, if you ask people, what is that reason for that, is most people will say, it's because the world is more dangerous than it used to be.
Brock: It's blatantly not true. The evidence is going in the other direction. The world is safer than it ever used to be, but we're more aware perhaps through television or other forms of media, of the horrible, horrendous things that can happen to people out there. We tend to give our children a shorter leash.
Brock: That is a problem. I think kids need that ability to take risks, to be at risk sometimes. Obviously calculated and in reason. We don't want terrible things to happen or feel like we've let that happen, but we also have to make a careful judgment call about overprotecting them either. We have these notions of mollycoddling around and 'Helicopter' parent and all of these things have emerged from that tendency for parents to overprotect their children.
Brock: There was a big focus on self-esteem in the 1990's and 80's. This idea, that the best thing for children was to build their self-esteem but if anything, the evidence there wasn't great. It didn't show people were better off because we'd bolstered their self-esteem, in fact if anything they became more entitled. Just bolstering people's self-esteem isn't also the best way to build well-being and resilience either.
Ellen: From my understanding and my reading and my practice as a parent, I completely agree that we need to take these calculated risks, and I find it interesting, but I know that is so real for people, is this fear that the world is somehow more dangerous. I know that you said the media plays a part in that, that we're more aware. Are there other factors? Other social or cultural factors that are coming in to play here that are making us so anxious about what could happen? Instead of looking at realistically, what does happen.
Brock: It's a good question, and I don't have a straight forward answer. Maybe our own resilience is less than it used to be as well? Maybe our parents were more resilient to the possibilities of things that might happen than we are? I don't know. I do think we like to have a life that is fairly predictable, without any upsets or surprises. I think more and more we're able to achieve that. So possibly, in part, we like to think across the board we can prevent these sorts of things from happening.
Brock: If these things do happen, it should have been avoided. It's a fine line to walk, and it's a difficult one to know exactly how to get it right. We used to live about 400 meters from my girl's school, and they're 8 and probably they should be able to walk to school on their own. But we still haven't let them do that yet. I'm as much at fault, I'm self-penalizing as part of this process.
Brock: I'm right up there with the rest of the protective parents. It's an interesting thing to reflect on. If we're reflecting on it, that's the main point of this [inaudible 00:10:58]. Also recognize that there is some value when our children do fail or when they experience difficult social interactions, that they are learning in that space, and they're developing. They're developing some positive abilities in that space.
Brock: That helps us to deal with that better. Helps us to show them how to deal with that better too.
Ellen: I think that is something for me as a parent, I have found helps me, is to be able to reframe it in that way. It's about me feeling vulnerable as a parent then I'd lock them up and never let them do anything, so I'd know that they're safe. [crosstalk 00:11:41] But this is not about me. [crosstalk 00:11:46] My job being a parent is not about me. My job is about them and giving them opportunities. To be able to reframe it in my own mind.
Ellen: I've got a ten-and-a-half-year-old and he's spent the summer out on his bike, catching up with his mates, which is one of the glorious things about living in a regional area, is that they still do those things.
Ellen: Although in some ways that is scary because your mind does go to the: what ifs? There's roads, there's cars. They go down the mountain bike tracks. They fall off. They come home beaten up. There's always that: what if? At the back of my mind. But then I look at his face, and he's had the best ever day, and he's probably learned the hard way, which hills he can go down fast and which he can't.
Brock: Absolutely and he's taken responsibility for that as well, which is big thing. We've stepped aside and let them take that responsibility. I think that's a huge part of it.
Brock: Part of it is getting better at regulating our own exposure to these negative experiences too.
Ellen: So that's parenting but what about workplaces? I know you do work in workplaces. How does stuff play out in a work environment?
Brock: Work places often involve stress and difficulty and difficult people. That's why it's called work right? It wouldn't be called work if it wasn't at least somewhat uncomfortable. If you want to progress your career, you sometimes have to engage in things that make you feel fearful or worried or unsettled. Recognizing that engaging in those sorts of experiences in the workplace, pushing yourself to places where you feel uncomfortable is an important part of, developing the ability to move forward.
Brock: If you don't embrace some of those risks, you don't move forward in your career. You're not able to progress. But also recognizing when things do go wrong, when you try to expose yourself to something novel, and you fall flat and fail, “Well, that was unpleasant.” and you'd prefer it didn't happen, but you're learning the whole time and you're building up the ability to think, “Well I can do it again. I coped this time; I can cope next time. If the worst case happens, I'll try it. I'll give it a shot.”
Brock: A lot of people are not able to progress through life or including in work in the ways they'd want to if they are avoiding all the potential risks. Or focused on all those possible threats rather than understanding these things can be valuable challenges, that can build and expose us to situations that we might find uncomfortable, but grown from.
Ellen: Is growth part of resilience?
Brock: If you're growing resilience, yes. If it's a dynamic and developable process then you're growing as part of that process.
Ellen: That's one element. What else do we need to be doing or should we be doing, either as adults ourselves, because this is a life long journey, to use another hackneyed phrase, and as parents, to help us all become more resilient? There's trying and testing new things. There's exposing ourselves to risk, what else do we need to be doing?
Brock: It's important to note the way this works. What we know, is that it's not necessarily that all exposure is good. Obviously, people get traumatized by situations frequently and that's not helpful to be traumatized. People can turn it around. They can certainly turn around those experiences and turn them into something they grow from, but it may not be what you'd choose to do.
Brock: In a sense, it's understanding that there is a sweet spot, like an inverted U where it's that moderate exposure, which often is what's needed. Not too much but also not too little. That inverted U shifts one way, or the other depending on how we think about it and how we approach those situations. The way that we think about situations, if were focused on the threats involved in a situation, if we're sensitive to those then we'll see the situation as being difficult, or we'll shy away from it or respond to any failure or difficulty that presents itself badly.
Brock: If we see it as a challenge, a lot of this is about mindset and being able to change how we view those situations, if we focus on these situations being more of a challenge and see the potentials for growth in those situations, we can respond much better. Build and grow much more easily. Handle them much more easily. There's this whole challenge and threat distinction. It drills into neurobiology. We know when people are exposed to things in a certain difficulty. When they see and experience that as a challenge, it's more likely to release adrenalin.
Brock: This allows people to respond more effectively. Studies in rats have shown that exposure increases the strength of the adrenal gland. It's like an athlete who trains. The more that you're exposed to something, the better you get at responding to it. But if you go over the top, it turns into the release of cortisol, which what happens when we feel too stressed, it doesn't necessarily help, and it starts to degrade and is harmful for our health more generally.
Brock: There's underlying neurobiology, which helps to articulate that inverted U in terms of how and to what extent and thinking about the ways when can shift things further into the challenge framework versus the threat framework.
Ellen: If you're working with an individual, and they're trying to wrap their head around this idea that, okay, I can see that, and understanding that neurobiology helps because you imagine it as: I can push myself to a point and that's releasing that adrenalin, it's helping me to cope, it's helping me think faster, move faster, do whatever I need to do in this challenge.
Ellen: But if I get beyond a point for me of maximum return, get into those diminishing returns of releasing cortisol, and I'm stressed, how would you help somebody at an individual level to understand where that point might be for them?
Brock: It's about being aware of how we're feeling and how we're responding. The self-awareness is important. Is this feeling good? I feel uncomfortable, but I also feel capable. One of the predictors of whether we see something is challenging or a threat, is whether we feel like we've got the resources to cope with that situation, or we don't.
Brock: It gives an insight on how you might adjust your approach. If we think of how we can build our personal resources, that means in more situations we'll be experienced in those challenging moments than threatening. If we feel like we've got these resources there to cope. Being aware of our response but also being aware of what we can do.
Brock: Also, understanding that emotions we feel: anxiety or threat or stress, these things are motivations. Emotions are motivations as well emotional. Understanding that you can counteract an emotion at motivational level is really important too. If you step into an emotion that says, get away, run. If you feel threatened, but you step towards that thing because you've self-determined that the threat is something you can handle. As you step towards that it starts to emulate the effect of that emotion. You feel it less.
Brock: As you're walking towards something, it feels very hard to feel threatened by it if you started to behave in a different way, in a counteractive way. Understanding walking towards those things or engaging in those things helps to unpack that feeling of threat.
Ellen: You do develop, I'm imagining a tool kit, or a bucket of resources that we carry around with us as we get tested by challenges. If we dip our toe in to something that feels uncomfortable where we think, “I don't know if this right for me? I don't know if I can do this?” We dip our toe in, we go, “That wasn't so bad.” It builds up a resource, to put something in our bucket. We could take that. It’s like entering in to the cold pool very slowly, [crosstalk 00:20:53] without getting to a point where we feel like, “I can do this, I can dive in.”
Brock: Yeah, that's right. Being aware that sometimes it’s very easy to paint negative outcomes as simply negative. We see instances of failure as detracting from our life. We see negative emotions as interrupting our ability to be happy. When those things are framed in that way, it's very hard to see these nuances or see the positive side of those experiences.
Brock: Approaching these things differently, not through a framework of saying, “This is how I want to feel and this is how I'm feeling now.” Which means that it's detracting from how I'd like to be, but recognizing that feeling that way, failing, that having these unpleasant things, even if we wouldn't have chosen them, there is another side to those experiences, which is beneficial for us, and allows and releases a number of positive things in our life.
Brock: Reminding ourselves that of perspective. It's a perspective that gets lost a lot in conversation, because we do focus on those more pleasant experiences in life, as desirable, there's things you want to build. That's absolutely true but building those positive and pleasant experiences requires that we know what it's like or experience those other sorts of those mixed up emotions and events.
Ellen: I guess we all have a tendency to see things as all good or all bad, or all black or all white, or all positive or all negative but in fact life is somewhere in between, in the shade of gray.
Ellen: That sometimes we can't, as you were saying, it is any relationship, I was going to say being a parent but any relationship. You enter relationship and yes it brings lots of positive feelings but often it brings lots of uncomfortable feelings as well. But if we don't ever take that step, or take that risk and make ourselves vulnerable, we don't get the positives that come with the challenges.
Brock: Yes, absolutely. I think relationships are a great example of that because you have to be vulnerable in a relationship in order to engage in it and get any enjoyment out of it. If you try to protect yourself from that vulnerability, you kill the relationship immediately. It's the same with a lot of different things in life. It is sometimes being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to those negative experiences, which actually give us the capacity to experience the positive ones.
Brock: If you were to engage in something difficult but were assured of not failing, the first step wouldn't be difficult because you know you would not fail, and you wouldn't feel a sense of achievement because you knew were going to pass or achieve what you want in your goals. A lot of our human behavior is predicted by counter[inaudible 00:24:03] motivations.
Brock: We're often seeking out unpleasant experiences in life because we enjoy a challenge of them, because we enjoy the way that they push us. We get enjoyment from those experiences as well as the positive ones. We get that often.
Ellen: I think about so many people I know who have, for example, set themselves a goal of running a half marathon or a marathon and as a non-runner, I think, I have equal measure of, "You're nuts." And I have huge admiration for you. I can imagine that's an example of that: I'm going to set myself a goal that's going to really hurt. This may make me physically unwell. I'm going to keep training for it, and I'm going to do it because I get something out of it that's not necessarily an immediately, not a positive emotion, in the moment.
Brock: People wouldn't run marathons if they weren't painful.
Brock: They wouldn't do it, it's be pointless. When you look at the other side of the things, we actually find enjoyable in life, these negatives are in there. What we call negatives, these unpleasant experiences. If it wasn't for those, we wouldn't get the enjoyment we get from life anyway.
Brock: Another frame to help us when we are exposed to these things, even when we haven't chosen them, to help orientate towards a more practical, and a way that allows us to bounce off those well. When we bounce off those things well, that's what builds resilience. We've come away from it feeling like we've been exposed to being challenge, but we've succeeded and that builds a sense that we're capable.
Brock: It feeds into that other side of the equation, which is our personal resources to cope in situations.
Ellen: I can only imagine that once you've completed a marathon, you'd feel invincible, at least for a short while.
Brock: Yes, that's right. For those that have done it, I imagine that's how it is, yes.
Ellen: I can speak to being a small business owner and being self-employed because I think that is one of those similar examples in that you are constantly in some ways struggling, but in the same time gaining something in terms of the motivation is completely different. The learning is completely different. The growth, even little wins feel so significant because of the challenge and what you've put in to get to that point.
Brock: You thumbed your nose at security along the way there, too right?
Brock: Where you could take a much more secure job, but there's a certain challenge and risk involved, which people get enjoyment from.
Ellen: It's not a rational thing to do because it makes so sense but there are motivators and drivers and growth and opportunity there for those who choose to take that path, that outweigh those risks, and a willingness to be uncomfortable.
Ellen: You talk about the challenge mindset. It's an ability to frame our difficult things as challenges, is that right?
Brock: That can be facilitated. It's about seeing the challenge in the situation rather than the threat and that's facilitated through a sense of our capacity to cope and that capacity to cope, or our sense of it, is largely built through exposure and experience.
Brock: We need to have those experiences and have gone through them to know that we've got the capacity to cope. It's built from takin that different perspective and understanding that these things provide us with some value as well. There's probably a number of things in there but one other aspect to is it, recognizing that we can't control everything in life. We often try to. Certainly, people try to sometimes their internal states and that doesn't work very well.
Brock: We have to learn to let go of some of those internal processes, and those ideas of control. More broadly recognizing things in life, we can't control things. When we do anything, we have to step back from that desire to control the possibility of negative outcomes in life. Step away from that. Allow those possibilities to be there, not because we're irresponsible or not because we don't care for our own well-being and others, but rather because its critically important.
Brock: One of the things about people who suffer from depression, is that they don't take risks. They stop taking risks. There's a good evolutionary theory of depression, which suggests it's a thing you experience when you've been out there, you've failed at too many risks, and you've gone away and cocooned yourself, to say, "Hey, let's regroup here." [crosstalk 00:29:26] Yes, that didn't work out so well, let's just regroup.
Brock: People get stuck in the regrouping process, and we have to drag them back out again, but a big part of coming back out of that is to learn to take those risks. Even if it's walking out your front door, of being expose to the possibility of negative criticism from others and whatever else that is. Coming out of things of depression, it's a big part of taking risks in life. If you look at anxiety, anxiety is in part is driven by an over-perception of a threatening environment.
Brock: Recognizing a lot of the things that we find threatening, can be understood in different ways if we were to focus more on our abilities and see things as challenging rather than threatening.
Ellen: That control thing, certainly in workshops where I'm dealing with clients, and they took about the circle of influence and circle of concern, the things in life that we can control, and acknowledging the things in life that can't control, or do anything about, and learning to be okay with that. But I hadn't thought about if we're expanding that circle of influence, which is what I always say, comes down to that we can change how we think and what we can do and that's about it, when it comes down to. There's not much else in life we can control.
Brock: No, no.
Ellen: Seeing that as part of resilience is being able to flip that mindset so that we do see that as where the growth and resilience happens and that is important.
Brock: You're only trying to control things you are fearful of a lot of the time. If you're not as fearful as the negative outcomes. If the worst-case scenarios are you've thought to yourself: Can I cope with the worst-case scenario? Yes, you've determined you probably could, even though you wouldn't hope it would happen, now you don't have to control so much because you can accept or let that be.
Brock: You can walk into that situation knowing that the worst-case scenario was to happen, that you'd still be okay. And recognizing that you can't always control whether that will happen.
Ellen: Yes, that's often for me, when I'm stepping into those uncomfortable situations, I say, will anybody die? Probably not. To delivery this workshop, I feel under prepared. Not sure how it's going to pan out but at the end of the day, I'm going to walk out. I'll still be alive. Everyone else will still be alive. It's not that bad.
Brock: When you do that, when you catch yourself, and you use that framework, it's always much better than what you were probably were thinking it might be, without thinking about it clearly. Your threat sensitivity was building this thing up to be something that unbearable and intolerable, but when you think about it, it's probably something you can cope with.
Ellen: It's part our hard wiring isn't it? To have that threat sensitivity. [crosstalk 00:32:34] It's unhelpful in so many ways? But I suppose it does have a helpful component.
Brock: No, not at all. If you take the emotions circumplex which is all the emotions that we've evolved to experience, we talk about high arousal and low arousal emotions, and we talk about positive and negative emotion, which is interesting because its actually: pleasant and unpleasant. Not positive and negative, but we've put valence in there somewhere. We've made a judgment about what it's like.
Brock: If you would look at all the positive emotions and where they've got us throughout history, throughout evolutionary history, we could have largely done without them. They are good for things for heart disease and things like that. It is good to be happy because it does prevent other problems but the primary emotions, the ones that save us in the world on a daily basis, are the negative ones. If we couldn't panic, we would be ill equipped to not only get away from the hungry lion but perhaps the car on the road?
Brock: That ability to experience those feelings is hugely important for our survival. Sometimes we forget that too, so of course we're threat sensitive because that's the alarm signal that says, our survival is under threat. We also know that social rejection, that we call social pain. That mechanism is using the physical pain apparatus in the brain because rejected from our group, again throughout evolutionary history as humans, was like death. You wouldn't survive in the Savannah if you weren't part of a group.
Brock: Social rejection, failure, these things they often feel the same as physical pain but that system is there to alert us to threats and important threats. Sometimes it gets over sensitized.
Ellen: It's a fine balance isn't it? I understand that evolutionarily, if that's a word.
Brock: It is now.
Ellen: We have needed these, we continue to need these to keep ourselves safe and yet when we allow too much emphasis or spend too much time in those, I don't want to use negatives, so, uncomfortable spaces, more difficult emotions, that's not always helping us from a well-being perspective.
Ellen: It comes back to where you were talking about the challenge and being exposed to threat and trauma, we can't have too much of it. That's not helpful. We need some of it so it's finding that sweet spot.
Brock: Yes. I think well-being comes from oscillating, I think anybody will tell you that, I'm not sure whether it's Barbara Frederickson's three to one ratio is entirely accurate, but the idea is rights. That we want to spend a fair amount of time on the happy side of the spectrum. It's nice, it's comfortable. It's where were prefer to be, and it's healthier to be there too. What's often overlooked is that one is really important. You can't just have the three, you've got to have that one. That's a really important part of living and life and it’s an important part of having a three as well. It's often about moving back and forward between these experiences where well-being and happiness is produced.
Brock: Happiness isn't just sitting on the positive side of the spectrum all the time. Happiness is facilitated by dipping into that unpleasantness, that uncomfortableness. But swinging back out of it as well. You don't want to get stuck there, absolutely not.
Ellen: When we look at models of well-being around, there needs to be an element of achievement, and we got back to the running the marathon, it's really uncomfortable, it hurts but that sense of achievement is going to contribute to that well-being that we're seeking.
Ellen: Like engagement and flow as well. We can be engaged in activities that aren't necessarily enjoyable in the moment but by doing so, we're still contributing to our well-being.
Brock: Yes, absolutely. I think you get a sense. Our research, yet unpublished, suggests that people find meaningful experiences in life are relatively intense experiences. We tend to find more meaning in more intense experiences. No more, than the positive ones than the negative ones. The positivity and negativity of the experiences doesn't necessarily dictate whether it's going to be meaningful, it's whether it's an intense experience. We tend to find those things meaningful.
Brock: Both sides of life contribute to meaning and purpose. Hard to think of purpose as facilitated by an endless foot massage for example.
Ellen: Yes, it's true. It might feel good, but it's not necessarily going to help you grow or flourish as an individual.
Brock: No, that's right.
Ellen: It's interesting you say that because one of the exercises I do with groups is to get them to think about an experience that they've had in their life that might have been really difficult at the time and think about, "if I hadn't had gone through that experience, what would've I missed out on as a consequence?" A roundabout gratitude exercise.
Ellen: I have these wonderful people who share their stories of, sometimes quite significant traumas at the time. Yet their still often able to say, "If I hadn't had done that, then I wouldn't have learned this. I might not have met that person. I wouldn't have moved to this place. I might not have had my children." There’re all these other ways of looking at something that might have been quite, deeply upsetting at the time [crosstalk 00:38:33] but they come out of it better?
Brock: Even if you were better off not having that experience, even if that were the case, it still doesn't mean that not looking at it in that way isn't the right way to look at it. I don't think you have to beat the negative all the time in order to find the positive. "That experience did happen, I would prefer it didn't happen, but it did happen, but what can I find out of it? What can I pull out of it?"
Brock: I think its important not to be unrealistic. There are definitely things in life that we prefer to have never have happened. We can still draw out those other sides to it as well, if possible.
Ellen: Bit of perspective taking?
Brock: Yes, that's right.
Ellen: A lot of the concepts you talk about in your book, which is: 'The Other Side Of Happiness; A More Fearless Approach To Living', which is published by Penguin. Do you have some, I was going to say, quick tips, I think we've talked about some really interesting concepts here and hopefully our listeners have drawn some good ideas and things that they might want to test and try themselves.
Ellen: If you could summarize some tips for them, that would be fantastic.
Brock: There's so many ways to apply the ideas that having specific one-off tips is not something I'd [crosstalk 00:40:03] [inaudible 00:40:03],
Ellen: It's hard.
Brock: Yes, it is. People will find ways to apply it. Overall, the tip is to be aware of what is a social narrative, which is that happiness is a valuable state and that unhappiness is an unvaluable state and is equal to failure. If you look from advertising to social media, we're surrounded by messages that; we all should be.
Brock: Being aware of those influences on us. I think these influences are much stronger than we realize. Even certain local cultures, corporate cultures can over emphasize these elements. Our own researchers found when we create a microcosm, a microculture where people are surrounded by happiness paraphernalia, and we give them an impossible experience where they fail, they ruminate about it a lot more than if they weren't in that same room. If they didn't have that emphasis on happiness around them.
Brock: The cultures we live in, influence us, so we need to be aware of that. Once we've unpacked that and started to remove the valuation we place on these positive and negative sides of our emotional lives, start to explore what it's like to experience those negative sides of things, those negative emotions. What do they feel like? What are they really like once we unpack them and stop evaluating them so heavily?
Brock: That allows us to feel more able to step in to difficult, uncomfortable, challenging, outside our comfort zone experiences in life. Maybe to let our children do the same? Because we know that those experiences are things we can cope with. We can learn from and helps us to grow and not just negatives to detract from our happiness. Or to detract from our social status.
Brock: I think people worry about that. "If I fail, I'm a failure." I don't think that's true. Everybody who did something good in this world, failed first. Taking that perspective and allowing ourselves to step into that, recognizing that when we do turn around and step into things that feel threatening, actually that's the right way to respond to that. Running away from those experiences only make it feel more threatening. It shuts down circumference of influence that we can have in the world, because we effectively get stuck inside that smaller circle of feeling threatened by things.
Brock: It broadens our scope. It broadens our ability in life to engage in life in a variety of different ways. I don't know if there were any specific tips in there, maybe a perspective.
Ellen: A nice summary. One of the beauties of being able to talk to the wonderful guest that I have on the podcast is that we can have a conversation and get into the nuances and complexities because as you say, there is so much of traditional media and certainly social media wants to distill things down into the tiny meme and human behavior is not like that. When we're talking about things like this around emotions, and it's a far deeper, broader, fascinating but also challenging topic, that we can encapsulate into 140 characters or less.
Brock: If we do, it's hopefully something people take away and throw around in their own perspective. They can take from it what they will and apply it in the way that it fits.
Ellen: Excellent. Brock, thank you very much for a really enjoyable conversation. I feel like I know some of this stuff as a psych, but I'm still walking away with new ways of thinking about happiness, emotions, the challenges of resilience and the importance of feeling those full arrays of things for our growth.
Ellen: It's going to help me as a parent but also as a person and as a psychologist too, thank you for that.
Brock: No problem.
Ellen: I will put links to the article that I mentioned at the top of this interview in Psychology Today, in our show notes. I'll also put a link to your book, which is: 'The Other Side Of Happiness; A More Fearless Approach To Living'. If we're missing any other parts that we've mentioned that I can't think of off the top of my head, I will put all that into the show notes as well. As well as ways to contact you and to find your own website, which is brockbastian.com?
Brock: Yes, that's it. You can put that in there.
Ellen: People can follow your research. Your yet to be published research that you mentioned before, so they'll be able to be on top of that as soon as it does [crosstalk 00:45:12].
Brock: Yes, that's right.
Ellen: Thank you again. I really do appreciate your time.
Brock: Thank you for having me on, it's appreciated.