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Ask The Coach — Adversity, The Way You Look At Things

Published on April 17, 2015

Dear Coach: Last year was the worst year of my 15-year career as a dentist.  Not only did I lose the two most valuable employees in my practice, I got sick from all the stress.  I’m physically able to return to work now, but mentally I’m dreading it.  No matter how many “pep” talks I give myself, I’m still depressed and anxious.  Can you help me?  J.N.

adversity 3J.N., do you know that Americans consume 15 tons of aspirin every day?  Northwestern National Life researchers say that work is the #1 source of stress in our lives.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workers who have to take time away from work because of stress will be off for about 20 days, and this means some other worker has to cover the workload, causing additional stress.  Study after study shows that stress is not only contagious, it kills.

What can we do about it?  Well, we can learn how to increase our resilience, which means having the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.  More than 50 years of research show that having and developing resilience is the key to success at work and satisfaction in life, and is the basic ingredient to happiness and success.

An adversity is any event that precipitates a reaction from you.  In your case, it sounds like that means the loss of two valuable employees.  Was it the actual loss of these employees that caused your problems – or was it the way you reacted to the situation?  Leading thought researchers tell us that it’s not the events that that cause our feelings and behaviors, it’s our thoughts about the events that drive how we feel and what we do.

When failure is unexpected or obstacles appear from out of the blue, we spontaneously ask ourselves “why” questions so we can understand and learn from the problems.  Martin Seligman, PhD, father of Positive Psychology, states that every answer to the question “why” can be described along three dimensions: personal (me versus not me), permanent (always versus not always), and pervasive (everything versus not everything).  Resilient people are able to regulate their emotions and control their reactions so that they respond appropriately in any given situation.

We’re going to ask you to answer the “why” of these three questions regarding your adversity, which is the first step in learning the thinking patterns that typically influence your feelings and behaviors.  For example, when your employees told you they were leaving, did you blame yourself or the employees?  Did you see the problem as permanent or fleeting?  Did you believe that the loss would undermine everything else in your life, or was it only a one-time event?  The better you are at identifying your “why” beliefs, the easier it will be for you to change them when they interfere with your ability to respond to adversity.

The most important thing about you is the way you talk to yourself.  Honestly, was it the loss of your employees that caused all the negative outcomes, or was it the way you thought about it that generated the consequences you experienced?

Next issue we’ll tell you about seven thinking traps that make people particularly vulnerable to depression, and how to avoid them.  What do you think about that?

 

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