Resilient Leadership

Becoming Resilient: An Excerpt from Barbara Fredrickson’s Love 2.0 – Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Article, Culture, Leadership, Values-Driven Leaders

Resilient Leadership

Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt (reprinted with permission) from
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Enjoy the selection below, then consider joining us on
November 9, 2018,
when Dr. Fredrickson will keynote our senior executive roundtable.

Becoming Resilient. How do you handle stress and strain? Do you at times feel shattered by adversity? Crushed during hard times? After an emotional hurricane hits, do you wallow in negativity or stumble about to pick up the pieces of your former self? Or perhaps, based on past experience, you’ve tried to steel yourself against any future emotional disasters by increasing the heft of your defensive armor. Maybe you find the prospects of being shattered so disturbing that you’ve striven to be bulletproof.

By and large, your protective armor works well. It shields you from routine emotional blows and keeps you from crumbling into self-pity or otherwise becoming devastated by negativity. Yet this sort of self-protection comes at a price. It can shield you from the especially good stuff as well. Sure enough, within your own walled-off cavern, you can and do readily experience genuine positive emotion, say, of interest, pride, inspiration, or piece. Yet your ability to share these good feelings with others is compromised. Put differently, in making yourself bulletproof you may also numb yourself to possibilities for true connection. Being less able to connect, in turn, shuts you and your body out from registering and creating opportunities for positivity resonance, which are both life-giving and health-conferring.

To be sure, there are more ways to face emotional storms than to be flattened by or impervious to them. For more than a decade, my students and I have studied the psychological habits of resilient people. These are the ones who, when faced with emotional storms, bend without breaking and bounce back to weather the next storm even better equipped than they were for the last.

Resilient people, our studies have shown, are emotionally agile. They neither steel themselves against negativity, nor wallow in it. Instead, they meet adversity with clear eyes, superbly attuned to the nuances of their ever-changing circumstances. This allows them to effortlessly calibrate their reactions to their circumstances, meeting them with a fitting emotional response, neither overblown nor insensitive. When the circumstances warrant, they can be moved to tears or shaken. They don’t defend themselves against bad feelings like these. Yet neither do they overly identify with them. Rather, their negative emotions rise up, like an ocean wave, and then dissolve. Strong emotions move through them, which allows them to move on in their wake.

What allows resilient people to be so agile? As I detailed in Positivity, their agility stems from their steady diet of positive emotion. Each successive experience of positive emotion, after all, gives them a fresh experience of openness. Resilient people come to better register and appreciate larger contexts of life, which allows them to respond to emotional upsets with more perspective, flexibility, and grace. Our data indeed show that life gets better and better for people who experience more positive emotions than others, not simply because positive emotions feel good, but because good feelings nourish resilience. Being better equipped to manage inevitable ups and downs is what makes life itself more satisfying. Resilient people are more hopeful, more excited to rise up to challenges, more appreciative of their many blessings. These positive emotions, our lab experiments show, help flush out any lingering aftereffects of negativity within you. They dismantle or undo the grip that negative emotions can gain on your mind and body alike, the grip that – when too long-lasting – can make you vulnerable to illness and even early death.

The science of resilience has deepened considerably within the last decade. We’ve seen not only a groundswell of scientific interest in the topic but also a fundamental shift in how resilience is viewed. Before, experts saw resilience in the face of adversity as a rare human feat; we now know that in the context of a well-functioning emotion system, resilience can be normative, or standard. We also now know that people’s levels of resilience are not set in stone, or DNA. They can be improved through experience and training. So as you practice the skills, detailed in part II of this book, to increase your daily positivity resonance, you’ll become more resilient, too, better able to adapt to life’s inevitable upsets and adversity.

Hear more from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
at our Nov. 9, 2018
Senior Executive Roundtable.
Details at this link

Resilient people don’t go at it alone. Even as kids, they were especially adept at using humor to get others to smile or laugh along with them. In these and other ways, resilient kids are adept at stoking positivity resonance with their friends and caretakers. Developmental psychologists contend that resilient kids cultivated this capacity through their experiences of sensitive parenting as infants. Some parents, more than others, are adept at interpreting and matching their infant’s distress to create micro-moments of positivity resonance. These more sensitive and attuned parents help their children to develop their own store of self-soothing techniques, coping mechanisms that ultimately all the children to become ever more self-sufficient as they grow older. Resilience, then, doesn’t just originate from positive emotions; it originates from positivity resonance.

More often than not, you don’t face adversity by yourself, alone. You face it with others. Divorce strains entire families after all; earthquakes rock whole communities; wars upend entire nations; and increasingly, an economic collapse can strain an entire planet. When resilient, you know just when to lend a hand, an ear, or a shoulder, and just when to seek out these and other sources of comfort and steadiness from others. Resilience, then, is not simply a property of individuals. It’s equally a property of social groups – of families, communities, nations, even the entire global community. Facing tough times together and well, researchers suggest, requires precisely that suite of personal and collective resources that micro-moments of positivity resonance serve to build. Social resilience becomes all the more likely when you and those with whom you share fate – at home, at work, or in your community or nation – are able and motivated to connect with one another, to take one another’s perspectives, and to communicate care and respect just as readily as you recognize it when others convey their positive regard to you. Such emotional agility and fluid communication within groups isn’t easy to achieve, of course. Any brief reflection on politics, gossip, or any manner of nitpicking can remind you how easy it is to smother the openness, tolerance, and trust needed to support social resilience. Yet knowing that successive moments of positivity resonance shore up and strengthen these necessary resources can help you see that social resilience emerges in the wake of love.

Close study of what makes some marriages more resilient than others bears this out. John Gottman, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on emotions in marriage, tells couples that they can “bank” their shared positive emotions to help them through later tough times. Through decades of meticulous research, Gottman discovered that couples who experience higher ratios of positive to negative emotions with each other are better able to navigate disagreements and upsets. When discussing difficult topics, for instance, they tend to refrain from mirroring each other’s distress and negativity with their own. Instead, they de-escalate a conflict (or potential conflict) by meeting their partner’s negativity with something altogether different, often making some caring, affirming, or lighthearted comment or gesture that creates space for reflection. Put differently, couples with rich recent histories of positivity resonance are better equipped to defuse the emotional bombs that threaten them both.

You can “bank” positivity resonance and draw on it later because momentary experiences of love and other positive emotions build resources. In other words, the small investments you deposit in the so-called bank don’t just sit there. They accumulate, earn interest, and pay out dividends in the form of durable resources that you can later draw on to face future adversity. Moreover, just as money earned in one arena can be spent in other arenas, the positivity resonance that you create in skills – that help you navigate all manner of social upsets and difficulties. Having a loving marriage, then, can help you be more resilient in your work team. Sharing more moment of positivity resonance in schools and neighborhoods, for instance may help whole nations be more resilient during tough times.

Resilience matters now more than ever, both your personal resilience, as well as the collective resilience that you cultivate within your family, your community, your nation, and our world. No matter how resilient you are today, higher levels of resilience are readily within your grasp. That’s because genuine positive emotions are available to you at any time. And when you connect with others over these good feelings, you create a positivity resonance that energizes and strengthens the metaphorical connective tissue that binds you. Love and resilience are renewable resources.

Excerpted from LOVE 2.0: HOW OUR SUPREME EMOTION AFFECTS EVERYTHING WE FEEL, THINK, DO, AND BECOME by Barbara Fredrickson, copyright © 2013 by Barbara Fredrickson. Used by permission of Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.


Rock climbing photo by Brad Barmore on Unsplash

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