November 2012 Update

I felt compelled to participate in Quora’s discussion “Why are some people more resilient than others?” Please, share your comments either here or at My answer:

I took Psychological Resilience Class PSYC-E-1018 led with Dr. Shelley Carson at Harvard Extension School in Jan 2012. Criteria: a prerequisite for resilience is adversity. A consequence of resilience is positive adaptation or growth.
Resilience is a combination of risk and protective factors throughout life. There are many pathways in and out of resilient behavior; you have to have risk factors and protective factors.

“From developmental PPath studies protective factors are:

Within the child:
high IQ; temperamental characteristics (extraversion, pleasant disposition); physical attractiveness; religious orientation
Family characteristics:
maternal warmth; good father/child relationship; absence of parental mental disorders; father employment
Outside the family:
positive school experience; good peer relations; extended social network; positive role model; safe neighborhood; availability of community resources”

The main thing I got out of the class is that is all about the formula:

E+R=O (Event+Response=Outcome) or ABC:
A-     Activating or adverse event
B-     Beliefs about event
C-     Consequences

When you change your beliefs about the event/create good response to even a negative event, you ameliorate risk. How to do it? Through meditation, physical exercise, volunteering, learning new skills, and discovering and doing what you love, finding meaning in what you do, creating positive relationships, learning copying strategies (emotional sharing or problem-solving).
Pillars of resilience:

1.      Positive attitude, including activities you enjoy
2.      Cognitive flexibility (learning), including habits
3.      Problem-focused copying and instrumental social support
4.      Meaning making
5.      Social support

“Take-home message: Adversity is part of life. We have the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity. We can learn resilience from role-models. We have a toolkit of developable skills. We have the ability to use our resilience to emerge even stronger after adversity”. I highly recommend this class to all interested in this topic.

Also see a Roadmap on problem resolution, Martin Seligman’s article on Building Resilience and Students Feedback on this class.

We had another Santa Monica New Tech event at CrossCampus in November and Heather Martin wrote an article about it “New Tech Meetup – Creating Your Happiness Formula and Other Cool Stuff!”

‘Failure Week’ to Build Resilience

A top girls’ school is planning a “failure week” to teach pupils to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes.

The emphasis will be on the value of having a go, rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less.

Pupils at Wimbledon High School will be asked how they feel when they fail.

The headmistress, Heather Hanbury, said she wanted to show “it is completely acceptable and completely normal not to succeed at times in life.”

Ms Hanbury’s pupils achieve some of the highest exam scores – but from Monday they will be invited to focus on failure.

There will be workshops, assemblies, and activities for the girls, with parents and tutors joining in with tales of their own failures.

There will be YouTube clips of famous and successful people who have failed along the way and moved on.

The emphasis will be discussions on the merits of failure and on the negative side of trying too hard not to fail.

‘Courage in the classroom’

Ms Hanbury told BBC News that she had placed a great emphasis on developing resilience and robustness among the girls since she arrived at the school four years ago.

“The girls need to learn how to fail well – and how to get over it and cope with it,” she said.

“Fear of failing can be really crippling and stop the girls doing things they really want to do.”

“The pupils are hugely successful but can sometimes overreact to failure even though it can sometimes be enormously beneficial to them.”

“We want them to be brave – to have courage in the classroom,” she added.

Wimbledon High is an independent school, part of the Girls’ Day School Trust.

GDST chief executive, Helen Fraser, said: “Resilience is so important in working life these days.”

“Wimbledon High School is showing how making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing, that it is fine to try – and fail – and then pick yourself up and try again – or as Samuel Beckett said, ‘fail better’.”

Re-posted from ‘Failure week’ at top girls’ school to build resilience by By Judith Burns, BBC News

Psychological Resilience Class Feedback (Part Two)

“Thank you for asking me to tell my story.

The year before I took the course was a very difficult year; it was as if fate wanted to compound many major traumas into a short year. It has been so bad, that I have only been able to five people, not including myself that know the full story. Therefore, before I took the course, people were already complimenting me on how well I was handling things, but I wanted to be able to progress farther and learn the techniques to do so, and the course delivered. It not only taught techniques, but it also provided objective perspectives. In particular it was interesting to read about the contributing factors that Bonato presented in the paper I needed to read about the post traumatic growth in abusive relationships.

I would highly recommend this course for anyone who believes that they would like to improve their resiliency, but not for anyone who does not. Although, what I appreciated most about the course has been the classmates. The discussions in class and outside of class are things that could probably only come from people that know that learning resiliency is so important that it is worth devoting three intense week to learning just a little bit more about it.
The two most important things I learned were the ABC theory, belief is more important than actual events in determining consequences. Bad things can happen, but if one controls their beliefs, looks for the benefits, measures what assets they have to handle the situation, as well as looking at the positive benefits of the change, one will be able to live a more successful life. And of course the opposite is also true. Good things can happen, and if one looks at the negative and the lack, there will be less success.
Since learning that, I have been focused on realistic optimism and have been making the right choices to progress in my career.
Also I have learned immediate techniques. When handling a large problem I go to the gym not just for the dopamine, but it tires me out so I can only think about the problem at hand not distracting thoughts. I have opened up and now seek out social support much more easily, and I look for humor more in situations. However the biggest immediate change has been a focus on seeking gratitude immediately after a problem. That actually has an effect of changing breathing to calm me down and has even reduced physical pain. Additionally it can be a mental challenge that provides additional insights into situations. Moreover, it just feels good”.
Eric Ehmann – US
“As a psychologist who works and conducts researches on violence and trauma, it was necessary for me to take the resilience course. Resilience is a very important field because its discourse is focused on the individual, especially on the health issue. I could learn more about Positive Psychology – which I didn’t have a lot of knowledge before – and how it emphasizes in the individual’s potential aspects instead of psychopathological aspects, as traditional psychology does.
I also liked the classes because they were interactive and dynamic. The class was multicultural. The students could discuss the subjects to each other and that was what I liked most. It’s good to know different points of view and it’s even better to know people from all over the world”.
Thayse Dantas – Brazil

Psychological Resilience Class Feedback (Part One)

Last month Harvard Extension School offered Psychological Resilience Class PSYC-E-1018 led by Dr. Shelley Carson. Here is feedback provided about the class and the importance of this topic from several students:

“From the cradle to the grave, humans have to face problematic situations. In one way or another, we are exposed to danger, confusion, disappointment or grief. However, there is something that changes over time, especially when it comes to the ability to cope with serious, more complex issues. In the hindsight, one can realize how one’s capacity to overcome both minor and major problems increases. I remember having thought about the following question long before taking the resilience course: How come I don’t see the problems the same way I did three years ago?

A noteworthy lesson I learned is that it’s never too late to start something great, regardless of how ambitious your plan may seem at first. Shelley Carson, our professor, told us in a very humble manner that her interest in psychology had come pretty late, in her late thirties or forties. Having a living example of a remarkable case of a successful recommencement imbued the class with a spirit of optimism. A major contribution to the surprising participation of the group was the intimacy we developed by sharing personal experiences.

I’m sure there was a considerable share of students sitting there whose major interest wasn’t necessarily psychology, as it was in my case. However, we talked about commonplace things that awakened interest in all of us, each in a different war. That is definitely the most valuable thing a professor can do. I think that Shelley knew that intrinsically motivated students are more likely to make the most out of any course, so she put all her efforts in making her class interesting, by telling personal, yet very relevant anecdotes, and inviting students to participate in class. One thing I will never forget is how she pushed us to use the “resilience kit” we had been studying, which included several methods to cope with problems.

Most importantly, however, I learned that personal experience is far more worth in terms of resilience than any research that might be done by well-known psychologists anywhere in the world. In other words, understanding what the physiological responses to problems are represents a relatively easy task –as well as understanding the most efficient resilience methods–, but the real challenge is that of self-discovery, which requires a very introspective approach to problems and a lot of experience. I discovered, for instance, that I am very skillful at coping with problems by means of humor, and that I can easily clear my mind by doing exercise. Not only is it important to identify such skills, but also to become aware of their potential in problem-solving. That’s something no one can do for you, so I cordially invite you to start (or continue, if you already started) asking yourself these questions and getting to know yourself better.

In conclusion, I think that the most precious lessons we learn come unexpectedly, so I don’t think that a classroom is the only place where you can learn something useful. However, finding an excellent professor is certainly no easy thing to do and I am grateful –I also learned and have started realizing that gratefulness is a very effective resilience method– for the enriching experience of taking this course. I’m all the more grateful to Marina for allowing me to share my thoughts about it, for expressing one’s ideas is also a very satisfactory experience”.

Fernando de Testa – Mexico

“Dr. Shelley Carson’s Psychological Resilience class @ Harvard Extension School provides students with an in-depth look at the construct itself as well as the psychological tools associated with resilience. I took the course as part of my major in psych and hoped to have a “value added” experience that would broaden my understanding of resilient individuals while gaining a deeper understanding of the difficulties that they’d faced. This course provided that. Dr Carson, Jeff Perrotti, & Ellen Brodsky collectively created a learning environment that was as acutely informative as it was warm and welcoming. By definition, January session classes are fast-paced and mentally burdensome due to the amount of material presented in a 3 week period. Although the material came and went quickly, I never felt overwhelmed as the support and presentation methods made the course enjoyable, while enhancing retention through dynamic class exercises and open discussion.

I took from this course a skill set that enables me to better understand and cope with potentially traumatic and stressful situations, both within myself and others. I look forward to taking Abnormal Psychology and Creativity with Dr Carson in the future, both of which are offered in the fall semester here at Harvard Extension School”.

Christopher Dumas – US

A Butterfly’s Lesson

”One day, a small opening appeared in a cocoon; a man sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then, it seems to stop making any progress.

It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could not go any further. So the man decided to help the butterfly: he took a pair of scissors and opened the cocoon.

The butterfly then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would open, enlarge and expand, to be able to support the butterfly’s body, and become firm.

Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a withered body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and his goodwill did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening, were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings, so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes, struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were allowed to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been. Never been able to fly.

I asked for Strength… and I was given difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for Wisdom… and I was given problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity… and I was given a brain and brawn to work.

I asked for Courage….. and I was given obstacles to overcome.

I asked for Love… and I was given troubled people to help.

I asked for Favors… and I was given Opportunities.

“I received nothing I wanted… but I received EVERYTHING I needed.”

Live life without fear, confront all obstacles and know that you can overcome them.

~Author Unknown

How The Imperfectionists Came About

The moment I saw the book The Imperfectionists at the Airport shop, I wanted to read it. It is on my list to read, and today I found writer’s review of the book. It is an example of resilience in action and reminds me of A Movable Feast, when Hemingway was in Paris trying to write a novel. Here is what Tom Rachman says about his book:

“I grew up in peaceful Vancouver with two psychologists for parents, a sister with whom I squabbled in the obligatory ways, and an adorably dim-witted spaniel whose leg waggled when I tickled his belly. Not the stuff of literature, it seemed to me.

During university, I had developed a passion for reading: essays by George Orwell, short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, novels by Tolstoy. By graduation, books had shoved aside all other contenders. A writer–perhaps I could become one of those.

There was a slight problem: my life to date.

By 22, I hadn’t engaged in a bullfight. I’d not kept a mistress or been kept by one. I’d never been stabbed in a street brawl. I’d not been mistreated by my parents, or addicted to anything sordid. I’d never fought a duel to the death with anyone.

It was time to remedy this. Or parts of it, anyway. I would see the world, read, write, and pay my bills in the process. My plan was to join the press corps, to become a foreign correspondent, to emerge on the other side with handsome scars, mussed hair, and a novel.

Years passed. I worked as an editor at the Associated Press in New York, venturing briefly to South Asia to report on war (from a very safe distance; I was never brave). Next, I was dispatched to Rome, where I wrote about the Italian government, the Mafia, the Vatican, and other reliable sources of scandal.

Suddenly–too soon for my liking–I was turning thirty. My research, I realized, had become alarmingly similar to a career. To imagine a future in journalism, a trade that I had never loved, terrified me.

So, with a fluttery stomach, I handed in my resignation, exchanging a promising job for an improbable hope. I took my life savings and moved to Paris, where I knew not a soul and whose language I spoke only haltingly. Solitude was what I sought: a cozy apartment, a cup of tea, my laptop. I switched it on. One year later, I had a novel.

And it was terrible.

My plan – all those years in journalism–had been a blunder, it seemed. The writing I had aspired to do was beyond me. I lacked talent. And I was broke.

Dejected, I nursed myself with a little white wine, goat cheese and baguette, then took the subway to the International Herald Tribune on the outskirts of Paris to apply for a job. Weeks later, I was seated at the copy desk, composing headlines and photo captions, aching over my failure. I had bungled my twenties. I was abroad, lonely, stuck.

But after many dark months, I found myself imagining again. I strolled through Parisian streets, and characters strolled through my mind, sat themselves down, folded their arms before me, declaring, “So, do you have a story for me?”

I switched on my computer and tried once more.

This time, it was different. My previous attempt hadn’t produced a book, but it had honed my technique. And I stopped fretting about whether I possessed the skill to become a writer, and focused instead on the hard work of writing. Before, I had winced at every flawed passage. Now, I toiled with my head down, rarely peeking at the words flowing across the screen.

I revised, I refined, I tweaked, I polished. Not until exhaustion–not until the novel that I had aspired to write was very nearly the one I had produced–did I allow myself to assess it.

To my amazement, a book emerged. I remain nearly incredulous that my plan, hatched over a decade ago, came together. At times, I walk to the bookshelf at my home in Italy, take down a copy of The Imperfectionists, double-check the name on the spine: Tom Rachman. Yes, I think that’s me.

In the end, my travels included neither bullfights nor duels. And the book doesn’t, either. Instead, it contains views over Paris, cocktails in Rome, street markets in Cairo; the ruckus of an old-style newsroom and the shuddering rise of technology; a foreign correspondent faking a news story, a media executive falling for the man she just fired. And did I mention a rather adorable if slobbery dog?”

Resilience Lessons

Applying Resilience Skills for Young People: A Curriculum-Based Approach

Toni Noble from Australian Catholic University, Sydney, Australia

Life is a bumpy journey and everyone experiences setbacks and makes mistakes. All students at times face challenges in learning and in relationships; and some face more major challenges. All students (and teachers) need to learn the skills to be resilient and bounce back. Th is workshop draws on the award-winning Bounce Back program and applies positive psychology principles to educational curriculum. Bounce Back topics include values, courage, positive emotions, relationships, people bouncing back, optimistic thinking, and skills and attitudes for being successful. Practical activities and strategies will be work-shopped to demonstrate ways to embed the teaching of well-being and resilience in the elementary and middle school curriculum. These strategies include the use of children’s literature, cooperative learning, circle time, drama, songs and other activities to help students learn the academic skills, social skills and coping skills to enhance their well-being and resilience.

Children’s Resilience Program in India

Steve Leventhal from University of California, Global Health Sciences, San Francisco, CA, United States:

We present findings from CorStone’s ‘Children‘s Resiliency Program (CRP)’ in New Delhi, Mumbai and Surat, India.

CRP is a 24-week, school-based prevention program that incorporates elements of positive psychology, restorative practices, and social-emotional learning skills for at-risk adolescent youth in developing countries. The CRP seeks to provide youth with knowledge and tools that build character strengths, inter-personal skills, problem-solving and conflict resolution. In 2009 the CRP was piloted with 97 female students, ages 12-18 at a school in a poverty-stricken Muslim community in New Delhi. Teachers were trained to facilitate weekly one-hour support groups (10 students per group). Group sessions included an interactive 20 minute lesson plan followed by 40 minutes of group sharing and problem-solving. Emotional resilience was assessed by levels of optimism, locus of control, and emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Standardized assessments administered at baseline, midpoint and post intervention, showed large emotional and behavioral effects. ‘Normal’ scores on the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) increased from 33% at baseline to 61% at mid-intervention (12 weeks), whereas the percentage of students having an abnormal score decreased from 45% to 6%. Significant decreases in pessimism and external locus of control were found in post-intervention scores. Attendance increased markedly on days when the program was offered. 99% of students reported that the topics were relevant to their lives and that the program provided valuable learning experiences.

An intervention for 1,000 adolescent girl students in slum communities in Mumbai and Gujarat is currently underway, using a quasi-experimental design with 500 girls receiving the intervention and 500 girls serving as a control group.

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