Preparing for Bad Things
You can’t always see bad things coming, so it helps to prepare in advance.
Posted March 7, 2018
Preparing for “bad things” really means preparing to be “resilient” in the aftermath of adversity, even disasters. It can be one of the most valuable things you can ever do, especially when facing potentially life-changing events (Everly, 2009).
Psychologically, the study of resilience has been pursued for decades. Interestingly, the best of the seminal studies were done by Dr. E. E. Werner (2005) beginning in the 1950s researching resilient children. In the book Resilient Child (Everly, 2009), I distilled the research into core factors which seem to support children on the road to resilience. In the book Stronger (Everly, Strouse, & McCormack, 2015), I described the psychological and behavioral factors that seemed to be present in US Navy SEALs, professional athletes, and those who recovered from catastrophic injury.Finally, in Resilient Leadership (Everly, Strouse, & Everly, 2012), I describe how to build a resilient organizational culture.
There appear to be at least five core psychological/behavioral factors that resilient people possess. Simply stated, they are:
1. Active optimism – the belief that life events will turn out well, largely because one believes she/he possess the ability to assist in making things turn out well.
2. Decisiveness – the ability to overcome “paralysis by analysis” and make difficult decisions.
3. Moral compass – the ability to evaluate one’s actions against a standard of honesty and integrity, preferably before one acts rather than after.
4. Tenacity – the ability to persevere despite frustration and even failure (often seeing failure as a stepping stone to success).
5. Interpersonal support – the inclination to create and utilize social support as a means of fostering personal and professional success and happiness.
Of those five factors, however, two stood out as the most powerful: active optimism and self-efficacy and interpersonal support.
FOSTERING ACTIVE OPTIMISM AND SELF-EFFICACY
Self-efficacy is the term coined by Dr. Albert Bandura (1997) and is defined as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (1997, p. 3). Thus, self-efficacy is the belief that one can act successfully as an agent of change acting on one’s own behalf or the behalf of others when confronting adversity, known or unknown. Thus, it is an actively optimistic and a general expectation of success regardless the adversity. Individuals possessing a high sense of optimism and self-efficacy will exhibit high resilience. Conversely, people who exhibit pessimism with limited self-efficacy may perceive psychosocial stressors as unmanageable and are more likely to dwell on perceived deficiencies, which generates increased stress and diminishes potential problem-solving energy, lowers aspirations, weakens commitments, and lowers resilience. Bandura (1997) asserts that people can increase self-efficacy through four mechanisms
1. Previous success, that is, being successful builds confidence. Successes that are realized serve as a platform for future successes.
2. Observing others who are successful builds confidence vicariously. In other words, if I am like the person who is successful, then I should be able to be successful too. One can clearly learn how to be successful by studying both the successes and failures of others.
3. Verbal persuasion and encouragement can impact self-efficacy. It sets an expectation of success. Finding a supportive and encouraging mentor can be the difference between success and failure.
4. Finally, self-control influences self-efficacy and resilience. Learning to control one’s impulses and emotions, especially under stress can convey a confidence that translates into proactive resilience. See Everly & Lating (2013) for a thorough review.
Furthermore, these four factors can ultimately create a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” The term self-fulfilling prophecy refers to that fact that in many circumstances the expectation of future performance serves to affect actual performance.
Jones (1977) published a brilliant review decades ago that seems to have gone largely unnoticed. In it he documents the power of the expectation (the self-fulfilling prophecy) to either increase or decrease (according to the expectation) the following:
- The experience of pain
- Bloodflow to the brain and the stomach
- Acid secretion in the stomach
- Academic performance
- Athletic performance
- Success in relationships (remember confidence is a key variable in interpersonal attraction),
- Activity of the immune system (thus vulnerability to disease), and, yes even the chance of sudden death
In the final analysis, if you expect yourself to be a “victim,” you will be. If you expect yourself to be a “survivor,” you will be. You may not be able to affect what happens to you all of the time, but you can always affect how you respond to events in your life.
In their seminal review of sociobiology, Henry and Stephens (1977) conclude that one of core sociobiological drives in human beings is the drive to form groups for interpersonal support. This drive to affiliate with and attach to others, to trust, support, and depend upon others appears to be one of the pillars, not only for individual survival, but for societal survival as well. These qualities are commonly encountered in elite military units (Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and Green Berets) as well as first responders, airline pilots, healthcare professionals, firefighters, and other groups of people who have unique training and perform unique functions in society. Henry and Stephens (1977) refer to this sociobiologic drive for affiliation and support as “the cement of society.”
Interpersonal support appears to be the single best predictor of human resilience (as well as “resilience” in other mammals). Unfortunately, traumatic stress, and depression are often characterized by avoidance of others and a retreat into isolation. This tendency often prolongs and intensifies the negative affect of adverse experiences.
So while we can’t always see bad things coming, we can prepare. We can foster a sense of resilience that will help us get back up when bad things knock us down.
(C) George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, 2018.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
Everly, GS, (2009). Resilient child. NY: DiaMedica.
Everly, GS, Jr., & Lating, JM., (2013). Clinical guide to the treatment of the human stress response. 3rd Ed. NY: Springer.
Everly, GS, Jr., Strouse, DA, & Everly, GS, III. (2012). Resilient Leadership. NY DiaMedica.
Everly, GS, Jr., Strouse, DA, & McCormack, D. (2015). Stronger: Develop the resilience you need to succeed. NY: AMACOM.
Henry, J.P. & Stephens, P. (1977). Stress, health, and the social environment. NY: Springer-Verlag.
Jones, R. (1977) Self-fulfilling prophecies. NJ: Erlbaum. D., Everly, G., & Langlieb, A. (2004). Current Best Practices coping with major critical incidents. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, v. 73, #9, 1Wallenstein, G. (2003). Mind, Stress, and Emotion: The New Science of Mood. Boston, MA: Commonwealth Press.
Werner, E E (2005). Resilience and recovery: Findings from the Kauai longitudinal study. Focal Point: Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 11-14