Elon Musk became the richest man on earth and blasted into low-earth orbit with his Space-X; Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) was appointed to the Supreme Court and smashed a chain of entrenched legal precedents; and Greta Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel prize as she jarred everyone’s attention to the sorry state of the earth. All three of these accomplishments were achieved in trying and uncertain times – even as we are all struggling just to get through this horrific pandemic.
Amazing? Yes. Impossible? Not really. In my view, they simply followed four basic principles of resiliency in the face of naysayers, pooh-poo-ers, web-trolls, and political hacks: 1. Curiosity, 2. Compassion, 3. Conceptualization, and 4. Conviction.1 If these three international figures can do something amazing by following a few capital Cs, so can you and I, to make a better day for ourselves, and our friends, and families in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Resilience and Self-actualization
Resiliency spans a wide theoretical horizon, but one modern take is that it’s a force in each of us driving us to seek, among other things, self-actualization.
Resiliency spans a wide theoretical horizon, but one modern take is that it’s a force in each of us driving us to seek, among other things, self-actualization.2 Self-actualization refers to the drive to fulfill your potential, and it’s a force helping us push through challenges and setbacks along the way – to transform and change no matter the risk.3 Each of us has a unique set of talents and abilities waiting to come out and play. It’s up to each of us to heed the call… or not. Most of us don’t dare to ‘let the dogs out,’ either because we are afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, or maybe just afraid of the neighbors. So, we just do what we are told, or do what we think others expect us to do – safe, but not very fun or stimulating. What can we learn from these three successful ‘moonshooters’ on our way to our own liberating personal moonshot?
Conviction is the Booster Rocket
Let me start from the last C-principle and work to the first. Conviction. Elon was convinced that he could fly to the moon on a shoestring, or at least cheaper than NASA. He wasn’t out to make a billion dollars. No. He was out to change how we all get from A to B. RBG was convinced that treating people unequally was a lousy idea. She wasn’t out to be appointed to the Supreme Court. No. She was out to right a history of wrongs and ended up changing the way laws were interpreted forevermore. And Greta is convinced we must treat nature the same way we treat relationships, household economies, and bank accounts – put in and take out in equal measure for it to be sustainable She isn’t out to win a fancy prize to collect dust in some cabinet. No. She saw nature on a path to ruin and screamed out, and she is still screaming!
What are you convinced needs changing? It doesn’t need to be on a global scale; it can be in your own private life. Convictions are like love – biggies and minis are just as valuable. And just like love, the real thing is not self-serving, but in the service of others for a greater good. There is no political point being made here. My point is that change requires conviction. If you have a conviction to make a positive change in your life to benefit others, then let that be your own personal moonshot project moving forward.
My personal moonshot will be to stop using guilt to try to change others. How many times a day do I slip into the tendency of saying, ‘You should have…’ ‘You shouldn’t have…’ Working as a clinical psychologist with patients with serious addictions, traumas, thought disorders, eating disorders, developmental delays, emotional and relational issues, I know that that approach won’t change anything. In fact, it will only make things worse by making the person feel miserable about themselves, snuffing out any last vestige of self-worth. Why do I find myself using this nasty approach with my kids? To my youngest: Why don’t you ever make your bed in the morning? To my teenager: Why can’t you eat breakfast without leaving the kitchen a war zone? To my college student: Why don’t you spend more time studying for your exams? These kinds of statements don’t change any behaviors – they just hurt. It’s a sneaky mind-game trick to try to get my way. I’m convinced that bringing up things in this way and making persons feel bad about themselves is wrong and counterproductive. I’ve got to change this behavior in me. Instead, how about scaffolding in the form of positive encouragement and reinforcement like we learn in psych school?
I’ve got a strong conviction about something I feel needs to change in my life, now what?
Conceptualization is the Roadmap
Once you’ve found a change-conviction meaningful to you, your family, your community, or even humankind (remember, whatever the scale, it is all equally precious), what do you do about it? Well, you have to conceptualize it – that is, put a name on it and make it concrete. It has to be simple, straight-forward and make sense. It can’t be a silly wish to earn a billion bucks on stocks or winning a prestigious prize. These are things out of our control. We need to focus on real stuff within our control, such as our own thinking, our own actions, our own relationships. It’s our inner abilities and talents that are yearning to self-actualize and grow, not our egos. If you don’t like writing things down on paper to help you better organize your thoughts, then at least envision a road map in your mind that allows you to see how your positive change-conviction can be put in practice in the real world. The more concrete and specific, the better!
For my part, I’m convinced that I need to be more conscious about the words and phrases I use to communicate to people in my life, so I stop playing the guilt-card. That includes my kids, my partner, my patients, and even the neighbors who let their dog out on my front lawn to do their business every morning. I need to wipe a bunch of messy slates clean and focus on letting good feelings motivate words and phrases, not guilt. We all need to feel good about ourselves – even the most despicable criminal must find the good qualities in himself or herself to make a change for the better. It’s the same for all of us. I think guilt is taking up too much space in most of our minds – space that could be used for better things. In my experience, the people feeling guilty/sorry are not the ones who should be feeling ‘guilty’ anyway!
Compassion Grants Flexibility
Now you have a conviction that you’ve conceptualized, putting it into concrete terms on paper or in your head, and you have an idea how to put it into everyday practice. What’s next? Well, you need to recruit a solid dose of compassion from deep within you to help you on your journey. Compassion involves the sensitivity to be aware of your surroundings and get a feel of how the surroundings are reacting to you practicing your conviction. This is critical in order to get important feedback on your behavior. But beware: operating only with compassion will likely stop you in your tracks the first time someone says ‘boo.’ You need to protect your compassion with a certain degree of detachment or distance. By this I mean, be sensitive, caring and empathetic, but don’t let those feelings wash in over you and take over. The key to ‘detached compassion’ is self-confidence. When I have patients in therapy who threaten to take their own lives, I feel with them and to the best of my ability try to help them in their struggle; but I do not let their feelings take control over me and my thinking. I need to be self-confident enough to keep appropriate distance from their self-destructive thoughts. They are already on a slippery slope; they don’t need me to join them there. When they are terrified, I need to have the strength to be their rock with both my feet solidly planted on the ground.
Perhaps it seems unusual to bring up boxing when we’re talking about the subject of ‘compassion’, but Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer of my generation, had a saying, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ That was his strategy to be flexible in pursuit of his conviction. He would bob and duck when his opponent was trying to knock him off balance, and at the same time he took advantage of every opening to counter with a firm counterpunch (conviction). He was amazing and usually the last man standing!
Elon has had to be open to find the right technology for his projects; RBG had to listen to opposing arguments to know what she was up against; and Greta has had to work with diverse groups willing to help her spread her climate message. The need to be flexible in pursuit of their conviction never stopped any of these ceiling-breakers, and flexibility has been a key strength in their successes. Their compassion, conviction and self-worth were shielded by a protective moat of detached engagement. In other words, listen, understand, reflect, and float like Ali, but stay loyal to your conviction and don’t cede any ‘knock-out punches’ to anyone.
Curiosity and Mastery
You may ask, what is the spark that gets this force of conviction rolling? The answer is simple: curiosity. All it takes to open up the inner vault of talents and abilities inside you is a tiny spark of curiosity. A tiny ‘What if?’ can lead to growth and movement becoming a first step, then another, then another. Each step pushing you further – reinforced by a feeling of mastery after each successful step. Remember to expect gale force winds trying to knock you off course but get right back up with the staying power of your conviction and the self-confidence you’ve earned from earlier successes.
Sadly, some people fill that note of natural-born curiosity with drugs, alcohol, gambling, and even hatred (such as trolling). These ills totally hijack our natural brain processes designed to drive us forward by our curiosity, and each of these devious pursuits have their own twisted reinforcement logic. If you find yourself on an alternative or destructive path, please reach out for help – the earlier the better.
My personal moonshot moving forward will be to bring less feelings of guilt and more feelings of positive reinforcement into my small universe. It may sound trivial, but I think it can make a world of difference in the mental health and happiness of the people around me. If I can achieve that, I have achieved all the satisfaction that I need to bring a smile to my face. Inner satisfaction is an order of magnitude more rewarding than any external payoff could ever deliver. It’s enough to make my masked and socially distanced little home and workplace high in the mountains in Norway a safe and healthy arena for the people who need my support and protection. Moonshot in progress!
How can you apply the 4 C’s to design your next big goal? What are you curious about changing? What will it look like to change this? Design a concrete roadmap. Reflect on what will build your self-confidence to use “detached compassion” and remain flexible to stay on your path. How can you deepen your conviction? Visualize it… go for it. See you on the moon!
1. Bell, C. C. (2001). Cultivating resiliency in youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 29(5), 375-381.
2. Richardson, G. E. (2002). The metatheory of resilience and resiliency. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(3): 307-321.
3. Lifton, R. J. (1994). The protean self: Human resilience in age of fragmentation. Basic Books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Hovik works as a clinical neuropsychologist at a mental health hospital in Norway specializing in treating young adults with early symptoms of psychosis and getting them back to school, work or everyday living. He is associate professor of psychology at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (Lillehammer), and editor-in-chief of a peer reviewed journal. He has authored and co-authored more than 16 peer-reviewed academic articles and book chapters on mental difficulties and is co-author of When Crisis Strikes – 5 Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress.
The dictionary defines “content” as being in a state of peaceful happiness. The AIS magazine is called Contentment because we want all of our guests and members to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each them. Stress is unavoidable, and comes in many shapes and sizes that makes being in a state of peaceful happiness seem like a very lofty goal. But happiness is easy to find once you are able to find ways to manage your stress and keep a healthy perspective when going though difficult times in life. You will always have stress, but stress does not always have you!
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