Andrew Bernstein’s Blog

Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Change

by Andrew Bernstein, April 1, 2016




In order to make change happen successfully, you need three levers:

• a Process that produces change;
• a Delivery Method to get this Process into people's lives;
• a Hook that entices people to try your Process and stick with it.

The stronger each lever, the more you optimize change.

I learned as a teenager how uncomfortable life can be when these levers are weak. Thirty years later, most change Processes still seem toothless, continuing to focus on behaviors as the target; most Delivery Methods are ancient, requiring travel or large outlays of time and money; and most Hooks are dull in a world with ever more marketing noise. The consequences are obvious in our personal lives, where stress and conflict are the norm, and in our organizations, where morale and performance are suppressed.

Everyone today talks about disruption, but the thing that needs disrupting the most — how we handle life itself — is still pretty much where it's been for centuries.

The Resilience Academy offers a new Process, a new Delivery Method, and a new Hook. How could this be, especially since I'm not a psychologist? But that's exactly why this is worth doing. I'm not approaching this the way a clinician, an academic, or a leadership consultancy would, because those approaches have been tried. They each have strengths, but they also have weaknesses. Just look at the picture above, which sums it up perfectly (everything you need to know about life can be learned from Star Trek).

There's Kirk, the typical leadership consultant, jumping up to attack the problem before he even knows what's going on. There's Spock, the brilliant but disconnected academic. There's Bones the clinician, standing in the back, risk-averse. But now look at Scotty. He's sizing up the situation. He's engaged. You can see him running simulations in his head, trying to figure sh*t out.

The Resilience Academy approaches resilience and change the way an engineer would, always trying to make things simpler, targeting points of friction in life with laser precision.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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New Website Going Up Today

by Andrew Bernstein, March 15, 2016

We're putting up a new site this week. There are a few broken links and elements that need some TLC, but we're working on it. I'm excited about the simplified and improved experience. Thanks for your patience as we continue making this the best site for developing greater resilience online. Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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On Stress, Cavemen, and Ancestral Health

by Andrew Bernstein, November 10, 2015

I had the real pleasure of joining health and nutrition rock star Robb Wolf on his Paleo Solution podcast this week. If you don't know his work, Robb is the NY Times bestselling author of The Paleo Solution, and one of the leading voices in the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral movement helping people make smarter dietary and lifestyle choices.

Early in the podcast (available on iTunes, but also here), Robb asked me to comment on the discordance story that is popular in the Ancestral Health community as the source of stress.

In case you don't know, the discordance story argues that the reason we experience so much stress today is because of a mismatch between our biology and our environment. Specifically, our bodies evolved the stress response to handle occasional challenges like large predators, but now we are triggered constantly by many more challenges — job demands, work-life balance, financial concerns, etc. So it's the discordance between our bodies' evolutionary past and our current faster-paced reality that results in so much stress. As the world has changed, we've become victims of our own biology.

This is why leaders in the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral Health movement recommend stress management. (Here are just two examples from Chris Kresser and Mark Sisson.) You can't change your biology or your environment, so you have to learn to manage the discordance between past and present to the best of your ability.

But is this really what's going on? This idea is rooted in the work of Hans Selye, who taught the world that stress is a physical process stemming from a failure of adaptation. It's because of Selye that we all see stress as a mismatch between past and present — between tigers and technology — with our bodies caught in the middle.

But Selye's understanding of Stress (as I've argued here on this blog and elsewhere) was flawed. The rats he experimented on weren't stressed out because of external challenges. They were stressed out because of their thoughts about those challenges. When the rats were kept comfortable by a more...

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Second Things Second

by Andrew Bernstein, October 13, 2015

Everybody knows the expression "first things first." It's the efficiency mantra preached by millions of list-makers and goal-setters. Stephen Covey, the high priest of behavioral change, emphasized it so strongly that he elevated it from #3 in his famous book of 7 habits to a standalone book.

Putting first things first is a helpful corrective whenever we try to do too much all at once (which, for some of us, is all the time). But there's another problem that doesn't get much airtime: Once we've put first things first, we often fail to keep second things second.

You want to make money and achieve professional success? Great. Put first things first. But what about your family, your health, your ability to cultivate meaningful relationships and share life experiences with those around you? Swept up in the momentum of your own success-building, has your life become all about a single goal? Are you putting first things not only first, but also second, third, and fourth?

There's nothing wrong with being intensely focused on goals. We live relatively long lives as a species, and most of us have 14 waking hours free everyday. We may as well use them to earn income and contribute to the society we share. Putting first things first isn't mutually exclusive with living well-rounded lives.

But as the gravitational pull of professional accomplishments gets stronger, you may need to fight progressively harder to keep second things a close second: Protect family time on your calendar, schedule a regular date night with your spouse, keep technology away from the dinner table and learn to ask real questions.

And if this isn't something you're good at, invest in it. There are two times in particular when you might focus even harder on putting second things second as opposed to third or fourth: When things aren't going well at work, and when they are. Both are when first things tend to bleed over and take control of our lives.

The first things are what you spend most of your time on, and it reward you intellectually as well as financially. For...

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Spending vs Investing, or Why Parenting Teenagers is Good for You

by Andrew Bernstein, August 24, 2015

Bob is trying hard not to have a fight with his teenage daughter, Riley, for staying out past curfew without calling.

But in spite of his best efforts, he starts an argument that escalates to include a half-dozen unresolved grievances on both sides. After Riley has been sent to her room, Bob cools his head with a cocktail before explaining that he loves her but needs her to be more accountable as a matter of both principle and safety.

He returns to the living room exhausted and ready for another drink. Parenting is hard!

Scenes like this take place in countless homes, not just with teenagers, but with spouses, in-laws, coworkers. How much energy do we spend on frictional moments like this? What if instead of spending this energy, Bob invested it?

Let's say he wrote out an ActivInsight worksheet on Riley: "She should be more responsible." He then takes 15 minutes to challenge his own thinking, and comes to see that what had seemed like a rock-solid and well-intentioned belief is actually a lie. In reality, Riley should not be more responsible than she is at this time. Why not?

• Because she currently lacks the life experience to see her behaviors in a broader context.
• Because she's relatively unaware of whatever risk her parents are imagining.
• Because the immediate rush of spending time with her friends makes her brain unable to step back and reflect soberly on her choices.
• Because she sees herself as responsible in several meaningful (and legitimate) ways, and in her mind these average out occasional transgressions.
• Because she doesn't see the point in saying no. It would cost her social currency. Even if she gained parental approval, this has less value to her now (and the value is declining with every argument).
• Because she hasn't cultivated a sense of intrinsic rewards in making what sometimes feel like sacrifices.
• Because her parents haven't safely and compassionately helped her learn how to navigate hard choices.
• Because setting rules and punishing her for breaking those rules makes Riley feel bad, which encourages her to act more irresponsibly, and a vicious cycle begins.

Post-worksheet, Bob sees Riley...

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Sudden Death

by Andrew Bernstein, July 29, 2015

Sometimes I think I'd rather be an expert in chocolate than in sudden death, but I didn't get much of a choice. After six people close to me died suddenly, I couldn't help noticing that the guidance I received on grief was lacking. I've been thinking about this lately because my wife's childhood friend, Will, died suddenly last month, and Sheryl Sandberg's post on her husband from earlier this year has continued to echo in my mind.

I didn't know Dave Goldberg, yet I still found his death shocking. One day you're part of a Silicon Valley power couple holding what seems to be a hand full of aces, and the next you're dealt a wild card that destroys you. I don't know of any game invented by humans that incorporates randomness and destruction like this. I doubt anyone would play it.

And yet, in a very real way, we all play this game every day. Thankfully (or regrettably), when you've seen enough of these wild cards appear, certain aspects of the game get clearer. Reading Sheryl Sandberg's post on her husband got me thinking that maybe sharing my perspective could have value for other people struggling with grief.

But first, a word about timing: Challenging your thoughts around death is not something I would do when the loss is fresh. When my own loved ones died, I didn't want to rethink the nature of grief. I wanted to scream and cry and give the finger to the universe with both hands. Eventually, though, my arms got tired, and that's when deeper reflection had value. If and when that time comes for you, here are a few things you might keep in mind.

• Forget the Five Stages

Everyone who loses someone is told about the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Initially I found the idea of these stages comforting — someone has mapped the terrain ahead! —  but over time something seemed off. Consider that even in the final stage of Acceptance, experts say things such as, "We will never like this reality or make it okay." Really? Never? Is that the best we can do?

I also noticed that the stages didn't quite materialize as prescribed. My own stages looked more like...

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The Wolfpack

by Andrew Bernstein, July 29, 2015

The seven teenage children of the Angulo family have spent their lives locked in an apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Their father, Oscar, believed that the world would poison them, and only rarely let his wife and kids see the outside world. In this documentary, we watch as the kids entertain themselves with extended reenactments of their favorite films, and we see their world crack open when one of the brothers finally decides to break the rules.

Underlying Beliefs
Oscar: "My children will be better off if they have no interaction with the world." "We are victims of the circumstances of life."
Kids: "We can't challenge his authority." "Our father shouldn't have restrained us." "He should apologize." "There are some things you can't live with." 

Insight in Action
When Mukunda challenges his belief that his father's rules can't be broken, things start to change. The boys begin exploring the outside world, looking for jobs, moving out, and wrestling with their identities and the residual meaning of their prior confinement. Their larger beliefs about their father remain unchallenged, at least at the film's end.

Oscar's claim that struggles in life reveal a shared victimhood of circumstance prevents him from taking accountability and apologizing, at least as far as we can tell.

The film feels unsatisfying because there are larger blind spots revealed, and larger insights that haven't been experienced. Oscar's wife, Susanne, makes a comment that she had more rules to observe than the kids, but we never hear what they were. And their daughter, Visnu, doesn't say a word. One can't help wonder what her experiences have been, and if there's any hope that she and her siblings will be able to fully process the beliefs and emotions produced by their longstanding isolation.


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Inside Out

by Andrew Bernstein, July 29, 2015

When 11-year-old Riley has to move with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco, her emotions are thrown into turmoil. Inside Riley's head, Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and their unwanted colleague Sadness struggle to balance Riley's internal world so she can thrive in the external one.

Underlying Beliefs
Joy: "Riley needs to be happy." "Sadness has no positive purpose."
Sadness: "Riley is better off without me."
Anger: "Riley should run away to Minnesota to make more happy memories."
Bing Bong: "I need Riley to remember me."
Riley: "I shouldn't tell my parents that I feel sad."

Insight in Action
As in any great film (and almost all Pixar films), there are multiple characters who experience profound insights. The primary insight is Joy's, as she realizes that Sadness has a purpose after all, and a very important one. It's sadness that allows Riley to be vulnerable, inviting support from those around her and forging deeper bonds.

Joy's insight is put into action internally when Joy encourages Sadness to play take the helm at the control console, and is put into action externally in Riley's breakdown and confession to her parents.

Sadness has her own insight as she learns to accept her role in shaping Riley's character. And Anger has an insight when he challenges his belief that Riley should run away.

One of Inside Out's most poignant insights in action comes from Bing Bong. Afraid of being forgotten, Bing Bong had been trying to get Riley to think of him as often as she used to. As he realizes that the only way to get joy (and Joy) back to Riley's life is to challenge his own needs, Bing Bong jumps off the song-powered wagon and sacrifices himself for Riley's wellbeing.

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by Andrew Bernstein, June 22, 2015

Susan Cooper is an uber-competent but deskbound CIA operative secretly in love with her field partner, superspy Bradley Fine. When Fine dies during a mission involving a suitcase nuclear bomb, Susan goes into the field to seek revenge, only to find herself continually underestimated and prejudged by both allies and enemies.

Underlying Beliefs
Susan Cooper: "I would do anything for Fine." "I'm not good enough to succeed." "It's not brave to make a wave."
Bradley Fine/Elaine Crocker/Rick Ford/Rayna Boyanov: "Susan doesn't have what it takes to be a field agent."
Rick Ford: "I am the world's best agent."

Insight in Action [Spoiler alert]
In most action movies, the "bad guy" experiences no insight. SPY is different in that the "bad girl" Rayna Boyanov eventually comes to appreciate Susan's strength and competence. On the other hand, the film adds two supporting characters who never change their points of view — one (Rick Ford) remains hopelessly critical of Susan and delusionally sure of himself, and the other (Aldo) is steadfastly enamored with Susan. Their lack of change serves as a comedic backdrop against which Susan's own transformation is made easier to see.

Susan realizes two things over the course of the film — first, she learns that she has what it takes to succeed as a world-class field agent, proving this to herself and her peers. And secondly, the resulting shift in mindset helps Susan challenge the belief that she lives only for Fine's approval and appreciation. Her decision at the film's end to pass on dinner with Fine in favor of time with a girlfriend is a reflection of this newfound clarity.

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Why Stressors Don't Exist

by Andrew Bernstein, May 14, 2015

At every speaking event I do, if possible, I hand out evaluation forms. And almost every time, someone will write that they are excited to have learned a new way to deal with stressors. I'm excited that they are excited, but I think it's important to clarify something.

If I were teaching people a new way to deal with stressors, we would still be locked into the old thinking that stress is produced from the outside-in. But it isn't. Stress is produced from the inside-out, through a specific kind of thinking. Here's a quick way to verify that:

Take the original 'stressor' beloved by stress writers — the saber-toothed tiger. Imagine that you're walking across the savannah 10,000 years ago, and you think you see a tiger. Suddenly your bloodstream is flooded with adrenaline. The classic fight-or-flight response! See, stress is caused by stressors like these, right? But wait -- it turns out it's not a tiger. It's just your friend Grok wearing his tiger-skin coat and punking you.

Later, however, an actual tiger sneaks up behind you. At the last minute, the tiger veers off to stalk Grok instead, but you were oblivious. And you experienced no stress.

In the first scenario, there was no tiger, but there was real stress. In the second, there was a real tiger, but there was no stress. How is that possible? The classic stressor model fails to answer this. This happens because stress doesn't come from things. It comes from your thoughts about things. When there's no thought, there is no stress — and when there is a thought, there can be lots of stress even when nothing external seems to justify it.

Things happen, and we experience stress — or we don't — depending on our beliefs. As long as we continue to use the word 'stressor', we fail to fully absorb this. And we also fail to learn a different way to think about challenges so we can deal with them more effectively.

There are no stressors. Nothing has the inherent power to produce an emotional reaction in you or in anyone else. There are physical forces (heat, cold, poisons, etc.) that can produce physiological reactions,...

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