Here are some excerpts:
In my role as a professor at the Brandeis International Business School, I teach a course each fall about acting outside your comfort zone. Each student in the class chooses a behavior outside their comfort zone to work on. For some, it’s public speaking; for others, it’s networking, making small talk with strangers, or being assertive. Students have to go to actual networking events or give speeches in front of real audiences. After the fact, they compile a diary about their experiences, and we discuss and debrief as a class.
As you can imagine, it’s a pretty terrifying experience for most of them. One of my students, an Indian MBA learning to make small talk with strangers, described it like this: “The nervousness, anxiety, thumping heartbeats, and panic attacks I got before the event were similar to if someone asked me to walk on a tightrope.”
But here’s the thing: What I’ve learned from teaching this course year after year is that people are far more resilient than they imagine. Like many of us, my students systematically underestimate their resilience in challenging situations.
From my observations, I’ve discovered that we systematically underestimate our resilience in four ways:
*We’re more flexible than we give ourselves credit for.
Throughout your life, you’ve been trained to adapt and adjust your behavior across contexts. Think about the wide range of people in your social circle who you already interact with. Do you speak with your boss the same way you do with your colleagues? Do your interactions with your in-laws take the same form as those with your friends from university? My guess is that the answer is no. In fact, I find that simply reminding people of this fact can boost their confidence going into an unfamiliar situation. You’ve adapted and adjusted your behavior before; you can do it again.
*We’re braver than we think.
Consider all the things you’ve already done in your life that took serious guts. For some of us, it was going off to college and living alone for the first time. For others, it was switching jobs or careers, or getting married. One of my MBA students from Israel, fearful of networking in the United States because of how awkward and superficial it felt, used his army experience as evidence of his capacity for bravery. Compared to leading a platoon of soldiers into battle under extreme conditions, he realized that networking just wasn’t that intimidating. Of course, not all of us have been in the armed forces, but we all have our own experiences that required some level of bravery, and we can draw on them when confronting the next situation outside our comfort zones.
*The situation we’re worried about probably isn’t as bad as we think. Fear gets in the way of clear thinking. We worry about the worst possible outcome, that we’ll humiliate ourselves onstage during a public speaking event, or that the person that we’re delivering negative feedback to will hate us forever. There’s always a slight chance that the worst will happen, but the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.
*We have more resources than we think.
When you face a really tough situation, you often feel vulnerable, perhaps even hopeless. But you’re not alone in the situation. You often have quite a number resources to use — mentors, colleagues, or friends to go to for guidance, or steps you can take when preparing. You can even make slight adjustments to the event itself to make it more manageable.
In situations outside our comfort zones, we can feel weak or powerless. But we can leverage the capabilities that we already have inside ourselves to march into unfamiliar situations with confidence. Don’t underestimate how flexible, brave, and capable you actually are. Give it a go, and chances are, you’ll probably end up surprising yourself.
The article is online at:
POPE: AWARD ADDRESS: HOW PSYCHOLOGY’S SHARP SWITCH TO GUILD ETHICS AFFECTS US–
*Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne* article free online at:
POPE & VASQUEZ: ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5thj EDITION) — John Wiley & Sons
21 Updated Chapters, 5 New Chapters, 2 Appendices on the Hoffman Report & APA’s Response
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“Who must do the hard things?
Those who can.
and who must do the impossible things?
Those who care.”
–Carolyn Payton, “Who Must Do the Hard Thing?” in American Psychologist, 1984