On March 24, Sue Bethanis hosted Dr. Derek Roger, founder of the Stress Research Unit at the University of York and director of the Training Consultancy Work Skills Center. His groundbreaking research at the University of York in England has made him one of the world’s leading experts on resilience and stress management. Derek is a British Psychological Society chartered psychologist and is a fellow of the international Stress Management Association. He’s authored more than 100 articles in the scientific press and is the co-author of this month’s leadership resource Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.
Favorite Quote: “Resilience is the ability to negotiate the rapids of life without becoming stressed.”
According to Roger, “People say – oh a bit of stress is good for you. No, it’s not. No stress is ever good for you. What is very useful is pressure. And we make this distinction because it’s really important. Pressure is just a demand to perform. That’s all. Pressure will only become stress if you go on ruminating about it. That’s what rumination is. That’s when pressure is turned into stress.” We are not genetically programmed to ruminate. It’s a habit we have developed and cultivated over time. According to Roger, there is a four step process to overcoming stress.
Waking Up – We have a choice to not ruminate. Rumination is primarily a habit and it can be changed. It’s nurture, not nature. It’s not hardwired and you can change it. Roger says, “When the rumination bubbles up in the mind there is a point at which you can choose either to go on entertaining those what if only thoughts or not. And it is a choice that you make. Now the difficulty with that is that you do have to be awake to be able to make that choice.”
Roger believes that one of the problems with mindfulness is that people are using it as a means to an end. People want to be mindful so they can be happy.
As far as rumination is concerned you don’t need it in your life at all and it very plainly is a choice. Once you’ve “woken up” you can let go of the negative emotion and come back into the present.
Controlling Attention – Roger believes that when you ruminate, your attention gets caught in an unproductive loop, like a hamster on a wheel. You need to redirect yourself to areas in which you can take useful action. An exercise that Roger uses with his executives is to draw a circle on a page, and write down all of the things you can control or influence inside it and all of things you cannot outside if it. Remind yourself that you can care about externalities — your work, your team, your family — without worrying about them.
Becoming Detached – Ruminators tend to catastrophize, but resilient leaders keep things in perspective for themselves and their teams. According to Roger, there are three techniques to try:
- Contrasting: Comparing a past stress to the current one, i.e., a major illness versus a missed sale
- Questioning: Asking yourself “How much will this matter in three years’ time?” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I survive it?”
- Reframing: Looking at your challenge from a new angle: “What’s an opportunity in this situation I haven’t yet seen?” or even “What’s funny about this situation?”
Letting Go – The final step is often the hardest. If it was easy to let it go, we would have done it already. Roger has three techniques that help:
- The first is acceptance. Acknowledge that whether you like the situation or not, it is the way it is.
- The second is learning the lesson. Your brain will review events until it feels you’ve gained something from them, so ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?”
- The third is action. Sometimes the real solution is not to relax, but to do something about your situation. Ask yourself, “What action is required here?
Biological Responses to Pressure – Worrying is the same as rumination. You can use them interchangeably. Worrying interferes with our ability to processing information. There is an arousal process involving adrenaline and cortisol that is perfectly natural. These hormones are facilitating your awakening. According to Roger, if you’re just sitting and dozing and suddenly there’s a noise behind you and you feel that slight shift in your body – that’s because of adrenaline. The adrenaline level has increased and that’s not a problem. It alerts you. it’s a readiness process. The problem is when it’s sustained.
There is a clear difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Much of the negative effects come from what’s called chronic stress. According to Roger, acute stress isn’t stressing at all, it is just pressure.
On Resilience – The thing about resilient people is that they don’t catastrophize. They don’t ruminate and they are able to keep a detached perspective. And what that means when they don’t catastrophize so they don’t catastrophize about what’s round the corner.
What we found most interesting:
Our lives are about demand because there is always something that needs to be done. That’s the simplest way to think about it. The pressure is constant but that isn’t a problem. Pressure is just a demand to perform. The difference is when you make the choice to hold onto the “negative stuff” and ruminate about it.
To learn more about Derek Roger, listen to the WiseTalk recording.