Life’s Got You Down?  Staying Strong and Resilient in the Midst of Disappointment

November 21, 2016

Life can be challenging at times, as scientists in training you know this all too well.  When daily life doesn’t go as planned it can lead to lack of motivation, frustration, and sadness. Stress and strain can be draining, leaving you with less than 100% of yourself to put into your work, relationships, and pleasurable activities.  How do you make it through?  Resilience—it can help you manage the tough times allowing you to persist and persevere in whatever the challenge may be.

Resilience refers to our ability to bounce back, learn from our mistakes and come out of the challenge stronger.  Years ago, in graduate school, myself and my fellow trainees experienced a very challenging work situation.  It was physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, so much so that several staff members left, including a fellow trainee, opting not to complete her degree. We had to find ways to persevere in spite of the challenges we faced.  Although it was extremely difficult and far too tempting to give up and quit, we quickly identified aspects of the training experience that felt supportive, focusing on relationships and people who offered support and encouragement. We re-examined our priorities, and began to shift our thinking so that we could see an end to the experience and the rewards to follow. Perhaps some of your academic work or personal life situations feel similar.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist and researcher of positive psychology, has spent years researching resilience, hope and optimism.  He and his research team have identified characteristics that help to build resilience. When things get tough, consider these strategies:

Acceptance – Accept that setbacks and disappointments are a part of life.  As much as we wish things would always go our way they simply don’t.  Dealing with small everyday setbacks helps us development the resilience to handle larger challenges in life.

Stay Connected – Connect with others who are supportive and will encourage you. Spending time alone when you are feeling down can lead to isolation, loneliness, sadness, and pessimism.  Find others in the lab, in your families, or among your friends who affirm you and acknowledge your strengths.

Keep Perspective –  Keeping things in perspective helps us see things as they are.  Having perspective allows us to see the broader picture which can offer us a more realistic view of the experiences we face in the moment.

Opportunity – Consider the setback or challenge as an opportunity for new learning.  Seligman’s research suggests that individuals who bounce back more quickly often see their failures as opportunities as opposed to those who struggle from the same experiences.

Optimism – An optimistic attitude allows us to view disappointments as temporary, isolated experiences that are brought on by external factors.  Individuals who are optimistic appreciate their experiences, value their relationships, and are encouraged by the future.

So the next time you find yourself faced with a significant setback, resist the temptation to give up.  Engage in the above strategies and look for the positive things around you.  If you are intentional about looking for them you will find them.

Other resources from the OITE on resilience:

  1. Join our Mindfulness Meditation group on Thursdays: https://www.training.nih.gov/mindfulness_meditation_group
  1. Need help now?? Check out resources for NIH intramural trainees: https://www.training.nih.gov/get_help_now
  1. Watch out for our next Tune In and Take Care workshop held each semester
  1. Check out our YouTube video: Resilience in the Job Searchresilienceresilience
  1. Related blog posts:
    1. Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond
    2. Job Stress, Resilience and Support
    3. Is Grit the Key to Success?

 

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Personality Type and Burnout

November 14, 2016

Image of file folder and pens in a briefcaseHave you ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? If so, you know that this is an assessment with the aim of measuring your personality preferences along four different dichotomous dimensions. The MBTI helps people answer the following questions:   Where do you focus your attention and/or get your energy?; How do you prefer to take in information?; How do you make decisions?; and finally, How do you organize the world around you?

Myers and Briggs believed that in order to have a more satisfied life, people needed to better understand themselves which could then help them choose an occupation which better suited their personality.

The Myers Briggs will not tell you specific career paths you should choose; however, you can utilize your results to consider the pros and cons of different employment sectors/occupations/work environments and how much they match with your personal preferences.

What if your personal preferences clash with your work environment though? It is very common to see an employee who is dissatisfied and on the road to burn out because their job doesn’t match their personal preferences. How does this look along the different dimensions of the MBTI?

Extroversion vs Introversion – Where do you get your energy?

A strong extrovert who is in a lab all day by themselves will become restless and bored. Extroverts tend to need outside stimuli to help maintain their enthusiasm. They enjoy being out in the world and interacting with others, so if deprived of that, their energy will begin to wane.

Conversely, introverts can get easily overwhelmed by too much external stimuli. They prefer positions where they can work alone and have quiet, reflective time. A position in sales or customer service could create stress for an introvert and more easily result in an individual feeling bunt out.

Sensing vs Intuition – How do you take in information?

Sensor like facts, details, and tend to feel most comfortable in structured work environments. Whereas, intuitives are generally open to multiple variables and they tend to respond negatively to rigid work environments and/or repetitive processes.

Intuitives tend to feel a sense of accomplishment in the creative process, but sensors like to point to firm achievements such as solved problems or finished projects. If they don’t see that, it would lead to burn out for a sensor.

Thinking vs Feeling – How do you prefer decisions to be made?

Thinkers want to see a logical approach to decision making and they crave results that make clear sense based on facts. Feelers, on the other hand, are more likely to see the emotional and sociological sides of decisions.  Feelers tend to be better at understanding the need to compromise based on office politics or diplomacy which would frustrate a thinker.

Burnout can ensue if you are in a position where you have to make decisions that are at odds with your personal preference. For example, a feeler as a bank loan officer might have a hard time removing their emotions from their job.

Additionally, thinkers and feelers could both get frustrated if the office is managed and their boss’ decisions are made in ways they don’t understand or relate to.

Judging vs Perceiving – How do you organize your world?

Judgers like things ordered and routine whereas perceivers like things spontaneous and flexible.  You can probably easily tell who is a judger and who is a perceiver in a staff/lab meetings. A judger would want an agenda and clear follow up action items while a perceiver might view the same meeting as a place to chat and brainstorm without any structure.

A disorganized work environment can be a major stressor for judgers, who like to know what is expected of them and their performance. Perceivers might feel too constrained by these limits and would prefer the autonomy and ability to innovate.  Perceivers often like jobs that are unpredictable like event planning or emergency services or even working at a new start up where they can invent the process.

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No matter your MBIT type, the key is recognizing your fit with your job. Given how much time one spends at work, it is important to consider your personal preferences in relation to the work environment. Hopefully, thoughtful consideration of yourself in relation to your work will ensure it is a good match and you won’t be prone to burn out within your role.  If you find yourself still struggling, check out our blog post on ways to prevent burn out.


Squash those ANTs

November 7, 2016

Even the most optimistic person is not immune to negative thoughts, but for some, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are a regular part of life and the chatter of self-doubt and worry can be constant.

During times of high stress, like a job search, ANTs can become even more pronounced. Often job seekers will face a barrage of worries and doubts like: Am I making the right decision? Maybe I should wait until I finish X experiment and get Y publication? Should I leave the bench? I like what I’m doing… why do I have to change? I hate what I am doing…will I really like anything else?

Career planning and job searching is all about transitions and transitions are always difficult. Perhaps we have to let go of an idea we once held for ourselves; or we have to find a way to manage the uncertainty of a job search; or we have to deal with the discomfort of examining our strengths and weaknesses while others do the same.

Stress can create a time fraught with challenges and thinking errors. Some of the most common thinking errors that can occur include:

Overgeneralization
Taking one isolated situation and using it to make wide generalizations. For the job seeker, this could look like, “Well, I didn’t get that one job. Nobody wants to hire me. I’m never going to get a job.” All or nothing language like “always” or “never” is another form of overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Mental Filter
This occurs when somebody focuses almost exclusively on one specific, usually negative or upsetting, aspect of a situation while ignoring the rest. For the job seeker, this could look like, “I answered that one interview question so terribly!” Even if the rest of the interview went well, the person will ruminate about their perceived mistake.

Fortune Telling
This is often also called jumping to conclusions or mind reading and it happens when you assume you know what is going to happen.  Perhaps in an interview, you imagine what the hiring manager is thinking. “They are probably thinking my answer was really stupid.” Then you anticipate how the situation will unfold and assume you will never get the job.

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There are many thinking errors that can occur and Dr. Amen has devoted his research to this topic. Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist, director of the Amen Clinics, the author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”.  He notes that our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative and to scan for threats, but you can also learn how to stop your automatic negative thoughts and focus on the positive.

According to Dr. Amen, there are three steps to kill thos ANTs:

1. Write them down and clearly identify them.

2. Ask: are these true?

3. If you discover these thoughts aren’t true, talk back to them !

Labeling, investigating and talking back to your ANTs takes practice but it time can help you to minimize these cognitive intrusions. Watch Dr. Amen’s video here: