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Succeeding When You're Supposed to Fail: The…

Succeeding When You're Supposed to Fail: The 6 Enduring Principles of High…

by Rom Brafman

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"The inspiring anecdotes are a good read. The principles may or may not surprise. The action items seem like kind of an afterthought (other books would be better for that), but overall it is an engaging book. ( )
  sprite | May 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307887685, Hardcover)

Q&A with Author Ron Brafman

Q: For decades, psychology focused on pathology--what's wrong with us--rather than successful outcomes. What led you to focus on the qualities that lead to success?

A: There's this wide-held belief--which stems from within the field of psychology--that difficult life events impact us for the worse. That is, take someone who's endured a tough childhood, faced unexpected crises, or had serious difficulties at school or work, and you'll see that these events have taken their toll on that person. And sure enough, that's the case most of the time. Experiencing hardships makes us more likely to develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. But when psychologists looked more closely at individuals who have faced adversity, they found that roughly a third of them came out unscathed. Not only that, they went on to lead successful lives despite their ordeals. If anything, the challenges they faced seemed to make them that much stronger.

At first this unexpected phenomenon caught the field of psychology by surprise. But repeated studies have shown that certain individuals seem to be psychologically immune to hardships. That caught my attention. Take two individuals who grew up in the same neighborhood and experienced the same type of hardships. One of them succumbs to their difficulties, while the other one goes on to thrive. What accounts for these differences? If we take a closer look at people who overcame adversity, what common psychological qualities do they share? Is there a way we can capture these attributes and infuse them into our own lives? That's what I wanted to get at.

Q: You describe these people who succeed despite adversity as "tunnelers." Why?

A: The term originates from the field of quantum mechanics. Physicists have found that subatomic particles sometimes defy classical "Newtonian" laws to tunnel through barriers that they are not "supposed" to be able to overcome. There are many theories out there but nobody knows exactly why this happens. I thought this was a great way to conceptualize what happens psychologically. You have individuals who are "supposed" to be in a certain psychological state given their life events, but somehow they are able to tunnel through the barriers they have experienced. They find a way to overcome the classical psychological laws (i.e., adversity always impacts people negatively) and overcome their apparent fate.

What's important to note is that tunnelers are not these superhuman, Type A personality characters who bulldoze over anything they encounter. The opposite is true. They are usually mild-mannered, easygoing individuals who do not even realize that they are doing something extraordinary. Whenever I come across them in my work as a psychologist, I am always fascinated by them. As a rule, they virtually never recognize themselves as being anything out of the ordinary. When I delineate to them their unlikely achievements--How were you able to overcome having alcoholic parents or living in a chaotic family?--they look at me, puzzled. "Uh, I never thought about it this way. I was just living my life the best way I knew how." I found that being a tunneler is not about being indifferent to what life has thrown your way, though. It's about being agile enough to not allow life's challenges to overwhelm you and bring you down.

Q: What can we learn from tunnelers?

A: There's a lot we can learn from them. For one thing, we all have the capacity to succeed no matter what life throws at us. It's just that most of us don't know what to do when a crisis hits us. It's not that tunnelers possess some magical, unique abilities that are foreign to the rest of us. Their secret is that they're able to rely on certain abilities that most of us take for granted. Instead of focusing on the wrongs done to them, they ask themselves what they can do to affect change in their lives. Instead of allowing their environment to dictate the way they feel, they adopt a calm and collected attitude that stems from within. At the same time, they stay focused and on target to achieve their goals. We all know how to behave like tunnelers, it's just that most of us do not do so in times of hardship. We get sucked into the tornado of emotions, get mad at the world around us, lose sight of what's meaningful to us, and isolate ourselves from our "satellite" figures. We allow adversity to overrun us instead of learning to tunnel through it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:16 -0400)

Psychologists long assumed that people who face adversity--a difficult childhood, career turbulence, sudden bouts of bad luck--will succumb to their circumstances. Yet over and over, they find a significant percentage are able to overcome their life circumstances and achieve spectacular success. How is it that individuals who are not "supposed" to succeed manage to overcome the odds? Are there certain traits that such people have in common? Can the rest of us learn from their success and apply it to our own lives? Here, in a narrative that interweaves stories from education, the military, and business, and a wide range of new research, psychologist Rom Brafman identifies the six hidden drivers behind unlikely success. By understanding and incorporating these strategies in our own lives, Brafman argues, we can all be better prepared to overcome the inevitable obstacles we face.--From publisher description.… (more)

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