April 3, 2011
Today was a long travel day. I ended up wearing my uniform on the plane to save packing so I could continue with my streak of only using carry on luggage. I was treated to a VIP stroll through security and a First Class seat on one of my flights. It is really nice to see and feel the kind treatment of society towards military personnel.
I arrived at the hotel in Philly just in time to attend the opening briefing and orientation. The MC of the orientation did a typical military brief by powerpoint that was boring and had me considering returning to the airport. Fortunately, the civilian directing the clinical team at UPENN brought some life, energy, and robust promises that this will be training well worth my time. So, I stayed, had dinner, and returned to my room for a little Yoga, reading, and meditation before I hit the sack.
April 4, 2011
What an amazing day! It began with a wonderful presentation from the guru of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman. I have followed Dr. Seligman's work for years and own five of his books. I actually bought a sixth, Flourish... it was just released today. Dr. Seligman discussed PTG (Post Traumatic Growth), which isn't addressed nearly enough in military settings. He stated that we need to begin to train our soldiers to anticipate growth following difficulty not fear of breaking. He made a very, very strong case for the development of resilience research and study over a 30 year time frame and shared a host of statistics regarding the validity of positive psychology and the UPENN studies on learned helplessness... totally fascinating stuff! He also shared statistics regarding physical health, success in the sports world, educational studies, more than 21 worldwide studies supporting the notion that resilience can be taught and individuals can develop the skills and abilities to become healthy.
Dr. Seligman also discussed the importance of optimism as a way of thinking. My favorite line of the morning... "Misery loves company but company does not love misery!"
Next, Dr. Karen Reivich from UPENN took the lead to discuss, define, and detail resilience. One big thing that jumps out to me is the focus on interpersonal relationships. Too often we assume resiliency is all about the individual, Dr. Reivich shared how resilience is also about relationships and learning help seeking behaviors. She went on to list the key characteristics of resilience: self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strength of character, and connection. We then began to examine each one of these characteristics and ways that we can enhance and improve strengths in each area. Dr. Reivich also detailed the work of Albert Ellis and many aspects of RET and CBT. The emphasis was to teach that a process ATC... activating event... thoughts... consequences (emotions & reactions). I have to put more time processing this notion that thoughts always dictate emotions and reactions as cause and effect. I tend to believe that both thoughts impact emotions and emotions can jog thoughts. My favorite line from Dr. Reivich... "Catastrophic thinking blocks a focus on 'what is' due to an obsession on 'what if'." Great stuff.
April 5, 2011
The morning started off by completing "hunting the good stuff" discussion and exercise. Dr. Reivich suggested that taking time on a daily basis to record and reflect on positive events and accompanying feelings builds positive emotion, optimism, and gratitude. She discussed how such a simple daily exercise can assist individuals in counteracting the negativity bias and in good Ivy League UPENN form, she shared research conducted demonstrating the positive impact of this exercise with regard to sleep, health, and happiness.
We then returned back to the focus on RET. I admit to having a bit of a learning block... resistance to this segment. I did find the six common thinking traps; (1) jumping to conclusions, (2) mind reading, (3) me, me, me, (4) them, them, them, (5) always, always, always, and (6) everything, everything, everything, to be highly applicable and practical. Self analysis of our thinking patterns and awareness of flawed thinking can absolutely provide opportunities for positive growth. My struggle continues to focus on the wholistic view I have of people. The complete focus on thinking (mind) as above and beyond the other phases of humanity (body, heart, soul) is troublesome to me. I believe that the approach has merit, but that it can minimize experiential realities and other dimensions of humanity. Sometimes our experiences or our emotions drive the train. Sometimes triggers can be emotional, spiritual, or physical. The MRT process needs to include some type of discussion on validating emotions and shift from the language of positive and negative emotions.
Following a few exercises and fairly spirited discussions, we moved on to the concept of iceberg beliefs. These are defined as core values and deeply held beliefs that are below the surface... we run into them accidentally when dealing with the surface issues. I couldn't help but reflect on a host of therapeutic applications in dealing with the "real issues", but chose to stay focused on the course. UPENN knows how to mix up teaching and training... we did videos, large group events, lecture, small group events, small group discussions, individual activities, etc. Great mix of teaching and instructional styles to keep things moving and keep everyone engaged.
In addition to another fascinating day of Ivy League education, I managed to hook up with an old friend and get tickets for the Phillies game Wed night. It was 80 degrees yesterday and 40 today. Soooooooo, I chose to attack some Walden U homework, work emails and phone calls, and a little bit of time on Facebook. A workout, yoga, and meditation wrapped up my second full day of training.
April 6, 2011
We had a very interesting discussions about icebergs, which are our deeply held beliefs and core beliefs. These deep beliefs often impact our thoughts and can contribute to thinking traps. Taking time to detect these icebergs helps individuals to build self-awareness, reinforce those we wish to maintain, and alter those we deem to be counterproductive or unhealthy. Dr. Reivich pointed out that great leaders know what things push their buttons and stay in control under these tough circumstances. She pointed out that the clearest indicator associated with detecting icebergs is when we have an emotional reaction that is completely out of proportion with the current situation or even the current thought. I can think of a few times in my own life when my emotions were way out of whack in relationship to the situation, and I can also reflect on the lessons I learned when I took time to consider and dig deep to find out what really caused the avalanche. The most fascinating reality of the morning came when we discussed how even productive iceberg beliefs can become unproductive or lead to thinking traps. For example, a person truly believes that he or she is strong. Let's say that a team that he or she is on fails. Since this person deeply believes that they are strong and should succeed, they might fall victim to the thinking trap that blames everyone else for failure. Obviously, this would be unproductive and unrealistic. The UPenn crew pushes health and productivity. If the iceberg is helping us, we re-affirm its value. If it is hurting us, we need to dissect and determine if it requires modification. This is easier said than done, because as stated initially, iceberg beliefs are DEEPLY held beliefs and CORE values regardless if we identify them or not.
After class, I attended a Philadelphia Phillies game with an old friend. It was a nice night, great opportunity to catch up, and the Phillies even won!
April 7, 2011
First off, I proactively decided to re-engage my practice of CaoDai this week. Meditation is key, but there is also a regular schedule of purifying the body, basically fasting. So today was nothing but water day... but after all the fattening food, I was actually happy for the shift. My day started off with some meditation and a little yoga, then off to class. Interestingly enough, today's training began with a block on energy management. The focus of this training is to build self-regulation, lower the intensity of emotions, enable clarity in thinking, and enhance performance. This stuff is right up my alley. In addition to CaoDai, I am a certified Transformation Meditation instructor and I practice daily. I also love 24 hour fitness group classes with my family, which really works for all of us. I loved this training because it made me feel good about the way I want to live. Dr. Reivich also provided some training and exercises with quick mental games when the practices requiring more time or energy are not possible. She provided some fascinating studies related to the US Olympic Swimming team that UPenn studied and videos associated with positive imagery.
The afternoon focused on problem solving theory and practice. Once again, the notion of thought impacting everything else was a focal point, however there was a clear focus on the development of mental agility. Problem solving is an attempt to include any critical information available to assist in understanding the problem and focusing on solution strategies. A HUGE focus during this segment of the training was to help the soldier begin to understand what he or she can actually control and place their efforts in this arena rather than stress, worry, and failure pouring energy into things that are totally outside of our control. Dr. Reivich also presented new research into what the team calls a Confirmation Bias, or the tendency for many to seek out evidence that supports our thinking while ignoring evidence to the contrary. She showed how common this bias is especially in the pessimistic thought process. She also provided some simple tools that we could apply (developing fair questions, consultation with others, etc) in order to fight against this bias. We then worked through the six step problem solving model provided by UPenn: (1) What's the problem (who, what, where, when), (2) What caused the problem, (3) What did you miss, (4) What's the evidence, (5) What really caused the problem, and (6) What can you do about it. I am going to take the neat little working handout and redo it for my own family. It is a healthy process that proactively assists us in working through our faulty thinking, more accurately identifying the problem, and thus developing strategies that we can actually influence that address real issues. Great stuff. Following class, I had a great workout... I did the bike, weights, treadmill, abs, etc. I was a madman in the gym. Surprising for my water day!
April 8, 2011
This was crazy day! We began the day focusing on putting things in perspective, eliminating catastrophic thinking, reducing anxiety, and identifying worst, best, and most likely scenarios. The exercises and material was great. And then it hit... no federal budget. We were told that training was going to cease and that we were going to be sent home. We had to apply the real-time resilience skills we were learning (positive self-talk) as we tried to remain focused on the training while changing flights and making other arrangements. I ended up checking out of the hotel and heading to the airport at lunch only to receive a call while sitting at my gate that the Army was going to exempt the training and I could return. After wasting $60 on cab fair, I decided to focus on the positive and re-engage the training as we working through identifying character strengths in ourselves and others. We took two online assessments before we attended the training and worked through these assessments and discussed our signature strengths and how they could contribute to positive problem solving. Great stuff in the midst of the madness. We dismissed a little early, I had another great workout, nice dinner, and hit the sack early.
April 9-10, 2011
Happy Anniversary to Mandy! Yep, today is our anniversary! I woke up, left a text message, sent an e-card, left a voice message, an email, and a FB post to the love of my life. Luckily, we celebrated in style early (before my trip), but I still miss my lovely bride this day!
Class started early so we could dismiss at noon and have a partial weekend. We began re-training the material we learned the first week and it was a great exercise. Thinking about how to teach the material we are learning is a great way to make the material our own. The rest of my weekend included a Flyer's game and some cheese steaks with family in the area.
April 11, 2011
Our day began with a fresh focus on the confirmation bias and then a great deal of practical exercises surrounding real-time resilience, which I believe can be easily defined as positive self talk. This skill is an internal skill that is best used when dealing with a task at hand or in a critical moment where optimal performance is required and desired. Too many of us struggle with negative and self-destructive self talk that dampens our outlook, drains our energy, and reduces our performance. For example, a student gets ready to begin a big test and fights the thought... "I am stupid". Obviously, this self-talk is negative and will not lead to enhanced performance, but may rather contribute to a self-fulfilling prophesy. Real time resilience attempts to counter such negative thinking by challenging and overriding the negative thoughts.
There are three strategies to real-time resilience... (1) Evidence. This approach challenges the negative thinking by raising objective facts and contradictory evidence. For example, "I am stupid" can be challenged with, "that's not true because I am good student with a 3.2 GPA and I passed the last test in this class with a score of 93%". Any evidence we present to the court in our mind must be true or it won't pass what UPenn describes as the "gut test". In other words, we have to believe the positive self talk for it to make a difference. (2) Optimism. This approach attempts to place a positive spin on the negative thoughts. Our struggling student might continue his or her negative down spin with a second statement, "I am going to fail this class". Optimism would suggest, "I may not be as prepared as I would like, but I have read everything, I have payed attention in class, and I have a solid B+. Even if I struggle with this test, I will still pass the class with a good grade". For optimism to work, we cannot ignore truth (he or she was not as prepared as they desired), but we can focus on the positive realities in the situation. (3) Perspective. This is a bit deeper than finding optimism, it is evaluating the "so what" in the situation and placing things in realistic perspective. Failing the test might be a possibility, but it will not signal the end of the world. Using perspective not only addresses the current reality, but suggests an assessment of the bigger picture. These skills must be practiced and they only work in the moment. However, when we become proficient at redirecting negative self talk, we can increase optimism, strengthen a positive outlook, create positive energy, excitement, and hope, and thus enhance our performance. And yes, UPenn had plenty of studies and research to validate these claims.
After class today, I squeezed in a great workout, took a loooooooong shower, had a nice dinner, worked on some reading and writing, made a few calls, and spent awhile in meditation. My reflections on this training so far are very positive. I see lots of potential applications for the Army, but I also see applications in my own command, my own family, and even my own life. Optimism spreads... it's positive contamination!!!
April 12, 2011
The UPenn portion of training ended today. We spent our morning focusing on Assertive Communication. While I found most of the information already existed in my beat up brain, the approach was fresh and enjoyable. Assertive communication is defined as interaction that is clear, respectful, and used most during conflict. The IDEAL acronym highlights the key components.
I - Identify and understand the problem. The first phase of this type of communication is an internal process where the individual attempts to define what he or she believes the problem to be.
D - Describe the problem objectively. This is the first phase of actual discussion/interaction and the focus is simply to lay out the facts... who, what, when, where... NOT why.
E - Express your concerns and how you feel. The skill to be developed is learning to share "I" language with a focus on sharing our own feelings, thoughts, concerns, etc.
A - Ask the other person for his/her perspective and ask for a reasonable change. This phase focuses on creating clarity and initiating positive action steps to deal with the problem.
L - List the outcomes, both positive and negative.
Dr. Reivich pointed out key issues regarding the model such as remember it is a model and NOT a script. Individuals should use their own language, be genuine, flexible, and avoid aggressive or passive communication. She also spent time working through the ACR model (Active Constructive Responding). Again, this four quadrant model is not new to me but the presentation and the exercises engaged me. I found myself reflecting on patterns of negative communication I have with a few people in my life and considering ways in which I could avoid this in the future.
UPenn handed the ball to Comprehensive Soldier Fitness who will pick up the training in the AM. I took time to reflect and meditate following class. I relaxed a bit after a rough night of sleep last night. Enjoyed a short workout, light dinner, shower, a little music, some dancing elephants, and then hit the sack following the use of a guided meditation on deep relaxation and sleep.
April 13, 2011
UPenn to Army training day 2. Kind of like going from Ivy League training to the local high school. Hmmmm. Anyway, the training focused on deployment oriented application of the Resilience training modules and the programmatic implementation. I am trying hard to "hunt the good stuff", but I really walked away with nothing and there definitely isn't anything worth posting on my BLOG. We have a bunch of paperwork and admin stuff to do tomorrow, so this will be my final journal entry. With the exception of today, this was great stuff... challenging both personally and professionally. I picked up a few goodies for home and began packing my stuff to get ready for my return trip. I even packed a few TastyKakes in my bag!