From as early as I can remember, a boy named Craig Waterman lived next door to me in a basement apartment with his mother and sister, Michelle. Craig was 9 years older than me, and was friendly and kind. I admired him like a big brother. The Vietnam War raged, and when I was 11, Craig was drafted. A few months later he was killed in action. For me, the war came home in Craig’s place.
This led me to some fairly unhealthy pre-adolescent pondering about what his experience might have been in the firefight in which he died. In my professional life this same fixation settled into a deep interest in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what emerged as the most significant facet of my interest is what multiple studies have confirmed are the personality factors that protected the 25% of combat veterans who did not develop PTSD. These highly stress-resistant individuals are characterized by 3 traits:
• a highly sociable personality
• an active, task-oriented coping style (as opposed to an avoidant coping style)
• an internal locus of control
Highly Sociable: They make unpretentious connections with others; their self-concept is significantly forged by their perception of their role in their social group; they are not necessarily the “life of the party” but they do value and seek social interaction. Others like and trust them. They are likely to collaborate with others in problem-solving tasks.
Active Coping Style: This is a patterned response to anxiety. An active coping style focuses on solving the problem that causes the anxiety. An avoidant coping style focuses on escaping, diminishing or masking the anxiety caused by the problem, often with drugs or alcohol, or distraction through addictive behaviors, obsessively fixating on hobbies, etc.
Internal Locus of Control: “Locus of Control” refers to what a person believes is responsible for the circumstances of his/her life. As borne out by the PTSD studies, highly stress resistant individuals believe that they, ultimately, have the power to choose their attitudes, responses and behaviors in any given set of circumstances. This is called an “Internal Locus of Control.” Conversely, those with an “External Locus of Control” believe that their life circumstances are determined by things outside of their control: genetics, parenting, socioeconomic status of their family, fate, chance, other powerful people’s decisions, government, etc.
Actually, pretty fascinating stuff. Especially in light of what I discovered next…
I recently performed a search on Amazon.com using the words “success” and “self-help.” It returned around 118,000 titles. It seems there are literally thousands of authors who believe they have the final, answers to what it takes to succeed, to heal, to recover, to be great, to get rich, to be happy, to be safe, ad infinitum. But after a time of analyzing the content of hundreds of books in this genre, an unmistakable pattern emerged. The entire self-help/success literature industry can be summed up in just 3 topics:
1. Books that focus on success, healing and leadership through forming and managing the right relationships, cultivating connections for success, etc. (Highly Sociable Personality)
2. Books that focus on self-management and motivation; identifying the skills that need to be developed for success and happiness, etc. (Active Coping Style)
3. Books that focus on mental self-empowerment, believing to achieve, etc. (Internal Locus of Control)
The traits that enable us to survive tremendous stress with psyche unshattered…are exactly the same. As the traits that enable us to thrive and succeed and be satisfied in matters of money, markets and life-fulfillment and leadership.
Can these traits be nurtured and developed? I think the very existence of the self-help literature industry testifies to the fact that self-improvement is possible. But I don’t believe that it is as easy as reading a book and mimicking behaviors. If new behaviors are not accompanied by fundamental changes in our self-concept, few things are really going to change. But with persistent work, courage, self-awareness and counsel over time we can experience the self-improvement that the self-help industry promises and have the life we’ve always wanted.
About Gary Sheely
By Gary Sheely, Oklahoma Keynote Speaker – Gary Sheely is represented by the Oklahoma Speakers Bureau (a division of Crown Speakers Bureau) contact at: www.SpeakersInOklahoma.com or by phone at: 1.877.882.5368. Gary Sheely is available for speaking engagements worldwide.