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THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK IS TO help you wake up to what you already, at some level, know to be true about yourself and about life. That is, you have within you the ability to meet life head on, take the good with the bad, and actively make any type of stress your friend and your teacher.
I hope you will come to the realization not only that stress is part of life, but that you have some inkling there is more to it. That you can use difficulty and adversity to get your life back on track, keep your life moving in a positive direction, or actually transform your life into something much more wonderful than you have imagined. I want you to see this realization as a gift and greet difficulty with natural boldness and intelligence. You can do it! You have it in you.
The strength of the human spirit is perhaps the most cherished topic of all writers. I am talking not only about fiction but about the work of historians, biographers, business writers, self-help authors, and documentarians. They have as much to say as movie-makers, poets, novelists, playwrights, and the creators of comic-book super heroes.
If you are a parent, you probably know this striving at a deep level. You want this same resilience in your children, and you get anxious if you think they don't also have it within them. If you are an entrepreneur or business leader, you also know that you have to keep up with the many changes and trials of an ever-changing economy. At some point you realize that, as Marshall Goldsmith, the executive coach, says, "what got you here won't get you there" and so you reinvent yourself.
So there is obviously an abundance of cultural material available in every society, throughout history, and in our families and businesses attesting to the fact that we can survive challenge and adversity, and we can actually grow from and shine because of them. Further, we also love stories that dramatically describe people and groups as they overcome obstacles and achieve even higher levels of functioning and consciousness.
So why then does everyone complain about stress? Has the world become more stressful of late? It would seem just the opposite. The further back in time we go, the harsher were the stressors our ancestors faced. Is it possible that we only believe we experience more stress today, again at some deep level, because we need to have challenge, something to test our mettle, prove our resilience, and make us stronger? This is certainly something to consider.
But there is also the fact that we now live in a more time-compressed world. On one hand, our rapidly emerging technologies make life less harsh for many while, on the other hand, these same technologies lead to a 24/7 barrage of information, with associated expectations, multi-tasking burdens, and potentials for conflict.
I would even venture to say that many of us have clamored for a front seat on the "stress bandwagon" or have gotten a wee bit drunk on the "stress Kool-Aid." We love our smartphone apps, various technical gadgets, the Internet, and other inventions that we adopt to lessen stress but that ultimately add to our strain.
This may be one of the greatest paradoxes of our modern world. Through the advances of science and technology we create external tools and aids that we believe will help us to save time and have more comfortable lives, but because of the ways we go about creating and using those tools, we actually experience less time and create sometimes highly demanding and compressed situations. We like to “do” so much with our stuff that we forget to just “be” with the simple pleasures. As John Lennon sang: “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
I believe that one solution to this paradox is to turn our attention away from “doing” things with these “external” tools and return to a state of “being” in which we cultivate or tap into those “internal” tools that give us greater strength, happiness, and integrity. And that is the purpose of this book. But this changing direction—from the exterior to the interior—is quite difficult for many reasons. Chief among them is that our society does not currently value such “being.”
You probably know what I mean if you use a computer, smartphone, or an electronic tablet for your occupation or if you spend any personal time surfing the Internet, downloading apps or music, or chatting on Facebook. But you may really experience what I mean if you feel compelled to stay current on these ever-evolving miracles of communication or if you suspect that you may be spending so much time with them that you neglect key parts of your life.
But these pressures (job-related or self-imposed) are just one reason why turning inward is difficult. There is another reason, and one that I think is a thousand times more important. It has to do with the fact that you have likely fallen asleep. One way of knowing whether you have fallen asleep is if you spend an inordinate amount of time in external activities: watching movies or reading stories about how others have been strong and resilient. That is right. The first sentence of this preface made it clear that the answer is inside you, not outside.
I want you to wake up to something and start using that precious and powerful inner resource to change your life. The cultural aides—movies, stories, games, videos, self-help guides—are helpful to the degree that they spur you on. But you also need the knowledge, the vision, and the tools to put that inspiration into effect. The question to ask yourself is not whether you are asleep but how do you awaken.
Just asking this question will be the first step. If you make the effort, you will be led to some self-knowledge. The principles in the first chapter of this book are intended to help you wake up to your own inner knowledge and to step off the “stress bandwagon” that everybody is on.
But you have to go past just self-awareness. You also have to start seeing. A new pair of glasses may help. Actually, a new set of lenses. These are provided in the second chapter of the book. And I am not making this stuff up. The research is showing us a new way of seeing the world that points clearly to this inner capacity to transform crippling stress into healthy resilience. Three cheers for science!
Now what I am about to say may lead some readers to question whether they should purchase this book or have regrets about doing so. First, I believe that if you really know—that is, you can deep down know that stress will always be your friend and teacher—then you may not even need the principles to guide you. Second, if you currently see all stressors as guiding your (stress-to-thriving) transformation, then you may not even need the lenses I share. The goal of both inner knowing and deep seeing is to abide in the place of strong being inside yourself.
This raw coping power is much more a state of being than it is a state of doing. The goal is being rather than doing, and the new lenses will hopefully be your corrective lenses to lessen the stress associated with always doing, doing, doing and enhance the health benefits associated with being.
Third, if you have knowledge and corrective lenses, then you don't really need the tools also provided in this book. As I said before, the “real” tools we need are already within us. We have just fallen asleep and have forgotten they are there. The best among all types of counselors—psychologists, wellness coaches, therapists—really help us get back in touch with our own inner resources anyway.
So, to repeat. You do not need this book if you are already awake. You know your own raw coping power, you have the vision to see how to use it, and you practice it regularly. By regularly, I mean every day.
But I am betting—and I did take the time to write this—that you might need at least a little help in one of these areas. I am betting that you could use a reminder or two, some tips, or just a good solid nudge. Maybe something to get your life back on a solid and even keel. Interestingly, it is the keel of a boat, or the origin of the phrase “even keel,” that will provide our first story in Raw Coping Power.
The keel of a boat is the center spine or structural beam around which the entire hull of the ship is built. It is often the very first thing that is built and laid into place to form the “cradle” of a ship. There is an important ceremony when shipbuilders lay the keel as it represents the real structural birth of the ship. Historians believe that much of the expansion of early civilization and of world exploration depended upon the creation of the keel in early ship building following the Egyptian empire. In other words, without the sturdiness and structure that a keel provided, other smaller boats such as canoes and rafts lacked the resilience to weather long voyages of exploration, commerce, and the expansion of a country's domain.
The phrase or idiom “even keel” is reported as meaning a “state of normality; when the ship's keel is perfectly horizontal and her fore and aft draught are the same" (from Merriam-Webster) or “in a state of balance; steady; steadily” (from Dictionary.com). In common usage, we use sentences such as this: “If Jane can keep on an even keel and not panic, she will be all right” or “Try to keep on an even keel and not get upset so easily.”
The truth is that, in real ship maneuvering and sailor jargon, a ship that floats on a perfectly even keel will be almost impossible to steer (for example, Aircraft Carriers). It is customary to be a bit...