Thinking Out Loud – Ep: 17 – The Power of Resilience

Welcome to “Thinking Out Loud” with Dr. Joe Currier!  Here, we’ll be regularly sharing Dr. Joe’s latest groundbreaking insights.

When Dr. Joe battled cancer, he spoke about how “mindset is a key strategic force” to fight the physical and emotional distress.

How have you managed during difficult times?  When circumstances get tough, how do you continue to choose the right thing?

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Episode Transcript:

Andrew J. Mason:
This is Thinking Out Loud with Dr. Joe Currier, Episode 17, The Power of Resilience.

Andrew J. Mason:
Welcome to Thinking Out Loud with Dr. Joe Currier. My name’s Andrew J. Mason, and this is the show where we hit the pause button on life, head to the locker room for some life-changing halftime inspiration, and then zoom back in, and grab the tactics direct from Dr. Joe’s playbook to pull it all together when we’re on the field.

Andrew J. Mason:
Today, we’re talking all about resilience. From personal experience, Dr. Joe has battled cancer three separate times in his life, and he’s spoken about how mindset is a strategic force to fight physical and emotional distress. Especially in the light of the last year and a half, so many people are realizing how important resilience is. How do you continue to have that right mindset that says, “Let’s choose that next right thing?”

Dr. Joe Currier:
Well, thank you, Andrew, and first, let me just take a step backwards. I got out my little Funk and [Wagnall 00:01:11] Dictionary, and I looked up the word resilience. It says, “It’s the capacity to recover from difficulties, toughness. It’s the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events.” So, to me, resilience has two primary paths: you can survive or prosper.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Now there’s three words, and I sometimes throw those three words out to folks, and I say, “Which is the most important?” I want to propose to you that of the three words, survive or prosper, the most significant in relation to wellness in the face of challenge is the word or because it refers to our choices. We face choices. We don’t often see it when we’re facing distress. You can go this way, or you can go that way. One of the cautions that I have personally, and I’ve seen also as I’m in a therapeutic chair as a psychologist or coach, and that is your mind is typically part of the problem when you’re facing danger because it’s historically wired to survive, not prosper.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Most have heard of the fight-or-flight reaction. That works when you’re a cave dweller and, all of a sudden, a lion comes into the cave, and you stay at your ground to fight or flee. But you know, it doesn’t work in modern day when we say, “You know, this damn traffic is killing me,” day after day after day or, in my case and in others, when you’re ambushed by a medical diagnosis of cancer or things like heart disease. So as a psychologist, and as well as a guy on his way on his own journey, I’ve asked, “What can I do to prepare for the fight of my life?”

Dr. Joe Currier:
I’ve learned that along the way from people that I’ve counseled or I probably should say have actually taught me, they’ve been my teacher, and I’ve also built my own strategies, and I’ve also looked at the research, especially in the field of positive psychology. There’s a gentleman named Csikszentmihalyi who said, “Yes, you can fight, or you can flee, or you can flow.” And it kind of seems we flow kind of cool, but it’s critical to see the difference.

Andrew J. Mason:
So I picture that listener that says, “Okay, fight, flee or flow. That’s cute. Practically, have you, Dr. Joe, ever had an example where you saw that in action?”

Dr. Joe Currier:
One of them that comes to mind, and it’s very recent, an incredible young man who was truly in the fight for his life. But he is in his mid-20s, he has a seven-month-old child, he’s in a happy marriage, he’s on a great career path and, bam, he’s told that his headaches won’t be cured by extra-strength Tylenol. They said he’s got a brain tumor of the size of an egg. It was mid-May. He came to see me, and he was scheduled to go through some first prep laboratory medical care before a major surgery in June. My heart was broken when he looked at me and he says, “Doc, how do I prepare for the surgery?”

Dr. Joe Currier:
I said to him, “You don’t have to prepare for the surgery. The doctors and the nurses do, and they will.” He looked at me like I’m kind of smoking dope or even worse. So I asked him three questions. I wasn’t trying to be cute here, and I’d like you to just focus on this for a second. “What do I do to prepare for this?” So I asked him, I says, “Can you dance, can you laugh, and can you love?” I asked him, “Are you in any real pain right now?” I’d ask myself that question, too, when I was going through my own cancer journey. And if the answer was no, or if the medications could help kind of temper the pain a bit, the question is, “What can you do today, and why don’t you dance and laugh and love?”

Dr. Joe Currier:
The reason is we waste precious times. He’s living his life in May, and I know he’s got a critical event coming, but it’s not until June. In one of my major cancers they said to me, and I’ll never forget it was mid-November, and they said, “Joe, we can’t do the surgery till February 27th.” I remember the date. My daughter was with me, and she said, “Dad, are you okay?” I said, “You know, I’m facing what we’ve talked to so many folks about and that is that word or. I can sit here and worry now and really make an art form out of it, get myself crazy, or I can get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving.” Then I looked at it because I love humor, I sat there. “Well, by the way, I could also lose Christmas. You know, Santa is coming this year and he’s finally bringing me my pony,” and we laughed.

Dr. Joe Currier:
We get stuck sometimes on the past or we get stuck thinking about the future events. I don’t have any control over them. The one thing that I can control is the now moment and, therefore, in the face of chaos, conflict. Timeframe errors, I believe, are part of the choices that we need to rethink. We shouldn’t be leaning into times going forward, and whenever we get stuck in the past, we’re in trouble.

Dr. Joe Currier:
So what I started to do with this young man is I truly asked him. I said, “Again, you’ve got some choices to make between now and then. You say you have this beautiful little baby. You have to spend real quality time. The only time that you have is now. The constructive life choices are in the moment.” And oh, by the way, research is real clear when you dance, when you laugh and when you love, you’re not only blessed by the time you have in that moment, but you’re producing an army of fighters. Your white blood cell count goes nuts when you’re secreting the positives versus, “Hey, by the way, you got cancer,” and, all of a sudden, the white blood cells just dropped down out of this thing called depression.

Andrew J. Mason:
You know, I can’t help, but think of Mark Twain, I think it was, that said something along the lines of “80% of the things that I worry about actually never happened.” So you’re saying this isn’t pie in the sky, unicorns and rainbows. This is strategically, tactically, an army of white blood cells comes to your aid when you have that mindset in the right position. So, scientifically, this really is one of your best strategies.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Absolutely. You know, I not only watched the impact of these things over the years, “Love, Medicine and Miracles,” great book by Bernie Siegel. He asked many years ago, he’s an oncologist up at Yale University, and he said, “What the heck is wrong with these people? I’m an expert. Somebody asked me when I tell them they have cancer, ‘How long do I have?’ You know, some of them don’t listen to me?” I’m being tongue-in-cheek here. He asked a serious question. When a person statistically would have six months to a year to live, how come some of these people live three years, five years, seven years and beyond? It’s because of the love and good medicine and the miracles of spirituality. So the one thing that we can control is never stop dancing, continuing to love and to laugh.

Dr. Joe Currier:
By the way, I’ve learned on my own journey and I have two, don’t laugh, you ready? I have two love doctors. I have two love doctors. My dear wife of 55 years we’ve been married, and my dear friend and partner who passed away two years ago, Dr. Les Frankfurt. Les and I had been together for 50 years. Carolyn would surprise me from time to time.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Prior to one of my major surgeries, I was able to do some work and I was going to be traveling a little bit, couldn’t do very much. But on one of the breaks, I get an email, and there’s an attachment. And my love doctor says, my wife says, “Here is your dose of cute for the day.” All it was simply was a picture of this beautiful little baby laying next to a pug puppy, and the puppy was kind of nuzzling, and you could see the smile and the giggle on this baby’s face. Every time, Andrew, I looked at that picture during the day I felt this warmth. I felt this joy. I stopped thinking about the big C. I started to listen to the other C, this dose of cute.

Dr. Joe Currier:
One example. One of the other ones, if I may, is Dr. Les Frankfurt. He’s my hero. He’s one of the great men that I’ve had to be blessed in my journey, passed away, as I mentioned, at the age of about 86. Les was a survivor of Auschwitz, the absolute horrors because he was an identical twin in these God-awful experiments and just awful.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Les had said to me, “Joe, I’m a little boy who was about 12 years old,” and he said, in the morning he was in this rickety old piece of crap where they kept the children while they were doing the studies. He said, “I would get up early in the morning and I would see one of the cracks in one of the walls and I could peek out and I’d look for the sun.” He said, “Those days where I could see there was sun out there,” he said, “I literally would stand.” He said he would raise his arms, and he would say to himself in his mind, “I stand tall, I stand whole, I stand well, and I stand free.”

Andrew J. Mason:
Gosh, it makes me think of Tony Robbins, who used to talk about most people have amazing lives, but then they allow themselves to get upset when the order of their Super Taco takes too long when they’re at the Jack in the Box in the drive-through, like that’s their bad day. It’s so interesting why the wiring is sometimes negative by default and then very special circumstances, positive. Here is a man who had that flipped, very negative circumstances, and yet is proactively saying, “Where can I find the good in this situation? Where’s that sliver of light?” It’s so inspiring.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Andrew, think about the windows that you and I can look out. I think of when I was recovering my bladder surgery, when they removed my bladder and they put this bag in there, it was a tough fight for me. My body wouldn’t wake up. But the one thing that came to my mind was when Dr. Les would say, “I stand tall, whole, well and free,” and I would get myself out to the window in my home and I would stand up and I would do exactly what Les did. And I would talk to him too, by the way. The minute I could feel that sun coming in, I could feel some healing begin. So, again, the windows I look out of, if he could look out of a crack in a wall and he became this beautiful, peaceful, loving man, I said, “Man, if he can do that, I can do that.”

Dr. Joe Currier:
So when it comes to resilience, it’s best served by three choices in my mind. You mentioned it first, mindset. The next is timeframe. Stay in the moment. This is the one I own. This is the moment I can laugh, I can dance, I can love. Then the last one is going forward to constructive actions, making sure that you and I do something that will get us closer to the path of true resilience, not resilience of just fight-flight. There’s times when you have to do that, hold your ground, but when you can flow and much of that is simply done with breathing.

Dr. Joe Currier:
I often say to myself during the day I go like this, Andrew, I go receive and I breathe in and I bring in all the peace and love. I look around myself and say, “Oh my God,” and I receive, pause for a moment, and then I say “release” and I breathe out and I let go of the tension. I let go of the pain. I let go of this thing, whatever this cancer SOB is doing to me, I try to breathe it out. Again, those three things from my mindset, timeframe and then looking at something constructive to, me, those are the now opportunities. These are now.

Dr. Joe Currier:
And I don’t get stuck in the past. I’m not getting distracted by what’s going to happen on February 27th. I’m going to close my eyes and my docs are going to do the work that day. And finally again to constructive action. Why not dance? Why not laugh? And heck, why not love?

Andrew J. Mason:
Why not, indeed? You know, a lot of people out there struggle with procrastination, I sometimes do myself, and it’s like, if you’re going to procrastinate, why not just procrastinate in the wrong direction? Why not put that worrying off until later? You know, there’s no reason to step on the plant before it has a chance to grow. I can think back to so many opportunities where I’ve said, “Nah, that’s not going to work,” or “I don’t believe in this,” or there’s just so many spaces where I’m might have killed the plant before it had a chance to take root. And what do we have to lose by just waiting and seeing?

Dr. Joe Currier:
Andrew, also on your journey, don’t forget, I hope that you’re surrounding yourself with people who are keeping an eye like, again, my two love doctors. They were always there for me, making sure once in a while that you get some support. Often we don’t use that very powerful word help. Can you help me? Do you have a second? Most people would be blessed by saying, “Absolutely,” but we sometimes think, “Well, I’m burdening them, I don’t want to bother them. Or it’s a sign of weakness.”

Dr. Joe Currier:
I think you bless people. You don’t bother them. It’s a different B. Instead of bother, you bless them when you say, “You got a minute?” If you don’t know how to do some of these things, look, if I threw you in the water for the first time, most people don’t exactly swim like an Olympic star, ask some people, keep an eye open. Most of us know already naturally how to laugh and love and the dance part, we’ll see.

Andrew J. Mason:
Dr. Joe, I love this conversation. Thank you so much for spending your time with us. And if folks are interested in finding out more about your work or what you do, or maybe even how you can help them out, where can they go to connect with you a little bit more?

Dr. Joe Currier:
Well, you know, we have LinkedIn, we also have curriergroup.com and, again, I’m always anxious to talk with anyone who needs some type of conversation, just like people have reached out to me. But those are two ways that people can connect in. Again, there’s a lot of folks out there also, I think, who have this gift of whatever it is that we need in the moment. And I think when we keep our eyes open or we actually ask, I think they’ll show up.

Andrew J. Mason:
That is perfect. Thank you, Dr. Joe.

Dr. Joe Currier:
Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew J. Mason:
And thank all of you for listening as well. We’d so appreciate your feedback. Remember to subscribe to us on iTunes and until next time, this was Thinking Out Loud with Dr. Joe Currier, leadership transformation, growth acceleration.