David Richman: Hi, this is David Richman. I’m here today with my dear longtime friend and collaborator Dr. Robert Brooks. Dr. Brooks is a clinical psychologist and one of today’s leading speakers and authors on the themes of resilience, motivation, a positive work environment, and importantly, family relationship. He and I have written two books together which I am blessed because I really do think that Dr. Brooks is a true national treasure, chasing positivity and a charismatic advisor. He has also co-authored or authored 6 other books. So, he’s quite a prolific author, thinker and a motivator. Today we’re going to dial in to one particular topic which relates to these very difficult times that many of us find ourselves living to these days. That is the importance of nurturing resilience in yourself, so that you can become what Dr. Brooks and I called a stress-hardy advisor. Our goal for you today is for you to step away from this session with some truly actionable ideas. Before we dive in, just a little editorial note here. I go way, way back with Dr. Brooks and I always stumble when I try to say Dr. Brooks so he’s always been Bobby to me so he’s going to be Bobby today. So, Bobby, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Robert Brooks: Thank you for having me, David, and thank you for that lovely introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here and Bobby is fine. 

David Richman: Great. Let’s start by focusing on your perspectives on the two words of the day here, resilience and nurturing. 

Dr. Robert Brooks: I started actually becoming very interested in resilience years ago. To me, it means the ability to overcome adversity. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to face challenges in life. It doesn’t mean at times we’re not going to feel stress. However, it does mean we have a mindset and an outlook that we’re going to be able to cope with the challenges we face. I often say that resilient people see difficult situation as challenges to overcome rather than a stress to be overwhelmed by. I love the term nurturing. I love it more than, say, building resilience or reinforcing resilience because nurturing for me has a much warmer interpersonal feeling to it. As a matter of fact, if one looks at the dictionary, David, nurturing means to care for and encourage the development of another person or something. So, taking together nurturing and resilience implies that we’re going to help others develop resilience and I should note that in the process it helps ourselves to also become more resilient. So that’s why I love putting the two words together, nurturing resilience. 

David Richman: Great. So, when we think about the importance for our listeners here to be what we call a charismatic advisor, one whom their clients gather strengths from, does it mean or does it make sense that the advisor first focus in on his or her own resilience and nurturing his or her own resilience?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Definitely. Here’s the question that I’m often to ask on my workshops, “Can you help someone else become resilient if you’re feeling very stressed out yourself?” The quick answer is it’s very difficult because the basic part of being resilient has to do with becoming a very good problem solver. When you’re a good problem solver, you’re able to think more clearly about different options. Also, if you’re feeling stressed, it’s more difficult to be empathic, which is a major attribute of a charismatic advisor. It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of another person so you can see the world through their eyes when you’re overwhelmed by your own feelings of anxiety. Therefore, we better make sure we take care of ourselves and be as resilient as we can in order to help others. Now, as an advisor, if we’re going to engage clients in better problem-solving and be more open to looking at different options with them then we need to follow the same safety procedure as on a plane. We’ve all heard this: “Please place the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

David Richman: That is great. It’s great thinking. These days especially, it’s important I guess for us to really focus in on taking care of ourselves first. It feels like - you know, I’ve talked to so many advisors. So many of them share this feeling that with all the news of what’s going on in our country, in our world, it’s like we continually feel like we’re getting punched in the face these days. The question is, what can we do to better nurture our own resilience despite these continued punches?

Dr. Robert Brooks: You’re right. So much is going on, so many unprecedented stressful things and it’s interesting. Because of that, one of the things I really emphasize is to practice self-compassion. We have to be kind to ourselves and recognize things are so rapidly and unpredictably happening that even if we are engaged in all the activities that experts like myself suggest we should be doing, we’re still going to feel stress at times and not everything is going to work out as we would like. It doesn’t mean we can’t be resilient but sometimes we’re still going to wonder if there are anything we can do right. That’s why I started to discuss much more of this notion of self-compassion. It’s simply being kind to yourself, recognizing that not everything is going to work. It’s vital to feel that way. It means recognizing that you may have to think of different options if things don’t work and don’t blame yourself. Rather than immediately saying, that some people do, “See, I can’t even handle things,” be kind to yourself and consider saying this, change the wording you use, “We’re going through a difficult time but I’m going to try to figure out what else I can do to handle this difficult time more effectively.”

David Richman: That’s very good. Really hearing you say, Bobby, at a high level is start with taking a breath and maybe cut ourselves a little break here. Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Definitely. There’s just too many things going on that are unprecedented that we can’t prepare for everything. Look at the words we use as I just used, “It’s an unprecedented time. It’s an unpredictable time.” Because of this, David, it’s even more important to have certain principles that guide what we do. One of the main principles is to realize that not everything we attempt is going to work but that doesn’t mean we can’t find other strategies that will be effective. That’s what resilience is, being a good problem solver. 

David Richman: So, you’ve emphasized five specific principles or guideposts to help us become more resilient. So, let’s start with what you’ve called practicing personal control which I know you see as a basic feature of resilience. 

Dr. Robert Brooks: I do see it as one of the most key features of resilient people. Resilient people focus on what they have control over rather than spending a lot of time and energy over things they have little of any control over. If you have certain guidelines, it’s easier to stay the course. With each situation, you may have to modify how you meet these guidelines, but they at least will serve as a compass for what you do. 

People who don’t have personal control starts feeling hopeless and helpless, they start saying, “There’s nothing I can do.” To overcome this defeatist attitude, it’s essential that we develop a problem-solving attitude - you’ll notice I use problem-solving attitude a lot - by asking ourselves these questions, “What can I learn from these setbacks? What can I do in the future to be more successful?” That’s a basic principle of resilience is to identify what you have control over and to identify, recognize different strategies you can use to deal with the challenges you face. As I always emphasize, that one thing we have more control over than we may realize, and this is a very important point, is our attitude and responses to  things. Even when nothing else seems to be working, we still can make a choice about our attitude and response to the situation. 

David Richman: To play back what I heard here, focus on what you can control. It’s kind of something that you’ve probably all heard since we’re little kids from our parents. Understanding this concept is one thing, remembering our parents telling us is another, actually doing something with it is another story entirely, isn’t it?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Oh, yes. If people could just take it all in one time, most of my therapy would be like 15 minutes and that would be it, but it takes time to change. 

David Richman: What are some of the things that we can do to put us in a position where we don’t just hear the words “Control what you control”; instead, we can act upon that?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Let’s use the pandemic as an example because a lot of people feel we have no control over COVID-19 coming, but there are some things we can do. Part of the problem with the pandemic is, again, not having as much control over what is occurring. There are spikes in the pandemic and they’re different at times, unpredictable at times. However, even with all of the chaos, and it certainly feels chaotic at times, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that what we do have more control over than we may recognize - this is the point - again is our attitude and response to things. So, one can ask, “What can I control even in this very difficult situation?” So it allows you to identify even small actions, which are really not that small, you can take to help curve the spread of the virus, for example, by wearing a face mask and social distancing so at least you feel there are things I am able to do to help stop the spread of the virus.

David Richman: Okay, so let’s move on, Bobby, to the second guidepost for being resilient which I know I’ve heard you speak about this. It’s the idea of surrounding yourself with supportive relationships. You’ve noticed that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. To keep in touch with people and find support from them, tell us more about that.

Dr. Robert Brooks: Again, it’s one of these very important points. One of the main findings related to research on resilience which was based really on asking resilient people, many of whom had very difficult childhoods but were doing very well today, asking them, “What do you think has been most helpful to you in your childhood and adolescence, as difficult as it was, to lead a more successful life today?” They immediately recall, David, at least one person, hopefully many, but at least one who provided and continued to provide support and encouragement to them. Their response indicates that positive supportive relationships are an essential foundation for resilience during any time but especially during the pandemic. So, let’s consider even what this means for advisors, you and I discuss this. It’s very important for advisors to take the initiative and call clients to find out how they’re doing. The supportive relationship clients benefit from should include their relationship with you. For our listeners, it’s important to take note when you speak to a client that you’re providing at that point, whether you may realize or not, a foundation for both resilience and a very caring relationship. One brief phone call may help one of your clients to feel more cared about and more resilient especially during these difficult times. 

David Richman: It’s interesting. What’s also interesting to me I guess is it’s something that I’ve experienced with much of the coaching work that I’ve been doing with advisors, is this, I don’t know, kind of a symbiotic thing going on. When I think about the supportive relationships in my life, obviously I turn to my wife, to my family, to friends and teammates, yet increasingly I’m starting to realize that the depth of the conversations that I’m having with advisors whom are those that I serve in kind of an interesting way really is nurturing my own resilience as well. 

Dr. Robert Brooks: I have found the same thing, David. You’ve actually captured one of my main interests and it’s actually the third point I want to make about resilience and one that I often recommend advisors to practice, undertaking what I call contributory activity, which basically in some way is enriching the lives of others. Research shows and some of my own research that one of the most important things on resilience - at any age; this is from children through our senior years - is to engage in these contributory activities. What they do is they add a sense of meaning and purpose to our own lives and they actually help to lessen feelings of stress. I think we can think about it this way. If an advisor feels he or she is making a difference for someone they are consulting with or with an existing or perspective client, it actually nurtures their self-esteem and resilience. It’s a strategy I use all the time in my therapy work. I often encourage patients of any age to think about ways they can be of help to others by volunteering or doing similar activity. It helps them to feel in a very concrete way that they are making this difference. 

David Richman: So what we start to realize here is that our ability to nurture our own resilience is inextricably woven together with the power of our ability to truly bring support to those we love in our lives and those that we engage with in our lives. So, as I think about that message and think about those listening in today, Bobby, I would urge everyone listening, think about your relationships, treasure them and perhaps start thinking, “What can I be doing more of to bring more support to that person for whom I really do care so deeply about?” Start to recognize the impact you have on nurturing not only their resilience, but you will find it come back to you as it also helps you nurture your own. So, Bobby, why don’t we move on to the next item on your list of things that people can do to nurture their own resilience?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Sure. The fourth item for the audience to take note of is what I call TLCs. Years ago, I read an article written by a psychologist that said, “We should practice TLCs.” I always thought of TLC as meaning tender loving care. However, he calls it therapeutic lifestyle changes, which really is tender loving care towards yourself or what we call self-care practices. The changes this psychologist recommended are things we all know yet they’re not always easy to implement but they are within our control. 

Exercise is a basic TLC. I’m not talking about training for a decathlon. So much research shows even walking 20 minutes a day or some kinds of aerobic exercise or any kind of physical activity is so helpful to our physical and emotional well-being. Research about exercise also indicates that when high school kids start the day at school each morning by doing aerobic exercise, it actually improves their ability to learn. So, I recommend we put aside 20 to 25 minutes each day to exercise, even just to go for a walk outside. 

Another TLC concerns adhering to a healthy diet. Now when I say this, I must admit, David, that one of the reasons I exercise is so I can have a chocolate chip cookie once in a while. Like all of the TLCs, we have to be reasonable about our diet. I’m not a dietician but I know it’s important to eat a balanced meal that contains an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables and to watch our sugar intake even before the pandemic. When some of my adult patients became more anxious and depressed, sadly, two of the first things that were quickly neglected were exercise and diet. As a therapist, I would often have them look at that and say, “These are two things which we want to make sure we keep because they will help with your anxiety and depression.” 

Another TLC, which I’ve become very interested in the past few years, is to meditate for even just 10 minutes day. There are plenty of meditation apps, resources we can use. Look, I’m not an expert in meditation techniques but I find meditating each afternoon by simply taking deep breaths in and out for about those 10 minutes    helps me feel more refreshed and alert. 

Another important TLC is sleep. It’s easy to say you should get an adequate amount of sleep but unfortunately, if people become more anxious and stressed, it’s often more difficult to have a good night’s sleep. However, here too there are certain things we can do to improve the quality of our sleep such as even limit screen time right before you go to bed. 
So, incorporating therapeutic lifestyle changes into your self-care routine is a step you can take that is within your personal control - there’s that term again. It may appear daunting at times to adopt all of these TLCs so one of the things I always say is select one to begin with. Start small and see what happens. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results and then you could start trying more and more things. 

David Richman: That’s really helpful summary of this idea of TLCs. It’s interesting, Bobby, I’m finding a striking correlation these days between advisors who are continuing to flourish through these times and the extent to which they practice some or all of these TLCs. When I dig a little deeper, most of these advisors are not saying things like, “I don’t have the time to take care of myself between dealing with my clients, dealing with my family, dealing with trying to pick up some new clients right now.” However, to those that are stuck, I point out to them that we’re in a marathon here. It was very soon after the pandemic hit, I kept starting to say, “This is not a sprint. If you’re feeling burnt out, there’s no way, through this marathon, you’re going to be able to bring value to anybody.” 

Back to your proverbial picture of the oxygen mask on first, that’s really what the TLC is all about. Remember, we’re all dealing with this together and yet we are all dealing with this in our own individual ways. So much of our ability to nurture resilience right now in others and in ourselves is in finding our own individual way to do just that. 

So personally, I flirted on and off for years with meditation - you just talked about meditation, Bobby - literally for the past 15 years or so. Candidly, I wasn’t very disciplined about it. I’d pick it up, I’d stop meditating, and then when the pandemic hit, I willed myself into a discipline of meditating every day even though I’m not someone who has ever achieved any degree of expertise as a meditator. Now, not only is there a big impact on my resilience from this but it’s also having a big impact on my ability to help others be more resilient because I am now in each day what I like to call the ready position. 

For our listeners, meditation can help you maintain a state of inner calm an even keel, what meditation experts might call equanimity, no matter what comes our way. It also helps you to be in a ready position for your clients, but like anything else – sorry, I hate the word, but you know that like anything else, it takes practice. It does help and the effort is worth it. For me also, I rely on exercise as well, Bobby. If I didn’t exercise every day, I know there’s no way I’d be able to keep up with my resilience. I’ve got to be a happy guy, as happy as I can be in these times, and I know what feeds my happiness. For many, many decades, it’s been working out each day. It’s not new for me. I just realized that I needed it to keep up with the busyness of my day, to get me away from taking care of myself which is what busyness does. It gets you away from taking care of yourself and instead makes sure you take time to take care of you. I urge everyone listening: take a breath, step back, reflect on what can you do, what can you build into your day to help you, what one or two habits could feed some sense of calm for you. I promise it will help you nurture your own resilience. Bobby, any further thoughts there?

Dr. Robert Brooks: That was great what you said, David, and I think both of us, we talk about this and recognize that even though people may know they should do something, they may tell themselves, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time right now.” As you know, as I mentioned earlier, I recommend that you just start small, then let one success build in another when you engage in TLCs, exercise, diet, meditation, sleep. Just build it into your routine. Start small, and as you’re successful, you’ll see you’ll be much more motivated to continue to engage in these TLCs. 

David Richman: That’s great. That’s great. Bobby, if you wouldn’t mind, if you could just move on to your fifth and final activity which is the all-important idea of gratitude and how that intersects with the notion of nurturing resilience.

Dr. Robert Brooks: Gratitude for me is very critical related to resilience. I would say, David, in the last 20 years or so, there’s been much more focus within the field of what we call positive psychology on the concept of gratitude. Years ago, I read about research that was done with senior citizens who felt that they were no longer worthwhile, they felt that they no longer contributed in any way to others. So, psychologists wondered what would happen if they ask these people who are feeling very down to simply write down two or three things they were grateful for. Some did this every night, some every other night or weekly. These senior citizens found that writing down even just two or three things for which they were grateful actually helped them have more positive emotions and be more resilient. 

So, one dimension that I have spoken about in terms of gratitude is to consider things for which you are grateful but there’s another part of gratitude that is also very important. It’s to express gratitude even by a brief note to someone who has been very helpful to you. Research indicates that this practice not only helps the recipient to feel more appreciated and resilient but helps the person, interestingly enough, who conveyed the message of gratitude to become more resilient in the process. 

What I suggest is then when you consider these two components of gratitude, one is write down or mentally articulate for yourself in a regular basis, “What am I grateful for?” and we find even in very difficult times there were things for which we are grateful. The second point, think about how do you express your gratitude towards people who have been very significant in your life. It’s so interesting, David, how gratitude creates positive emotions and resilience, and that’s why I have this gratitude on this list of important things to do to nurture resilience in ourselves. 

David Richman: Thank you, Bobby. This is such, such powerful stuff for us to all really learn from and try to be open to. So, in closing here, I guess what I’m hearing is that we all need to be open to triggers of gratitude throughout the day, throughout your life. By doing so, we can develop what many in the world of meditation like to refer to as an attitude of gratitude which is very nurturing to your spirit and to your own resilience. 

The other thing that occurs to me in our wrap here, Bobby, is one of your favorite questions, which you taught me years ago, and the question for advisors to think about is “What would be the words you would hope others would use to describe you?” “What would be the words you would hope others would use to describe you?” Think about how nurturing resilience in others can impact the words that you would hope they will use to describe you tomorrow. Maybe some of those words would be something like this, “Through these difficult times, she was a rock for me,” or, “He was someone who I could rely upon,” or, “She was in my corner in some of my darkest moments.” 

Hopefully, that’s something for all of us to reflect upon and start thinking about how can we, if we can nurture our own resilience, how can we start then focusing in on this all important question. How would you hope to be described tomorrow when the dust settles from all of this, what would be the words you would hope others would use to describe you? 

Before we close here, I want to summarize Dr. Robert Brooks’ five suggestions provided today. One, practice personal control; two, surround yourself with supportive relationships; three, undertake contributory activities; embrace, number four, TLCs; and number five, practice gratitude. Nurture your resilience and it will come back to you in spades as you approach all aspects of what Dr. Brooks shared with us today. Bobby, thank you so much for being with us. 

Dr. Robert Brooks: Always a pleasure to do an interview with you, David. Thank you for having me. 
  

The views expressed in these posts are those of the authors and are current only through the date stated. These views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions, and Eaton Vance disclaims any responsibility to update such views. These views may not be relied upon as investment advice and, because investment decisions for Eaton Vance are based on many factors, may not be relied upon as an indication of trading intent on behalf of any Eaton Vance fund. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What's next?

If you're interested in digging deeper into this topic, you can go to the next resource. If not, we recommend continuing to the next subtopic.