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Episode 40: Harnessing Adversity with Dr. Paul Stoltz – Condensed Version



There’s a longer version of this content available in episode 41. If you’d like the more condensed version, play on! Introducing our new Alchemy Series, presented by Wells Fargo and Prudential. Our first guest is Dr. Paul G. Stoltz. Dr. Stolz is considered the world’s leading authority on the integration and application of grit and resilience. He is author of five international bestselling books on the subject, including the Adversity Advantage, co-written with host, Erik Weihenmayer. Dr. Stoltz has served as faculty for MIT’s acclaimed entrepreneurship program and for Carnegie Mellon’s distinguished Global Leaders Program, where his AQ and GRIT-related methods and assessments have been used to equip tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs.

Harvard Business School has selected and incorporated Dr. Stoltz’s Adversity Quotient® tools and methods into it’s top-rated MBA and Executive Education programs.

Dr. Stoltz is the founder and CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., a global research and consulting firm, and founder and managing director of the GRIT Institute and Global Resilience Institute, both worldwide research collaboratives for exploring and advancing the frontiers of human endeavor.

Today, GRIT and AQ are the most widely adopted methods of their kind in the world for measurably enhancing one’s resilience, agility, and GRIT—currently in use by industry-leading companies, top institutions, and many governments in 137 countries across six continents.

He resides in the coastal mountains of San Luis Obispo, California, with his family.


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Episode Transcript

Dave: Hey, No Barriers podcast listeners. Welcome to our new weekly Alchemy series. Our motto, "What's within you is stronger than what's in your way," is more relevant now than ever before. In light of COVID-19 we'll be featuring thought leaders and experts in harnessing adversity. They'll provide practical guidance, hope, and optimism during these uncertain times. We're delivering each episode in two formats, a condensed version and a full version. And each episode comes with a practical tip sheet so you can apply these lessons right away. Let's power through this pandemic and come out stronger together.

Dave: The Alchemy series is made possible through the generous support of two longtime partners of No Barriers, Wells Fargo and Prudential. Thank you so much for your support.

Paul: You do realize that it is through adversity, adversity serves as the ink with which you're writing your narrative, the human narrative. So what do you want your pandemic story to be? Do you want to look back on these days and tell this flat-liner story of how you just kind of got by? How you just sort of hunkered down and weathered it? Or do you want to say something more? Do you want to be more? Do you want to use this in some ways towards something worthy?

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers Life. To define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Dave: Today we meet Dr. Paul G Stoltz, who is considered one of the world's leading authorities on the subjects of grit and resilience. He's written five international bestselling books including The Adversity Advantage, co-written with host Erik Weihenmayer. Dr Stoltz has served as faculty for MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard Business School, and many others. He is the Founder and CEO of PEAK Learning and the Founder and Managing Director of the GRIT Institute and the Global Resilience Institute. Dr Stoltz's GRIT and AQ are the most widely adopted methods of their kind in the world for measurably enhancing one's resilience, agility and grit. Currently in use by industry leading experts, top institutions, and many governments in 137 countries across six continents. Enjoy the conversation.

Dave: Welcome to our first installment of our new weekly No Barriers podcast series, where we will speak about this extraordinary moment in our lives while remaining true to the original theme of our No Barriers podcast, which is, "What's within you is stronger than what's in your way." Something I think we all need to be reminded of right now. A special thanks to Prudential and Wells Fargo for their support of this podcast series.

Dave: Well, I'm thrilled to have Dr. Paul Stoltz with us today to talk about how we can all break through the adversities in front of us. I know we're going to leave with some very practical advice, some good stories, some things that we can take into our own work and our lives and perhaps to our families.

Dave: But I thought to get started, I wanted to ask my cohost, Eric Weihenmayer, a question. Eric, you've faced what many would perceive as an incredible amount of adversity in your own life. You lost your vision as a teenager, lost your mom at a young age, and then went on to become a global adventurer, reaching the Seven Summits, kayaking the full length of the Grand Canyon, and many other feats, most of which we can't imagine even if were sighted. And so when you sat down though to write a book about how you break through adversity, something you've done over and over in your own life, you chose Dr. Paul Stoltz as your co-author. Can you tell us why?

Erik: Yeah. I was in my thirties and I had done a lot of athletic expeditions. Mountain climbing and kayaking, all kinds of things. But I didn't have the context, Dave. I didn't know how to put my life and the things I had done into a context that I could take away and understand behaviors within myself, but also how to pass that on to others as sort of some universal thoughts and tips and ideas that others could use as value to their lives.

Erik: So I was reading this book called The Adversity Quotient and I was mentioned in there and I was like, "Wow, I'm sort of like one of the exemplars that this guy uses." And then I studied his work and it was Paul Stoltz, and he is the leading expert and scientist around adversity, around resiliency. Has come up with an incredible measuring tool called Adversity Quotient to measure people's relationship with adversity. And I thought, this is the guy. We got to team up.

Erik: So we were like a Reese's peanut butter cup. I was the chocolate and Paul was the peanut butter. And we kind of decided to combine this idea of experience with science and see where they met in the middle. And it was an incredible exploration, incredible growth in my life. And I was really honored to meet Paul and get to know him really well and his family. And now, Paul, your work is never so relevant, right? In this crisis.

Paul: Gosh. Hey guys, so great to join you and your audience out there in this incredibly seismic moment for humanity, right? Who would have guessed? As you know, I've been obsessed for the past 40 years of my life trying to really... I kind of view myself as an excavator. I've been trying to dig down to what I would kind of call the bedrock of human endeavor.

Paul: I've always listened to people talk kind of glibly about, "Here are the five things you need to succeed," or whatever it is. Or even parents giving kids advice, or teachers, or whomever. And I always thought, if we know this stuff, why don't we do this stuff? Like why don't we live this stuff? It's like healthcare, right? I mean, how many people know what they're supposed to do and don't do it?

Paul: So I thought, what's underneath this? What's underneath what's underneath? And that led to this work, as you know, Eric and Dave. And I'll tell you, I certainly don't have to spell the word adversity for anyone today.

Dave: That's for sure.

Paul: Everybody gets it instantly. So I feel like I've spent the past 40 years of my life preparing for this moment, when we need it most. So what a perfect time for us to get together.

Dave: Well, Paul, you're going to be talking about some real practical ways people can think about the adversity in front of us and some of the things that you've learned over the years that people could apply to their own lives.

Dave: But I love the way you started off by saying, "We know this, but we don't do it." And that that is something that has always fascinated you. We know how to work through adversities like these, but we don't often do the things we already knew how to do.

Dave: And so before we get into like what it is we should all be doing to get through this, tell us why don't we do the stuff that we know we should be doing.

Paul: A lot of it's because it's uncomfortable and it's hard. There's a great Latin term called memento mori, which means the vibrant ever-present realization you're going to die. And so when you come to terms with the reality that there's an end game, and if you really take that head on, kind of enter the storm on that truth, what would you be differently? You know?

Paul: And it's sort of like what I say to a lot of people about this pandemic, about COVID-19 is, you do realize that it is through adversity. Adversity serves as the ink with which you're writing your narrative, the human narrative. So what do you want your pandemic story to be? Do you want to look back on these days and tell this flat-liner story of how you just kind of got by? How you survived it? How you just sort of hunkered down and weathered it?

Paul: Or do you want to say something more? Do you want to be more? Do you want to use this in some ways, that you go... You know, honestly, I mean this sounds so glib you guys. But what if the narrative started with, "Thank God for the pandemic because without that I never would have," dot, dot, dot, fill in the blank. Whatever that is.

Paul: And so I think that's the aspiration we can all have, honestly, is to kind of say not how do you survive this, but how do you use it? And hopefully how to use it towards something worthy. And if everybody did that, then this could be a really meaningful chapter for humankind. And I don't know, I'm trying to do my tiny little part of that, but I hope more and more of us will as well.

Dave: Well Paul, your entire career has been around studying adversity. And for those of us like me who've read your books and thought about the work, one of the biggest things you teach people, the most important skills that people can learn, is all around this idea of CORE. And each letter, C-O-R-E, stands for something to remind us how we can approach and work through our adversities and get to the other side of them.

Dave: And so I'm really excited for our listeners to hear what CORE means. And as you listen to it, you're going to probably wonder, "Oh, how do I go back to that piece?" And so we've put in our show notes, some tips for you to go apply CORE to your own situation right now. So I just want you to listen and appreciate the depth of what this can do for you. And so Paul, I'm going to turn it over to you to explain CORE.

Paul: Thanks, Dave. So the four CORE dimensions of AQ are control, ownership, reach and endurance. And I turn them into four CORE questions. These four CORE questions you can use for anything with anyone at anytime.

Paul: And it's simply this: whatever it is, number one, control. What are the facets of the situation that you can potentially influence? To at least increase the chances it turns out better than you think. Right? So that's control.

Paul: What are the facets of the situation? You can't control this thing. There's a lot of this we can't control. But there are so many financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, relationally, professionally, I mean oh my gosh, there are boundless facets of this situation that we could potentially influence, each and every one of us, to lead to increase the chances. You're writing a good story right now, right? A positive one.

Paul: And then the second one, ownership. You know, Eric, you've always been exemplar. Dave, I know in your leadership in No Barriers you're an exemplar on this. Because you can't turn this off, guys. I know you guys too well. Which is, ownership is the step-up factor and it asks the question, how likely are you to step up to do anything to make it better? Kind of regardless of your job description.

Paul: Oh my gosh. Can you imagine a time in history where that has mattered more than right now? I mean, have you guys seen some of these spring-breakers? These dweebs who are just going, "Hey man, they can't make me stop partying." That's like the anti-ownership response. We're talking about-

Erik: You mean dysfunction.

Paul: What's that?

Erik: They're owning their dysfunction.

Paul: They're owning their dysfunction. Yeah. They're owning their detrimental role to humanity.

Paul: But the ownership question is this. Where and how can I, where and how can we, you, step up to make the most immediate positive difference in the situation?

Paul: And that could be for the people who are hardest hit. It could be for the people you're cohabitating with. It could be for the people who are alone and can't go shopping, down the street or in the apartment next to you. It could be for, just virtually. When you're on a Zoom meeting or Zoom call with people, which everyone's getting the Zoom boom, right? And I think my tush is getting Zoom bloom right now, but... You know, when you're on that call, how much energy do you bring to that call? What effect are you having on the other people? Are you just passively listening and going along? Are you making it better because you were there? I mean, it's that simple, right? So that's ownership.

Paul: And then reach. Reach asks the question, when adversity strikes like this, how far do you perceive that it reaches into and effects everything else?

Paul: And with something this big, the immediate response be, "Gosh, doesn't it kind of seem to affect everything and anything at an evermore intensifying rate?"

Paul: Well, the two questions related to reach are what can I do to help minimize the downside or contain the fallout, right? Well, owning your social distancing and doing the right things and all that stuff is one way, isn't it? And we can all do that. But also there's so many other ways emotionally, relationally, even physically. Like I've been doing, you know, the Wim Hof breathing system, right? You know, the crazy bastard who teaches people to cold plunge and ice baths and do this breathing thing that he does. And I went and saw him in Iceland because I thought, I got to see the ice man in Iceland, and did his whole thing and learned it and everything.

Paul: It's stunning. And the science behind it's really good. So why am I intensifying my Wim Hof breathing every day? Because it can strengthen my immune system. It can enhance my chances of not getting this disease. And so I'm owning my responsibility and trying to minimize any potential fallout for me and my family by doing my part. And it starts with me. So minimize the downside.

Paul: And then Erik, you know this, we talked about this so much, the Powerball question. I mean you guys, you know the Powerball question in all this that no one asks? And it seems sacrilegious to say this, when you face something this bad. But the question on reach is, what can you do to maximize the potential upside of this adversity?

Paul: Now that seems crazy when we're talking about body counts just doubling every three days. How could you dare ask a question like how do you maximize the upside? But what are the potential upsides? You know, what if, Erik, what if No Barriers was more recognized, more focused, more powerful, more impactful because of this pandemic and what you guys are doing in it. I mean the world needs No Barriers now more than ever. Right?

Paul: And then the final part, guys, is the E is about endurance. And this one matters so much because we're being intentionally strung along. And I don't mean this in a derogatory way, but we're being intentionally strung along about the duration of this pandemic, right? I mean one of the top Harvard brains out there just two days ago said plan for two years. Plan for this being reality for two years. And so no one is saying that because it would crush us. You know, people would be crushed.

Paul: But the point is not how long will it endure, but what can you do to at least increase the chances that you get through the worst of this as quickly as possible? And even if that means that we're living a new normal with new habits, how do you get through the hardest part of that for you and the people you care about as quickly as possible? Whether that's your business, or your team, whether that's your loved ones, whether that's just you? And there's so much we can do every day to help get through the worst of this as quickly as possible.

Paul: So if you put it together and you go, wow, okay, no matter what comes at me, I'm thinking: What are the facets of the situation I can at least potentially influence to at least increase the chances of this turns out okay? Where and how can I step up to gain the most immediate positive traction? What can I be doing now, just like an oil spill, to put down the booms and minimize the downside or the fallout? What could we be doing together maybe to maximize any potential upside here? How do we get through the worst of this as quickly as possible?

Paul: If that haunts you... And by the way, you can ask any one of those questions out of any sequence. All by itself or together. It doesn't matter.

Paul: Then if that haunts you, you begin to strengthen your CORE response to this and any adversity. And then it becomes fuel. And you find yourself stronger and more purposeful because this is happening.

Paul: That's why I started off today by being mentally deranged and telling you I'm actually kind of fired up by what's happening right now.

Dave: Well Paul, that's a an incredible challenge to all of us. I love how you started this conversation off with that idea. What do we want our pandemic story to be? What do we want out of this on the other side? What can this, you know... Without this pandemic, I never would have what? I feel like I'm going to go ask that to my kids over dinner tonight. I'm going to ask that to my wife. How do we change the narrative into something that... Where is that opportunity for us?

Dave: While still recognizing it doesn't diminish the fact that some of us know people who have died from it. Some of us know people who have it now who are very sick. But what is the narrative that we can control? And I think that's a really powerful message for our listeners.

Dave: So Paul, it's been a real honor to get your time here and to get some of the insights that you have learned through your entire career and taught to millions of people. Thank you so much for being with us.

Paul: Oh guys, it's such a privilege. I mean I can think of no better cause and I can think of nothing the world needs more right now than to really, really marinade in and adopt the No Barriers mindset. We all need this.

Paul: You guys can make a hell of a difference and I'm just delighted to play a small part, guys. Great to join up with you.

Erik: Cool.

Dave: Thanks Paul. All right, Erik, let's do our thing.

Erik: Yeah. I mean, that whole message spoke for itself. There's very little I could add. I think Paul's message speaks so clearly and strongly.

Erik: But I'll just re-emphasize one thing and that is what he talked about in terms of what the stakes are. We're bleeding right now, right? But we have to figure out how to... Not overcome this, right? Because we're not going to overcome a virus. But how to harness it. And the way we do that is going to really be a factor. Probably the most powerful factor out there in terms of our happiness, our satisfaction, our productivity, our creativity, our innovation, our longevity. You know, like how long we live, our immune system. Like this is really high stakes.

Dave: Yeah. And I think the thing I will take away and go do tonight as I mentioned, that I think is something all of us could do, is kind of look at what you want your pandemic story to be. Invite your family into that conversation. What do you want to take away from this? Where's the opportunity?

Dave: I think I have personally a lot of opportunity to spend more time with my kids in this time when school just got canceled for the rest of the year.

Dave: What do we want our own personal pandemic story to be, and how much can we control it to be something really positive for ourselves? And I know that's not the position some people are in, but for me, I at least have that ability to pause.

Erik: Yeah. As Paul said, that's the ink that we use to write the story, right? That's the catalyst that brings us to some new place. And what I told Paul, and I really do believe, that there's kind of an art to this, right? It's not all just behavior and science.

Erik: There's an art to really diving deep and saying, "Okay, how am I going to come out of this as a better person?" I mean that's something that you don't answer in two seconds.

Dave: So true.

Dave: Well, I'd like to offer a very special thanks to our generous sponsors, Wells Fargo and Prudential, who co-created the idea for this podcast series with us. We are grateful for their support.

Dave: We'll see you next week as we continue to explore how we can all bring a No Barriers spirit to our lives at a time when I think we'd all agree we need it. Thank you.

Erik: All right. No Barriers.

Dave: The production team behind this podcast includes Senior Producer, Pauline Shaffer; Executive Producer, Didrik Johnck; Sound Design, Editing and Mixing by Tyler Cottman; Graphics by Sam Davis; and marketing support by Megan Lee and Karly Sandsmark.

Dave: Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance.

Dave: And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.



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