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Episode 41: Harnessing Adversity with Dr. Paul Stoltz – Extended Version



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.

There’s a shorter, more condensed version of this interview available in episode 40. If you’d like the more in-depth version, play on!


We’ve created the following Tip Sheet to guide your learning experience. Download the PDF version here.

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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. 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.

Dave: 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 flatliner story of how you just got by? How you 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. 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, Erik Weihenmayer a question. Erik, 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 adventure, 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 cited. 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 coauthor. Can you tell us why?

Erik: Yeah. I was in my 30s, 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. So I was reading this book called "Adversity Quotient", and I was mentioned in there, and I was like, wow, I'm one of the exemplars that this guy uses.

Erik: And then I studied his work, it was Paul Stoltz and he is the leading expert and scientists 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 a team up. So we were like Reese's peanut butter cup, I was the chocolate and Paul was the peanut butter, and we 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? I've been obsessed for the past 40 years of my life trying to really, I view myself as an excavator. I've been trying to dig down to what I would call the bedrock of human endeavor. I've always listened to people talk 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? Why don't we live this stuff?

Paul: It's like healthcare, right? I mean, how many people know what they're supposed to do and don't do it? So I thought, what's underneath this? What's underneath, what's underneath? And that led to this work. As you know, Erik 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 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.

Erik: We're going to talk about our adversity and our resiliency and stuff, but I wanted to hit you with a left field question. So what is the adversity expert doing right now? How are you living, you're in your house, your quarantine, like the rest of us. What's your day look like? And then how are you dealing with this situation personally?

Paul: Well, I'm going to tell you something that risks offending a lot of people, which is, I don't think I've ever been more fired up. I really am just fired up. I'm first up in so many ways because, I think this just is an immense opportunity for each and every one of us, to hit the reset button, on so much stuff, about our habits and our health and our priorities and how we spend our time, and the waste of time and all of that, and also our contribution to others and our selfishness and our materialism and all the kinds of things that we get sucked into in times of comfort, in times of ease.

Paul: So for me, when it comes down to it, I'll tell you exactly what I'm doing, my epicenter of all this, is my lovely bride, Rhonda, to whom I've been married for 30 years, which shows she has an exceptional adversity quotient for that to be true, and a lot of grit, but she is a triple threat.

Paul: You've never met a bigger life force, anybody healthier and more vibrant as you know. You know her, but she has MS, although she has no visible symptoms. She's in the age category, and she's had multiple cases of pneumonia, because she pushed herself too hard when she was a young single mother. So priority one, keep her 100% protected, in a good way. Right? So, that's priority one. So what do you do with that? Well, what we did is we said, let's pick a place that's inspiring and healthy, where we can do that, where it's a natural act to do that. That's what we've chosen to do. So, we're in a spot where we can be outside every day, and where we can get fresh air and it can be healthy. She has absolutely no physical contact with any other human beings.

Paul: I do the foraging for the food, in an incredibly meticulous and in a septic way. I'm obsessively careful about it, have been for weeks, and the need to us professionally has really geared up. She's doing a ton of outreach to a lot of people, because a lot of people turn to her for inspiration and energy and hope, and she's serving that up in real ways. And for me being in the line of work that I'm in, being the adversity guy, I've been just spinning really long, meaningful days, in connection with so many different leaders and companies and people, meeting them where they are.

Paul: And that can be from panic and anxiety, all the way up to, how do we save our global business? All the way to I'm freaking out and going crazy with my kids or just having real conversations about, how do we navigate this storm in the most meaningful way? So my day is really, really rewarding and I'm loving this, personally. And I'm just trying to help people everywhere I can, because I know the worst is yet to come. So I'm trying to help people keep their stuff together as they prepare for this slow moving tsunami to come our way.

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. 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 knew how to through adversities like these, but we don't often do the things we already know how to do.

Dave: And so before we get into, what it is we should all be doing, to get to these, 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. And because there's a great sort of 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, enter the storm on that truth, what would you be doing differently? And it's 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.

Paul: So, what do you want your pandemic story to be? Do you want to look back on these days and tell this flatliners story of how you just got by? How you survived it? How you 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 that you go, 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 ..., fill in the blank, whatever that is. And so I think that's the aspiration we can all have honestly, is to 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.

Erik: Diversity and demeaning. Okay. That's pretty higher level stuff there. Most people, I'm just saying, I'm on the phone with my buddy, and he's listening to CNN and freaking out. So how would you deal with most people's perception, which is Holy shit, the sky is falling, the world's coming to an end as we know it. How does your work deal with that part of the human brain? And I'm not saying the world actually isn't in a huge crisis, but how do we use it as a motivating force, rather than just getting absolutely floored by it?

Paul: There's so much in that question there. Thanks for asking it. There really is. As you guys know, one of the things I've been doing, maybe for my own sanity, but hopefully to help others, is every single day, promises every single day. I do a fresh off-roading, little micro video on LinkedIn that I just send out, about all the little ways in which we can apply AQ and Grid and really harness this adversity, each one's a minute and a half per day. And the reason I mentioned that, is because the first one, Erik, I had to do five times, because I couldn't make it through, the theme of it is, have you cried yet? And the reason I say that, is because, one of the mistaken notions of someone within extraordinary adversity quotient, is that they don't feel pain.

Paul: They just skirt right past it and everything's great. And it's all about upset. It's quite the opposite. I think in many ways, people with high accused you have Erik, you got to go to your greatest depths, if you want to operate from your highest heights. And so, I think for everybody to just pause and absorb this for a moment and just let it sink in, the sheer magnitude of the suffering and struggle and pain and loss for a moment. Let yourself have some tears for God's sake, because it's so cathartic. And then you spring cleaned your soul, and from there, then you can do all the things that we're talking about guys, because this is not time for motivational pep talks. I'm sorry, that's a freaking, spiritual cup of coffee, when it wears off, you desperately need another cup.

Paul: And there just comes another a time where there's just not enough, this has to come from deep within. So, I can't think of anything more foundational, honestly. And I know I'm deeply biased by drinking my own Kool-Aid, but I can't think of anything much more foundational than just really having a deep, get real conversation with self, about your own personal relationship with adversity. Because, the main notion of my work is really, that the event is one thing, but the response is everything. And at this time in life, in history, if we could do one thing and one thing only, which is to begin to really master our core response to this and any and all diversity. Can you guys think of anything more potent or important than that?

Dave: That's powerful, man. I think that that whole idea of, when this thing hits or any big adversity, me, I'm the first to say, I just sort of try to plug through it and to pause and think about, to allow yourself to feel the emotion and go to the depth of that emotion, creates a release of energy, that then enables you to start moving forward and seeing the opportunity you're seeing, where you can channel your energy best. And one of the things I've really appreciated about your work Paul, is, one, you've traveled all over the world many times over, trying to understand what it takes for people to really break through big challenges and big adversities.

Dave: And so walk us through some of those things that you've learned, that you teach others, that we could practically apply to our own lives. You've given us one already, don't gloss over the fact that you got to feel, you got to let that feeling out, but what are those other practical tools, we can use to get started moving forward through this?

Erik: That was a fascinating part of the book we wrote together, was this idea of, you're walking down the street, you stub your toe, right? And blood's gushing everywhere. High IQ doesn't mean, wow, that's a great moment for opportunity for growth. No, you got to found your fist, and cry and put a bandaid on that gushing wound, before you're able to pick yourself up. Right? So you're talking about validation there, right? It's okay to have a little pity party. We had a guest actually talking about that, a couple months ago, this idea of, her and her son, her son was severely disabled, he'd look out the window and watch the kids ride bikes and he couldn't do it.

Erik: And they're like, okay, mom said we're going to have a pity party. We're going to eat pizza and watch sad movies and we're going to cry, and then tomorrow we're going to get a solution to this. So, we're going to try to move forward. I love that. That's very human. I'm glad you talked about that.

Paul: Yeah. Let's be honest guys, the physical virus is one thing, but the emotional virus is arguably the greatest danger, and it could be a danger to our national security. It certainly can be danger to people's sanity and wellbeing. It can be a danger to relationships. It can be danger to the narrative that we're writing right now. So, I think it starts, step one, I want to talk about core, because Erik, you and I, spent some time decoding this around your story in such a wonderful way. But an example I would use guys is, yesterday I was coaching my Olympic team there, they're the US men's national wrestling team, and here they are, imagine you're an Olympian, you've dedicated your whole life, everything you've got, everything, your family, all of it.

Paul: Put all your other dreams on hold, and then this hits, and you qualify. For your weight class, you qualified, and now you're, and Erik, you're a wrestler, you were national, and now you're, you're being told, wait a year. What do you do with that? So, for step one on all this guys to me, and I try to apply this to myself every day, is you got to have a really grippy aspiration. I don't mean something lofty, I'm going to achieve greatness out of the pandemic, that's great. Sounds really good. Put it on your bathroom mirror, if it makes you feel good. But what I was saying to these guys is, I said, the mantra I've tried to create for my life, is just two words, ever better.

Paul: And at the end of it, it's so simple to measure, because you know it in your gut. At the end of the day when you put your head on that pillow, just ask yourself, what did I do today, to become an ever better human being? What did I do today, to become an ever better father or husband or athlete? What did I do today to create an ever better contribution in the world, to have my existence be even more positive, for those around me? You either got an answer or you don't, it's binary. You can't BS yourself on this stuff. And so you know it in your gut if you did, and you know it in your gut if you didn't. And the good news is, you've got tomorrow, you get another shot if you're lucky enough, right?

Paul: But if the power of incrementalism is overwhelming, just look at what happens to money if it grows incrementally over decades, right? Look what happens to a person's health if they get gradually stronger every day, look what happens to yourself and your existence on this planet if you live by that mantra. What are you going to do to be even better, ever better, a year from now than you even are today? And as a team, more importantly, what can this team be doing right now with this, to be ever better as a team and as a representative of our nation by the time the Olympics come?

Paul: Because we have a lot of ground to gain between then, imagine how powerful that answer could be cumulatively over the course of a year. So step one, you know guys, to just have every day, just try to be ever better, I know you're going to be imperfect at it, starts there, but then it comes down to the struggle, Erik, you know the stuff we talk about, the adversity in your hardships you face along the way, everything, because life's going to conspire against that happening.

Paul: And so, for that it comes down to your core, and what we found is, imagine, here I am, this guy who's measured a million people's adversity quotients around the world, including the president of the United States by the way. And you measure a million people and you learn some things, right? And what we learned scientifically, but just in practical terms, because I'm an obsessively practical nerd, is that, come on guys, let's face it, if you can't use it, what the heck's the point? Right? So it comes down to your core, and your core is, before core dimensions of AQ, are control, ownership, reach and endurance. And I turn them into four core questions, and 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. What are the facets of the situation? You can't control this thing. There's a lot of this we can control, but there are so many financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, relationally, professionally, all my gosh, there's boundless facets of the situation that we could potentially influence, each and every one of us, to at least increase the chances. You're writing a good story right now. Write a positive one.

Paul: And then the second one, ownership. Erik, you've always been exemplar. Dave, I know in your leadership in Obera, you're an exemplar on this, because you can't turn this off guys. I know you guys do well, which is ownership is the step up factor, and I ask the question, how likely are you to step up to do anything to make it better, regardless of your job description? My gosh, can you imagine a time in history where that has mattered more than right now? I mean, if you guys seen some of these spring breakers, these dreams who are just going, hey man, they can't make me still partying. That's the anti ownership response.

Paul: We're talking about, what's that?

Erik: They're owning their dysfunction.

Paul: They're owning their dysfunction. Yeah. They're owning their detrimental role to humanity. But the ownership question is this, we're in, how can I, we're in, how can we, you, step up to make the most immediate positive difference in the situation? And that could be for the people who are hardest hit it. 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.

Paul: But 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, are you making it better because you are there? It's that simple, right? So, that's the ownership. And then reach, which is what you talked about with the bleeding toe. That's a great analogy. Reach asks the question, when adversity strikes like this, how far do you perceive it reaches into and affects everything else? And with something this big, the immediate response be, gosh, doesn't it seem to affect everything and anything, at an evermore intensifying rate? 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?

Paul: And we can all do that. But also there's so many other ways emotionally, relationally, even physically, I've been doing, the Wim Hof breathing system, right? You know the crazy bastard who teaches people to cold plunge in ice Babson, 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. 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 and it can enhance my chances of not getting this disease. And so, I'm owning my responsibility and trying to minimize any potential followup for me and my family by doing my part, right. And it starts with me.

Paul: So minimize the downside. And then Erik, you know this, we talked about this so much, the powerball question, 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? Now that seems crazy, when we're talking about body counts, just doubling every three days. How can you dare ask a question like, how do you maximize the upside? But what are the potential upsets, 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 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's saying that, because it would crush us, people would be crushed. 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.

Paul: And even if that means, that we're living in 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? And what can I be doing now just an oil spill, to put down the booms and minimize the downside or the fallout, and what could we be doing together maybe to maximize any potential upside here and how do we get through the worst of this as quickly as possible? 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. And that's why I started off day by being mentally deranged and telling you, I'm actually fired up by what's happening right now.

Erik: And then you also talk about catastrophizing, we freak out about things, my buddy watching CNN, and how the amygdala sort of plays off the frontal cortex. So I know that that's a really important part of the science of the behavior that you're talking about. How do you fight that?

Paul: Yeah, there's a really interesting mechanism there, you're right. What you feed is what grows, right? And so, if you feed your amygdala, and the amygdala is that primal reptilian brain, we know so well, anybody who does extreme adventures stuff, like you Erik, has this really special relationship with their amygdala, because that's where fear, panic, rage, lust, and they're all extremes. They're all on or off. So when someone's having what we would call, in our vernacular, a low AQ meltdown, which is totally valid. It's not that it's wrong, it's understandable. But when they're having that, that's happening deep in that base of the brain in the amygdala, as soon as you ask, sort of given this whole situation, what's the one thing you care about most? Or when you ask, what evidence is there, it has to turn out that way?

Paul: To answer those kinds of questions or the four core questions. There's only one place you can go in the brain to answer those questions. And that's the prefrontal cortex, which happens to be the most advanced part of the brain. And we're all reasoned decisioning happens. So that process of, with one question shifting a person from their amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, I call that an override. So with one question, you're taking them from a place that can be embarrassing and horrifying, to a place where reasoning decisions happen and you preserve their dignity. And that's one of the greatest gifts of a really using these tools with others, is it's a dignity enhancing methodology. And I care very deeply, especially in times this, that we do everything we can to help enhance each other's dignity. So that's what that override mechanism in the brain is meant to do, and why it's so powerful.

Dave: And what is that one question again for our listeners?

Paul: Well, the question I ask people all the time, there's two, that are part of a tool we teach called the lead sequence. One of the tools, when someone's catastrophizing, which is a psychologist word for an emotional oil spill, it's like, and this is happening, I'm convinced that it's only getting worse than everything else. We know we're being manipulated deliberately to keep our viewership, our eyeballs on those newscasts. So what you need to do is, be deliberate about your dose. So for example, in the line of work, that I'm doing, where I'm coaching a lot of senior leaders in companies and people around the world, are at the adversity response, I need to stay informed. So my wife and I will watch, half hour to an hour of news every evening. We're actually watching news, which we never do.

Paul: And turning off all the sites during the day, because you know what, watching the body count go up, doesn't help anybody. So turn it off, manage the dose, is a really important part. So there's the trigger on the amygdala-

Erik: There already hormones, like your adrenaline and all these harmful hormonal responses, right?

Paul: Oh my gosh, what it's doing to your stress response, you guys know this because stress response, when we look at it evolutionarily, was built to be a high octane release of hormones and neurotransmitters, that was supposed to compel immediate action. And it came in doses, with sporadic doses, with big spaces in between, right? Well, today, because of the way things work in the world and amount of stimulus that we get with these kinds of new sites and everything else, you're getting the stress response pulses, so chronically with no recovery, that you're literally draining your adrenal glands, and some of the other hormonal functions that we're starting to realize, they think it even may be influencing the rate of type two diabetes.

Paul: So because of the neurochemistry that's being manipulated, you have to fight back, by owning your neurochemistry. And you have to say, I'm going to take that in measured doses at a time of day, when it induces the least downside. And just so I stay informed and then I'm going to dedicate the rest of that time, to taking meaningful action or doing the things that are hopefully healing and helpful and restorative and regenerative in the world. That's a good way to go. And then the other question is, because people with lower AQ's think that, all of this, everything they're hearing is inevitable. There's this inevitable nature to this.

Paul: So for you personally, I understand that could happen, but at this point, what evidence is there, it has to turn out that way? And if the answer is you don't have to be homeless because you lost your job and you can't pay your rent, then the question is specifically, what could you do, to at least increase the chances, that you turn out okay? And there are a lot of answers to that question. So as long as there's potential for what we call action traction, as long as there's potential for that, then you can stay resilient and gritty and strong. And that's what we want to do.

Erik: Do you suggest to people like, right, how do they organize this? Should they keep a notebook and start really measuring this stuff and writing thoughts around core? How would you suggest people do, when they're sitting in their house?

Paul: Erik, you and I talked a lot about the power and the potency of just being on rope, right? And in the climbing world, that deep unmatched interdependence. And what I like about it is, to have almost being, who are you on rope with? So with my wife, I just said, babe, let's make a pact, here are the four core questions and I got to make sure I'm practicing what I preach. I would love you, any moment that you think my response could be even better. Just ask me one of these or point at it. And if you do that for me, and I do that for you, then we can get shore up our core response to anything and everything together, not just alone. But if you are alone, you can have those four core questions haunt you and can you pull it out a mini Swiss army knife, because remember a Swiss army knife isn't just a survival tool, it helps you get stuff done.

Paul: And so that's part of what this core is meant to do is, help you get better stuff done, more quickly and effectively than you're otherwise would.

Erik: And as you're thinking about your relationship with adversity, I know one of the things that you teach folks, and we've taught folks together even, is this hierarchy of our response to adversity. Most people just think, just got to get through it, I got to survive it. Right? You talk about this incredible continuum of how we respond as you move up the ladder.

Paul: Well, again, you're such an exemplar of it, and here's the premise, let's just give it to you right between the eyes or the ears as the case may be. We've been missing it. We've been blowing it. We've been off the mark, we've been screwing up. And here's what I mean. We've had the wrong language, when it comes to adversity, because everybody's going, he's really good at overcoming adversity, or he always bust through adversity, or you always overcomes obstacles or whatever. So what we did in our research is, we found out that there's this continuum, a mountain almost from the top is pointing, at the bottom as wide. The bottom level is avoiding it. So that's all the spring breakers, go and screw this, I'm outta here. Let's party. Right? The next level up is what we call surviving.

Paul: And that's when you come out the other side and go, wow, I'm still here, and I'll tell you if you've got a severe case of COVID-19 and you come out alive. That's your first hope, is just get through it alive. But then, even so, life so quickly asks, okay, now what? Right. So for most of us, that's what I meant about your pandemic narrative. Do you want it by default, to just be, you made it through? Is that what you want it to be? Because if we don't change, that's what it'll be for most people. I made it through.

Erik: Yeah, just as crisis and you're maybe just the same place or worse than when you started it. Right?

Paul: Or you have the best excuse in the world for being worse off. Well, given what happened, I mean blah, blah blah. And that may be true, financially a lot of people are going to be worse off. I know your business and my business have both taken huge hits, gut punches, right? But that doesn't mean that's our destiny. And then so the next level up, the middle level is the one I hate the most, it makes me pull my non-existent hair out, which is coping. And psychologists love this word. If you go to the self help section of the bookstore, you've got coping with pain, coping with loss, coping, coping, coping, coping, they'll even say, like it's a really nice thing, Dave, you're really good coper. Well, you know what coping looks like, watch young parents with babies get on an airplane, they're coping, does that look fun to you?

Paul: I mean, coping means physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, you're keeping your head above water, you're coping and dealing, coping and dealing. Well, I'm sorry, is that the legacy you want to leave? So the next level up, and hey great, I've had this privilege of teaching at a Harvard business school, and Amachy and Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon, all these great esteemed schools, they teach, every one of them has some protocol they teach for what we call managing adversity. So you take this specific adversity and apply these problem solving protocols to manage that adversity. I got news for you guys, we're not going to damage control our way to greatness, we're not going to manage our way to greatness here. So what do the people Erik Weihenmayer do?

Paul: What are the people who score at the freakish top of the bell curve on an AQ do differently, that we can all begin to mimic and masters starting now? Well, they do what you and I have been preaching about for years, which is alchemists. They convert this adversity into fuel, that propels them to a place they never would've got to, without that adversity, and we call that harnessing. So here's the test. It's brutal. You ready?

Erik: Yeah, we're ready.

Paul: The test for knowing harnessed adversity is this. If you look back at some point in the future, and honestly can say, thank God that happened, that adversity, because without that, I'd never be who I am, we'd never be where we are, if that adversity hadn't happened. And if you can say that, I think you harnessed it, and that's the highest aspiration, is how do you use it in a way to be fundamentally better off, because it happened, and in my entire life I have never seen one that lends greater opportunity to do that, to harness in small ways and big ways than this one.

Erik: I apply that to my own life constantly. I'm not going to overcome blindness, right? I'm never going to overcome this thing, unless there's some medical cure, which is very unlikely. Right? But harnessing it, right? Looking at the reality of it, leaning in, attacking it, and really trying to figure out how to create some advantage out of my situation. That's amazing stuff. So harnessing, I like that. So, what's a good example of how maybe you've seen people this time harnessing adversity? Do you have any good examples of some people that have shined?

Paul: Yeah, in so many ways. I'm really pleased with what I'm seeing honestly, in my own son and his wife, Katie and their family, out in Charlottesville, Virginia, because they have two really intense careers, and they had their kids in daycare, which was hurting them. It hurt their hearts to do it, but they knew that was the only way. And their kids were doing pretty good with that and everything. But the truth of the matter is, as soon as this began to hit, they just made this pact, and just said, how do we use this to make this the best time ever for these kids.

Paul: And they have a two year old and a four year old, and they have been creating ninja courses in the house and creating TaeKwonDo classes, and music classes and they just learned to ride bikes for the first time yesterday. And they're doing all these different kinds of things. The kids, honestly, so far, their pandemic story is going to be, best time of our lives, if they could remember all this, they would say that was the greatest time. And that's when our family really forged the closeness and humor and love and affection and all that we have right now. So they're harnessing it, because the world's stopped.

Erik: I love that, little house on the Prairie, but with internet. Right?

Paul: Totally, totally. And I think even their pets are happier, so instead of just being, shut-ins who are miserable and starting to smell, they decided to do it to be, happier and healthier than they otherwise would have been before it happened.

Erik: Do you think business, because the world's just getting crushed. My brother owns a gym and it's all shut down. Do you think there's a way for the business world to harness something like this? And I know that's so unique and individual and so personal to every person, right?

Paul: There is, the magnitude of difficulty depends on what you do and what you're in. If you run a hotel, and your hotels out of business or a restaurant or a bar or retail shop and you're a sole proprietor and you're shut down for the foreseeable future, and you have no money coming in, and you have to eventually lay everybody off. It's pretty tough to harness this adversity right now. Right? But if there are lessons in efficiencies and relationships and loyalties with customers and contributions in the community and all the things that you can be doing now, that as we come out the other side of this, have you be even stronger because it happened, and frankly, it's more gratifying to be doing what I do because this happened, then you harnessed it.

Paul: Harnessing doesn't happen in a day, it happens over time. So next week I'm doing this crazy digital conference for 5,000 people from around the world, and the theme of the conference is, the future of hospitality. And we're actually going to take on the challenge of, how do you end up better off because this happened, and the Ted talk I did Erik, you heard me talk about that with global climate change, how do we harness that adversity to have the planet in us, end up better off, because of the university we're facing right now.

Paul: So I do believe we can do with anything and everything, and I think there are everyday examples of it happening all around us. I think there are a lot of people are finally getting a chance to think about contributing to their own darn neighbors and to their own darn community, and just trying to do the right thing, to have things come up better and stronger. I think our community's doing that, and our community may come out of this having harnessed it in some ways.

Erik: We have a board member that talks about ripping off the bandaids, or really trying to look at things in a real way, and I think every organization should be having this conversation if they haven't already, not how are we going to survive this, but how are we going to harness this crisis to come out better in some way. Tell me more about the science, Paul, about the stakes here, right? Because I know you've done a lot of research with this idea that, the better you respond to this stuff, the longer you're going to live. When you look at it that, in the face of this virus, right? These are pretty high stakes in terms of learning this stuff, right?

Paul: It doesn't get much higher to be honest. We found in all these studies we've done for all these years, all independent studies, that some of the things, and I'll just skate across it, that AQ predicts and drives in a human being, our performance, productivity, capacity, problem solving, innovation, energy, effort, size of goals, health, fulfillment, optimism, longevity, how long you live, and on and on and on. So, my favorite moment is when we teach this stuff, and this says it all, and I asked people, are you ready for the big question? And these can be the biggest cynics in the world, and I'll say, now you know what this is, here's the big question. When you think of all the factors, that influence, your happiness, wellbeing, and success, which ones are in some way affected by your AQ?

Paul: There's always this pause, and the whole room goes, all of them. So we have this epicenter and if we can just focus on and master one thing, that can fortify and enhance everything else, here we are, and what better time to do it, then we face epic adversity.

Erik: Well, my last question, Paul, is something I've always been curious about, which is-

Paul: Am still good looking and how would you know?

Erik: Even blind, I can tell how good looking you are.

Paul: Dave, I've been secretly telling Erik that for about 23 years now.

Erik: This question is, okay, you talk about this from science and behavior and how the brain works, but there's a part to this outcome, this adversity advantage concept, right? In my mind, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I just feel it's a combo, the equation is science and art, because people have tainted this idea, the depth of it, by saying things like, let's make lemonade out of lemons, or let's look on the bright side, right? You see an Avalon in the mountain about to crush you, and you don't turn to your buddy and say, look on the bright side. Right? So to me, okay, so you talking to this wrestling team that you're working with, they're going to miss the Olympics. That's stunning. Right? That's crushing. I was talking to Princeton football team, and I had this giant guy afterwards who comes over and starts crying on my shoulder.

Erik: He's like, look, I had a knee injury. I rehabbed my knee like crazy. I trained for an entire year to get back to the team. This year I'm the captain, first practice, I re-injured my knee, my career is over. And I was like, dude, I'm not telling you that adversity advantage means, you think hard enough and positively enough that your knee is going to be fixed and you're going to be the captain of your team, and you're going to go on to, the NFL. That's not the message, right? It's, he's got to figure out a way to find something new, something beneficial and that completely shady thing that's happened to him. And that seems to me something you could spend a lifetime trying to decipher.

Paul: And you have.

Erik: A lot of us have.

Paul: Yeah, so, okay. You got dealt some legitimate misfortune, that a lot of people would use to define themselves and be crushed and be victimized by the rest of their lives, then it would become the center point of their narrative, and their excuse for being less than they otherwise could be. And no one would call-

Erik: Bitch when nobody's around.

Paul: What's that?

Erik: You should see me bitch when nobody's around.

Paul: That's what's beautiful about virtual technology, is there's an off button, it's so cool. But all kidding aside, you're right. We all are starting from where we are right now, and that right now can change pretty dramatically, pretty quickly. And the thing about your adversity quotient, is you take it with you everywhere all the time no matter what. And so what ever happens, what ever it is, no matter how dire, how you respond, is all you got, how you respond is everything.

Paul: And so if you can own and master that, you have just put yourself on the path to make the absolute best of the absolute worst. There's no other way.

Erik: And that guy who's the football player, right? He's got to dig deep. Right. And figure out, okay, where's the moody, where does the strength come from, to move forward in a different way, right? And maybe out of that suffering, maybe out of that contemplation, something good can happen to him.

Paul: Yeah. I really rail against the fact that we've made anxiety and depression, ailments that are sicknesses that people, and syndromes, they're also frankly, emotions that are entirely natural, and it is totally okay and often very healthy to have some anxiety, and is often very healthy to be a bit depressed about something, especially something like that. Because if you're going to turn in the storm and feel it fully, that's probably going to be pretty depressing for a while, right. Thing about AQ, is the stronger your AQ gets, you can go all the way down, and it's brief and then you use it to catapult you out. Right? You don't stay down and stay mired and broken because it happened.

Paul: So honestly, what you're talking about is everyone's story. We all got our version of that guys, every one of us listening to this thing right now is going to have your setback, your pain, your suffering, your obstacle, some injustice, something unexpected, whatever it may be. Something that could seem so crippling. What we do with that, allowing ourselves to feel it fully, and then taking it from there, you build it by response, step-by-step, the core path that you lay down, is what's going to give you the strength and fortitude going forward. And then over time, if you can look back and say, I harness that, I'm better, richer, stronger, because that happened, then you did it, and that's what we all have to strive to do and be, especially in a world with 7.8 billion people, right? We've got to do our part. We got to own what we do with our adversities so we can help other people with theirs.

Erik: That's a wrap, man. I'm almost about to ride, that's good. I needed to hear that.

Paul: Yeah. Well, like I said, I really screwed up guys. I picked a field of study, an endeavor for my life, that beats the shit out of me every day, humbles me every day and requires me to practice my own stuff. I mean, what was I thinking?

Erik: You're like a marriage counselor. People only go to when things are really bad.

Dave: They all need Paul, when we get to their worst. Go to Paul.

Paul: It's like, yeah, talk to the adversity guy. I get things, I get people at the break, could come and go, I got one for you. And then you know what to come. Right?

Erik: Yeah. How come you did a book called the joyful adversity factor?

Paul: I should have written the a bullion quotient or something. I totally screwed off.

Dave: Well Paul, 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, without this pandemic, I never would have what? I feel 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? 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. 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: Guys, it's such a privilege. I can think of no better cause, and I can think of nothing pete the world needs more right now, than to really marinade in and adopt the No Barriers mindset. We all need this. 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: That whole message spoke for itself, there's very little I could add, but I think Paul's message speaks so clearly and strongly. But I'll just reemphasize one thing and that is, what he talked about, in terms of what the stakes are, right? We're believing 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. How long we live, our immune system, this is really high stakes.

Dave: Yeah. The thing I will take away and go do tonight as I mentioned, that I think is something all of us could do is, 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? 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. But 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 always 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 an art to this, right? It's not all just behavior and science. There's an art to really diving deep and saying, okay, how am I going to come out of this as a better person? That's something that you don't answer in two seconds.

Dave: So true. Well, I'd 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, and so we are grateful for their support. We'll see you next week as we continue to explore how we can all bring a no barrier spirit to our lives, at a time when I think we all agree we need it. Thank you.

Erik: All right. No Barriers.

Dave: The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer, Pauline Schaffer, executive producer, Diedrich Jong. Sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman, graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Megan Lee and Karly Sandsmark. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song guidance, and thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how 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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