I just created this one myself. Super fun brain teaser!
I heard about this book from a couple pod casts and an NPR interview. Then Sebastian was in my town on a book tour. I had read his other books and was interested in one core idea that seemed quite revolutionary. Could PTSD be primarily not about trauma but about loss of purpose and poor social reintegration ?
That rang true to me. Junger explains this Thesis very well and documents historical and research to support the thesis. Basically there are well known ways to get through trauma but they lean on basically a communal society’s where everyone feels some sense of common duty and shared responsibility and every person has a way to contribute. In modern America with all our independence and two party systems and stratified work place and closed hate neighborhoods and private schools and single apartments and single occupancy vehicles, how is someone supposed to feel a part of anything?
This book will give you a brain work that will be hard to get rid of. In. A good way.
Words are powerful. And complicated. And contextual. And the reader bring their own definitions. And a writer has his own frame/context when choosing which words to use.
Consider this: “Capital letters are the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”
In this section, I will share my personal definitions and context for words which are particularly important to my journey. This is not a dictionary and your understanding of these words may vary. That is the point. In this section, you can get a deeper understanding of where I am coming from. Comments welcome, my understanding will be updated over time (i hope).
Ever since returning from the Further Future gathering out in the desert I have been experiencing symptoms that a psychiatrist pointed out most closely resemble PTSD. Night sweats, fear of being alone, nightmares of floods, constant base thumping in my brain, etc. Sure, the unexpected rain, lack of AC, poor bathroom facilities and constant threat of lightning strikes added drama to the weekend, but were they really war like trauma?
Sebastian Junger in his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging has an interesting new theory about the true causes of PTSD. Junger notes that while less than 10% of US troops deployed to Iraq of Afghanistan faced actual combat, over 60% of them are approved for PTSD claims. Since the vast majority of diagnosed PTSD sufferers did not actually experience any direct war based trauma, there must be something else going on. Junger posits that the primary trauma which causes the disorder may not be from any physical trauma, but rather from the psychological trauma of leaving a supportive tribal environment and being placed back into America’s go it alone independent competitive culture. The trauma may be more a loss of community and confidence that comes from being in the military tribe, facing adversity but knowing there are people who have your back. The small group tribal community living has been the natural state of man for millions of years until very recently. When the natural state is experienced, even under duress like in war or at Further Future, then you are pulled out of that natural state and put back into individualistic capitalist America in a minivan by yourself sitting in the Starbucks drive through, the trauma can be significant.
I am feeling some of that loss after Further Future. The event was my first big gathering like that, I am not a regular at Burning Man, Cochella, yoga retreats or any other group events. I did attend as part of a tribe i have been loosely associated with for about 20 years who have a regular Burning Man camp and do a number of other events together each year. My girlfriend Jen (below) also was a first time tribal participant.
There was really something different about the culture in that place for that weekend that is glaringly polar opposite of “normal” life. It makes one wonder, why is “normal life” so great then? A couple of experiences stand out as striking.
- Talking to strangers was 10x easier. How many times do you strike up a conversation in the coffee line? It happened every time at FF. Many times the conversation started over a crazy outfit like this one:
- Adversity brought everyone together, created memories. On Saturday as the clouds gathered and they evacuated the aluminum structures for lightning strike fears, Jen and I were laying in a couch pod waiting for our IVs with two other people we didn’t know. Guys from the Mid East in robes talking about missing their Ferrari and needing a cigarette. Rather than evacuating back to the Airstream, we decided to ride out the storm with our new friends. Suddenly a blue tarp appeared and covered our little pod. Then as the rain started in earnest the IV guy joined us on our little couch arc. As the wind whipped up, we all held down a piece of the tarp to keep out the rain and started telling each other stories of our childhood to pass the time. Looking out the water was running by inches deep. It felt like our couch would float away. As the rain subsided, the IV guy stepped out into the mud, whipped off the IV bags and got us hooked up. We chatted all along with our new-found friends. While avoiding the adversity would have been easy, it would not have created a bonding experience with out fellow travelers, nor provided an improved feeling of community, common cause. It would have been an opportunity missed. Shared adversity gotten through with help from the tribe produces significant positive affect in life. Individual adversity endured alone (the default “normal” life experience) does exactly the opposite.
- Sound can unite us. While there was 24/7 sound walls all around at FF, a couple of experiences really stood out for me in their ability to create massive shared positive affect for everyone there. Friday night, Jen and I were wandering around and stumbled (literally) into the Envelop satellite sound stage. Standing in the middle, the waves of sound hit just the right frequency to cause waves of happiness and love to flow through our bodies. We stood there hugging and slow dancing for over an hour, completely lost in time and space. On Saturday night, the Pharcyde set was truly transcendent. There is really something to sound that can align (for better or worse) the body’s energy and unlock levels of consciousness and experience that are unavailable in “normal life”.
As I make my way through “normal life” back in Seattle, it is clear that there is some feeling of cultural loss when separated from the tribal community. I certainly know plenty of people who spend more time cultivating their tribe and tribal experiences than I do, and now I know why.
In Tribe, Junger also noted how in early colonial America many settlers were leaving the Puritanical western culture to go live with the Indians. Even prisoners who had been captured by the Indians and lived with them for some, when “saved” and returned to Puritan New England, tended to want to go back to the Indians. The Indian tribe was a communal meritocracy where every member had the ability to contribute in their unique way and the rest of the tribe had their back. While the Puritans believed their form of society was the “ultimate society” at the time (we now know very different), the pull to return to the tribe was undeniable and strong enough to make it a leading issue of public debate at the time. There is virtually no history of mental health problems in traditional tribal cultures. Everyone has a place and a value, or they move to a tribe where they fit. Further Future, Burning Man, there are opportunities to return to the tribe today. And loss of tribe is causing much of today’s mental health crisis. The way forward is going to be interesting.
Been reading alot of positive psychology books lately. As well as thinking quite a bit about what i want to do when I grow up. Am very interested in the science behind purpose and how having a purpose changes your life and even more importantly how to get focus on a purpose that makes sense and doesn’t overwhelm you. Victor does a good job in the first part of my questions, a very bad job on the second. This book has alot of his own science and research on the value of purpose in life, work, etc. He also spends quite a bit of time talking about the wonderful companies he has started to commercialize his work (two of which are now owned by Johnson and Johnson), all of which are focused on employee performance (the enterprise – where the money is). If you mostly care about purpose to drive your work career forward, you will find lots of justification for hiring his companies to do that for you in this book. In many ways, this book seems like a sales job for his enterprise software company, Jool Health.
If, on the other hand you are looking for some practical ways to develop purpose in your personal life, this book fails to deliver. While he proposes a framework of positive habits that support development of purpose : Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating (SPACE), there are no detailed interventions only high level platitudes like “meditation is good” and “more sleep is good”. The analysis and direction of how to develop purpose is missing. I actually thought that would be part of the book, but it is sorely lacking.
If you want to understand Strecher’s framework for Purpose, read this book. If you are looking for how to develop or define purpose in your own life, go find another book.
Someone recently asked me : “How do I recover the grit and will to succeed in life I had a long time ago, but I lost over time?”
As someone who has had a +/- net worth swing of over $500M in the last 15 years, this question, unfortunately, I know something about. Rediscovery of yourself is also a happy side effect of taking the Red Pill.
Grit is the magic combination of perseverance and passion. Put that on top of above average intelligence, some money and your social network and BINGO : success in life. See where you are on the GRIT scale today by taking the assessment. Personally, Grit is not something I can keep applying over the long term (say 10 + years) without burn out. Grit takes ALOT of energy. It is easy to loose without quite a bit of resilience. The good news is most everyone has the CAPACITY for GRIT for certain things. If you feel you once “had grit” and have “lost grit”, I suggest you do the following:
1. Go back to the time you “had grit”. What were you doing? Why were you doing it? With whom? What about that time/activity gave you the extra passion to put in the extra effort? The purpose here is not to re-create the same conditions in the past, rather to become aware of what they were.
2. In remembering and reliving the time you “had grit”, write down as many specific feelings that come up about those times. I find it helpful to use a detailed feeling list like this one. (who knew there were more feelings than “happy” and “angry”?)
3. Now roll forward to today and take an assessment of how your current life is going by doing some self assessment tests like these. Pay most attention to the values exercises and strengths/weaknesses.
4. Next, create a list of all activities you are doing today within a week that take more than one hour of your time. Here is one I did way back in 2005 as an excel spreadsheet. My typical week Jan 2005. List work, family commitments, raising children, volunteering, sleep, workout, etc. Next to each activity, put the number of hours a week you do that activity. The total must be 168 hours. Add to this list three activities off your “if only i had the time” list. The things you believe you would love to do, or would be good at if you only had time to get around to them.
5. Take the top five positive feelings you felt way back when you had grit (from step 2) and write them down on the left side of a piece of paper. On the right side list all the activities from step 4, including the “if only” items, from the greatest time suck to the least. Now draw lines from each feeling word to each activity that also produces that feeling. Write the number of feeling connections made next to each activity. Here is one of mine from today:
6. What activities on the right are related to the most number of positive feelings from the previous “success state”? Those are the activities to peruse to regain a feeling of success. In my recent exercise, the top 5 positive “success” feelings were, flowing, appreciative, curious, helpful and balanced. The top three activities which created those feelings were “teaching my kids a life lesson, helping them”, “sharing my life lessons with friends/others”, and surf/harley/take a month off every six months.
It is important to remember that “success” and the “feeling of success” may be different things. What you are capable of generating grit for may not result in “success” as defined eternally. It is important to note that what feels like success may not pay the bills of life. If that is your situation, you need to then decide how much of the bills you are willing to give up in order to live more in line with your feelings of success. What you choose to apply grit to very definitely feeds your soul in a successful way. I define success today at 52 much differently than when I was 30. I am not trying to recreate the “success” of my 30s, rather define success into my 50s and beyond.
On any journey, it helps to know where you are starting from, what strengths and weaknesses you have, and what tools, stories, assumptions, modes of being and values you are consciously or unconsciously bringing along. It also can help to understand how what you bring compares to the other travelers. Where are you strong, where are you weak, what skills do you want to build and how do you build them? Self Assessment Questionnaires can be a good Red Pill to help you figure these things out in a structured way.
I have taken over 1000 of these things and provide the most useful here in upgraded form. Most of these questionnaires come from theoretical academics for research purposes and often lack any applied analysis or “What next” guidance. My “Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires” attempt to provide four improvements over their purely research based cousins:
- Peer reviewed, well-studied assessment frameworks. Stay away from pop psychology “quizzes”. Choose questionnaires that have been thoughtfully designed, tested for correlations, run over large and varied data sets, and subject to critique and comparison to other available measurement methods (and survived). I am not trying to find the “best” and “only” frameworks, just ones that have been proven to work well so far.
- Cohort analysis and objective results placement. Provide some analysis of your individual results as compared to other people who took the assessment either through my tools and/or in the overall research samples. This is the “where am I in relation to the other traveler” piece. Understand this relationship may be an “ah Ha” moment or it may confirm what you already know/feel. The pay off here is understanding, waking up a bit, become aware just a little more of yourself and your surroundings. Pause a moment and let it sink in.
- Factor analysis where available. Most assessment tests, while testing a high level item like “happiness” will have groups of questions that are testing the sub-factors that the questionnaire designer has found to make up “happiness”. For example, Jung would say happiness has five factors, health, relationships, ability to perceive beauty, wealth, and spiritual practice. If you want to improve happiness, the biggest bang for your buck may be to focus on improving the weakest sub-factor. My upgraded analysis will provide factor analysis where possible.
- How to improve recommendations and further reading. I didn’t take hundreds of these things in a selfless devotion to furthering academic research. I took them to gain self-awareness and take action to change things I don’t like. So every analysis section includes extensive links to further reading on the subject as well as pointers to “interventions” which have been proven through research to result in higher assessment scores over time. Many of my favorite “interventions” are on my blog section called “Try This”.
I have started using the words “assessment” and “questionnaire” purposefully instead of “test” or “evaluation”. I have found “test” and “evaluation” to have a somewhat pejorative connotation toward a yes/no, pass/fail, you have it or you don’t have it mindset. “Tests” can tend to put you in a box and keep you there. Early mental health practices were big on this approach, picking out the “bad apples” and putting them in institutions. Even today, a “diagnosis” (read “test result”) of depression tends put the patient into a treatment “box”, usually pharmacological, the vast majority palliative in nature.
It is important to remember with all assessments and measurements that you are not the sum of your parts. You are not your test results. You are not your grit scale, or Meyers Briggs type, or any other measurement. You are not your job title. You are not your relationship status. Many of these assessments, the results change over time, or when applied to different circumstances. Just like your emotions change, and the weather. You are not your temperature reading. These are characteristics, parts, points in time. Your authentic self is something else. Something larger. Something deeper. In my experience, in the search for these larger, bigger more meaningful things, the assessments can help uncover pathways, stepping stones, issues which are enabling or preventing discover of your authentic self. Keep in mind these are all just tools. Your analysis, synthesis and implementation of growth/change is the most important thing to move the journey forward.
Based on my own self awareness work and supported by more modern existential psychotherapy and positive psychology science, I find that most things measured can be changed. The purpose of an “assessment” is to calculate a set point, a starting point. If you want to change the measurement, do some interventions, therapy, growth work, whatever is suggested by the science to improve what you are measuring. Then take the assessment again. And Again. Over time if the interventions are working you should see improvements. If you don’t, change what you are doing, try something else. An assessment can lead to awareness which can lead to growth OUT of the box.
I provide these Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires to help you wake up and get out of your Boxes.