JAY DIXIT: How to Build a Psychological Immune System


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Jay Dixit is a psy­chol­ogy writer who writes for The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton
Post, Rolling Stone, and is former Senior Editor at Psychology Today. He’s a winner of The
Moth, and his story “Dis­tance” appears on The Moth Radio Hour.

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  • My name is Jay Dixit, I ’ m a psychology writer... So HERE ’ S a question for you. How would you REACT.. if the UNTHINKABLE happened to you? There ’ s a car accident and you find out that your parents have been killed.
  • - Your girlfriend or boyfriend leaves you for someone else... - You get CANCER.- There's a CAR ACCIDENT and your parents are KILLED. Psychologists have a WORD for these kinds of experiences.
  • "Trauma." And as we all know, when you GO through TRAUMA, you're TRAUMATIZED. You get POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS.- you're SAD. DEPRESSED. ANXIOUS. - you feel helpless. - you ’ re HOPELESS about the future.
  • a NEGATIVE INCIDENT plunges you into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety you NEVER recover from. This is “ the DAMAGE model. ” The idea that you ’ re emotionally SCARRED, and you NEVER rise back up to your baseline of normal functioning...
  • ...unless you DO ! Cause here ’ s the thing: not EVERYONE who goes through extreme adversity.. remains an open wound.MOST combat veterans DON'T get post-traumatic stress. MOST parents who lose a child DO recover .
  • Half of sexually-abused kids DON'T develop psychological problems. They get over it. They HEAL. They move on. It ’ s called "resilience." When you bounce back up to the level where you were before.
  • And SOME people... SOME people... come back STRONGER !!!It's called "post-traumatic growth." Imagine a ball that when you drop it, it bounces back HIGHER. Imagine a boxer who, every time he takes a punch, he gets STRONGER.
  • A year after the incident, these people are: - braver, more honest, more persistent , more curious, more creative - they have better RELATIONSHIPS - a greater appreciation of life and of beauty- they ’ re more OPEN to new POSSIBILITIES
  • Psychologists studied these people to find out their secret. It turns out there ’ s only ONE difference between someone who bounces back and someone who doesn ’ t: The way you think about your life. The good news is: ANYONE can learn to think this way.
  • Let ’ s say you get FIRED. How are you gonna feel? DEPRESSED . But negative FEELINGS are NOT caused by negative EVENTS . They ’ re caused by... your thoughts.. ABOUT those events.
  • Getting FIRED doesn't MAKE you depressed. It's your thoughts ABOUT getting fired---like "I'm a failure"---that make you depressed. It ’ s the STORY.. YOU TELL.. YOURSELF. And if your story is a story about damage , then THAT ’ S what ’ s gonna HAPPEN.
  • So try a different STORY. Think of the formula for a Hollywood movie. Just before the climax, EVERYTHING goes catastrophically WRONG! The guy messes up and loses the girl. The plan.. to save.. the world... doesn ’ t work!
  • Screenwriters call it “ the black moment. ” Joseph Campbell calls it the “ visit to death. ” Aristotle called it the "dark night of the soul." Defeat is imminent. Everything seems HOPEless.
  • But then what happens? The hero has an EPIPHANY, GROWS into something MORE than what they were before, and goes on to WIN the FINAL CONFRONTATION. So instead of seeing failure as PERMANENT or part of who you ARE ...think of yourself as the HERO just before the big COMEBACK.
  • It may or may not be true that everything in life happens for a reason. Doesn ’ t matter. Look for the reason anyway. Ask yourself: how is this seemingly terrible situation ACTUALLY here to SERVE me?
  • If you get fired, what story are you gonna tell yourself? Do you say: “ Look, the reality is, star performers don't get laid off, they just don't. And there's no way I'll get another job in this economy."
  • You don't HAVE to react that way. You COULD say: > "This is an amazing opportunity, and I know I ’ m meant for something GREATER." Which one is true? Who cares! But the ONE you CHOOSE to BELIEVE is gonna set the COURSE OF YOUR LIFE.
  • It may sound like new-agey self-helpy mumbo jumbo, but these techniques are now being taught to U.S. Army SOLDIERS because they help PREVENT post-traumatic STRESS .It ’ s not magic—it ’ s science. Expecting to fail puts you in a STATE of ANXIETY. Which IMPAIRS performance.
  • If you tell yourself that things are out of your control, you stop trying. You miss OPPORTUNITIES. It ’ s EASY to think that way. In the dead of winter, sometimes it's hard to see that spring is coming. But winter doesn ’ t last forever.
  • And if you: - think like an OPTIMIST - look for meaning - and focus on what you can control, you can come back STRONGER.. than you WERE.. BEFORE.
  • JAY DIXIT: How to Build a Psychological Immune System

    1. 1. Jay DIXITBouncing Back: How to Build aPsychological Immune System@jaydixit
    2. 2. How would you react?
    3. 3. How would you react?
    4. 4. Trauma
    5. 5. Post-Traumatic Stress pain → damage
    6. 6. Post-Traumatic
    7. 7. Post-Traumatic Resilience pain + time → normal
    8. 8. Post-TraumaticGrowthpain → growth
    9. 9. Post-TraumaticGrowth
    10. 10. How to Build a PsychologicalImmune System
    11. 11. 1. Practice mind control events feelingsgetting fired depression
    12. 12. 1. Practice mind control events thoughts feelingsgetting fired “I’m a failure.” depression
    13. 13. 2. Rewrite your story
    14. 14. 2. Rewrite your story
    15. 15. You’re the hero
    16. 16. 3. Find meaning in tragedy• “Maybe I got fired because I’m supposed to start my own business.”• “My father’s death is what led me to become a doctor.”• “I believe I got Parkinson’s because I was meant to raise awareness.”
    17. 17. 4. Explain negative events optimistically personal permanent out of my control
    18. 18. 4. Explain negative events optimistically personal external permanent temporary out of my control what I can do
    19. 19. 5. Expect a comeback
    20. 20. 5. Expect a comeback
    21. 21. Jay Dixit twitter.com/jaydixitdixit@aya.yale.edu jaydixit.com