More descriptive than innovative, Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed is a hodgepodge of big ideas in positive psychology and inspirational profiles of courageous leaders and everymen — emphasis on “men.”
In their brief composite of theories about resilience under pressure, psychiatrist George S. Everly Jr., organizational psychologist and business leader Douglas A. Strouse, and former Navy SEAL and clinical psychologist Dennis K. McCormack address psychological hangups many people have when faced with challenges. Focusing on five pillars to adopt when incorporating cognitive resilience into one’s routine, Stronger draws on cutting-edge ideas in organizational and cognitive psychology. But it has some serious flaws.
In one of the strongest sections of the book, the authors describe the biological basis of human resilience. Although they root many of their arguments in strategic military decision making, they also addresses everyday concerns. Everly, Strouse, and McCormack are also especially good at identifying the ways our mind can hinder action and limit decisiveness. For instance, a good chunk of the book focuses on the concept of “active optimism”: accepting the challenge to bring positivity into your life by making it not just a personal responsibility, but a routine action.
Here, Everly, Strouse, and McCormack break down common passively optimistic beliefs, such as expecting good things to happen to you, versus actively optimistic thinking, where one owns the challenge to manifest them through one’s own actions.
Some might find cognitive psychology and positive psychology harsh or judgmental — perhaps by seeing an implication that it is your fault that you experience psychological distress, because it is your thoughts that are defective. Luckily, the authors stray away from diagnosing blame on the reader’s thinking patterns.
At first one of the book’s strengths seems to be its ability to talk to multiple audiences and to dissolve the distance between elite soldiers in the military and a mid-career worker with employment burnout. Its core principles can be adopted by both the reader who’s about to be deployed for military duty and the reader suddenly asked to step in as the head of a work team. Either type of reader may feel empowered by learning about theories in positive and organizational psychology, and may feel equipped to become more decisive, actively optimistic, and resilient.
But although Stronger will have no problem finding an audience in its desired readership, it may have trouble finding a larger audience: it excludes women almost completely.
The book is constructed in such a way that it is propped up by examples, ones both within the text and in special profile sections sprinkled heavily throughout the narrative. These profiles make up a substantial portion of each chapter, indeed almost to the point where they detract from the authors’ own ideas and arguments. Yet of more than ten biographical profiles of great leaders or teams who exhibited resilience, strategic leadership, and overcoming adversity, only two feature women. Even within the non-profile sections, women are not featured proportionally to men.
The authors are definitely successful at finding excellent politicians, soldiers, and athletes who support their arguments, and that makes the omission of women all the more curious. Were female leaders not a priority, or do the authors not feel there are enough women to bolster their point?
Either way, a female reader might reach the point where she starts to wonder where the other half of the population went.
These profile sections also highlight a significant issue with the book: its organization, which seems to be an afterthought. Although the book clearly intends to be interactive, actual prompts for the reader to apply what he or she has learned are few and far between. Each chapter starts with a self-assessment, but in at least one case the reader’s answers are not even addressed until the end.
As it stands, this is more a collection of examples and biographies than a workbook or even a guide that could make a meaningful and original contribution to positive psychology. The dangers of relying on so many stories and people to illustrate the main points is that the authors’ arguments get almost completely swallowed up. And because of this issue with formatting and organization, the flow of ideas gets chopped up. The book’s narrative momentum gets splintered by longer passages that are in some cases never analyzed or incorporated into what was supposed to be the main gist.
At best, this a motivational tool that gets us to rethink negative thought patterns — the kind that hinder decision making, leadership, and active optimism. But the book’s organizational pitfalls and lack of equality are hard to overcome.
Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed
AMACOM, August 2015
Hardcover, 240 pages