Everybody experiences disappointment with their circumstances at some point in life. In school, we might do poorly on an exam, or on the job market, we might mess up an interview. These failures can weigh us down, making it tougher to move on, but we can learn to bounce back and stay on the right track with the proper attitude, thoughts, and behaviors.
In fact, our response to events, both with thoughts and behaviors, can help or hurt us. Do we learn from failures and move on, or do we beat ourselves up and tell ourselves things will never get better? In The Rubber Brain: A Toolkit for Optimizing Your Study, Work, and Life!, Sue Morris, Jacquelyn Craney, Peter Baldwin, Leigh Mellish, and Annette Hrochmalik offer tools to help readers learn how to become more flexible and resilient when things do not go as planned.
The authors start by explaining suboptimal thinking, the types of thoughts that are not helpful, and how to transition to a more optimal way of responding to things that happen in life. How we think about things matters. Unhelpful thinking results in unhelpful behaviors that do not support positive well-being.
After explaining what optimal and suboptimal thinking patterns are, the authors briefly offer a scientific approach to thinking patterns and tell readers that it is possible to increase self-awareness to better understand current response patterns. But knowing oneself takes time; it requires reflecting on beliefs and identifying values and the willingness to do some hard work.
Once this is achieved, it is easier for people to recognize if they are living according to their own values and beliefs. In addition, the authors encourage readers to examine their own character strengths and personalities. All are good exercises, yet may be overwhelming for the reader who is not normally introspective. Tackling beliefs, values, character strengths, and personalities takes a while.
Once this framework is built for understanding thinking patterns, the authors offer case studies showing how other people have worked through these issues. These real-world examples offer hope for people who may not feel they have the capacity to change. These examples, along with practical tools, help readers begin to change their thinking patterns and therefore their behavioral responses.
Although the tools are simple, the work is not. Our habitual responses to events come from years of learning ways to navigate life in a pattern that may not always be healthy.
So, The Rubber Brain is not an easy book to apply, but is easy to understand. The thoroughness of it may feel overwhelming, even though it is not a lengthy book. Multiple counseling principles are covered, including positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, emotional regulation, and goal setting. It is comprehensive in its approach and a lot of information for people who might be new to these concepts. Those who are tackling the process of self-exploration for the first time may want to pull from sections of the book or test out a few of the exercises. Working through the book with a trained professional can make it less intimidating.
I applaud their goal of providing tools to help people in their everyday lives and I appreciate their title about the “rubber brain.” It implies we are able to bounce back and adapt to stressors. Recognizing that many do not respond to circumstances in the healthiest manner assures readers they have the ability to learn new thoughts and behaviors.
I recommend the book for readers who are highly motivated and very much ready to change. It is a guidebook that does what the authors promise of “giving psychology away,” but those in the beginning stages of a change are not the best audience, since The Rubber Brain has a lot of information and requires application. But taking the time to invest in making lasting change is a noteworthy goal.
The Rubber Brain: A Toolkit for Optimizing Your Study, Work, and Life!
Australian Academic Press, August 2018
Paperback, 266 pages