Thursday, December 24, 2020

Jim Taylor on How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen

In this interview, Dr. Jim Taylor talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis.

“Look at your life. Look at things that you might want to change. Then take action.” ~Dr. Jim Taylor

Until the age of sixteen, Dr. Taylor was “an underachiever” who sabotaged his own efforts. He did, however, like alpine skiing and decided to be the best alpine skier in the world, which was why he entered a skiing school for ski racers in Vermont. He didn’t work hard in the first two years, and in the summer after those years he realized he needed to work hard at everything he did. This flipped a switch in his mind, and this drove him to becoming an international skier in the years to come. He took up psychology which, and he says: “Psychology chose me.” He then pursued his career in psychology and is now on the path of helping others with the challenges in their lives.

Dr. Taylor has never been driven by fame or money, doing things he is passionate about, particularly by sharing ideas with others. “Writing is a part of my being,” Dr. Taylor also says, adding that, if he doesn’t write about something, he’s not being authentic to himself. His main philosophical objectives are being true to oneself, following one’s passions and being willing to do the hard work. Dr. Taylor also remarks that, if one is driven by fame or work, one might achieve success with it, but there won’t be passion, meaning or joy in doing so. Where he is concerned, fame or recognition follows from doing what one is passionate and joyful in doing.

Where words are concerned, Dr. Taylor notes that these are descriptive of what one is communicating, as well as creating a shared understanding. Where the word, “crisis,” is concerned, he defines it as “a situation or event that arises suddenly, which disrupts lives and threatens the status quo.” Crises also have long-term effects on individuals and groups, and he notes that, psychologically, human beings don’t like the following things:

  • Unfamiliarity
  • Unpredictability
  • Uncontrollability

Crises thus create instability, which threatens the main human need to survive, and trauma, which has physical, psychological and social elements to it. Where the present situation (December 2020) is concerned, Dr. Taylor points out that there are several crises that are presently and simultaneously taking place, creating a “perfect storm of crises:” Covid-19 (both a personal and global health crisis), a global economic crisis, a personal financial crisis for those who have lost their jobs, a political crisis and a climate crisis, each of which are serious in themselves.

Where humans are concerned, humans are, evolutionarily speaking, hardwired to react to crises, but not in the way that the present situation demands, Dr. Taylor notes. Back when human beings emerged, the crises that they faced was an immediate, physical threat, and to resolve this, humans resort to a “fight or flight” response, which is triggered by the amygdala, whose purpose is to filter incoming information as quickly as possible, to create an immediate reaction. Modern crises, he notes, are different, as these are distant and indirect in nature, as well as beyond our immediate control, and require a different response, a different approach, one which employs the human prefrontal cortex, in what Dr. Taylor calls an “opportunity mindset.” The prefrontal cortex is the thinking part of the brain, one of the things of which it does is to weigh risks and rewards in the long term. This enables us to:

  1. create a “can do” attitude (“This is a tough situation, what can we do?”;
  2. be calm and purposeful;
  3. be deliberate and focused in response.

Dr. Taylor refers to the present situation with Covid-19, pointing out that, with an opportunity mindset, humans will focus on what they can do, to help regain control of one’s life; and where Covid-19 is concerned, Dr. Taylor notes that such measures include wearing a mask, staying at home, taking care of oneself (eating and sleeping well, exercising, looking after family and community) in a conscious and deliberate way, and physical distancing. (Dr. Taylor prefers to use “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” as we human beings, he points out, need to speak with other people - something which wouldn’t be possible, if “social distancing” were to be strictly followed.)  This, he notes, “takes effort,” but it is possible.

Dr. Taylor also notes that, psychologically, humans like routine, as this creates a sense of familiarity, control and predictability, and that this has been disrupted in the present environment. Social isolation is also harmful to humans psychologically and socially, he remarks, as we are social beings - even moreso  because we need to connect to solve the present crisis. Boredom, which is due to lack of stimulation is something which, he also notes, drives bad behavior, such as having too much screen time or drinking or eating excessively.

Where opportunity thinking is concerned, one should think of the situation as a challenge, rather than a threat, Dr. Taylor says, as a challenge is a situation that can be dealt with, while a threat is something one would want to run away from. Those who can would be advised to reflect and reset, as well as to make changes in their lives, as the old routine might not exactly be the life one wants, and one’s present support systems are designed to support that old routine. Finding something that re-ignites one’s motivation, something which fires one up, is also important where finding opportunity is concerned, as this will get one active, which makes one feel better, rather than withdrawing and doing nothing.

Dr. Taylor notes that a crisis hits one with “a tsunami” of negative emotions, which is why mental health issues - anxiety, depression and the like - have spiked during the pandemic. Doing something to create positive emotions - joy, excitement, fun, meaning - is important to answering the challenge, as positive emotions “turn the volume down” on negative emotions, making one less overwhelmed with what is going on; and positive emotions make one feel better, which has physical, psychological and emotional benefits. Social support and connection is also very important, as such support mitigates stress, and such support could be personal (such as from friends and family) or technical (such as receiving information from doctors who give proper information on what Covid-19 is all about and what to best do about it). Being grateful, according to Dr. Taylor, has been shown in studies to make one feel happier, by giving and receiving thanks.

Where differences in approach are concerned, Dr. Taylor points to the present political leadership in the United States, where some apply the hard-wired solution of “fight or flight” and essentially flee the situation by “sticking their head in the sand,” and where others use the opportunity mindset to get people to thinking about, and doing things, that would best suit and overcome the situation.

Where the present pandemic is concerned, Dr. Taylor notes that we should all stay vigilant; look for ways to make one’s life as good as it can be, given the present situation and mandates given; and don’t get complacent or “fatigued.”

(Those interested in getting in touch with Dr. Taylor can do so at his website,, from where his podcast, “Crisis to Opportunity,” can be accessed.)

Purchase from Amazon: 

How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis by Dr. Jim Taylor

No comments:

Post a Comment