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Book Review: What Makes You Stronger

Book cover: What Makes You Stronger

What Makes You Stronger by Louise L. Hayes, Joseph V. Ciarrochi, and Ann Bailey uses an acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) approach to support greater psychological flexibility. The authors write, “This book offers you a radical premise: Trying to control the wrong things brings loss of control. If you try to control how you think and feel, how other people think and feel, or how external events unfold, you’ll lose control. You’ll lose the very life you are trying to protect.”

The authors are critical of the pop psychology messaging that strength comes from positive thinking. They mention a couple of books in particular, saying, “Their core idea is that you can reject uncertainty by creating positive thoughts and convincing yourself you are strong. This gives you the life you want. That concept has failed miserably.” Love it!!!

The book is based on a system called DNA-V that the authors have developed. It identifies four core abilities: Discoverer, Noticer, Advisor, and Valuer. Your Advisor is your inner voice that’s watching out for you and trying to keep you safe. Your Noticer is mindful of what’s going on inside and outside of you. Your Discoverer helps you push out of your comfort zone so you can learn and grow. Your Valuer has two aspects: purposeful actions that are consistent with your values and vitality, which involves bringing energy and engagement into your days.

In the DNA-V system, each of these areas has a purpose, and what matters is being flexible enough to recognize when one role isn’t working well in a particular situation and it’s time to take a different approach. The book explains why trying to resist your advisor doesn’t work very well, instead suggesting that you practice being in charge by taking action based on what matters to you, which allows you to gather new experiences that your advisor can learn from.

Resistance is also identified as a problem when it comes to trying to avoid inner experiences and control how you feel. The authors explain that the effort that goes into this resistance of feelings doesn’t leave you anything left for actually living, and they offer strategies to engage your noticer to let inner experiences flow.

Engaging the discoverer is about taking action even when there’s fear associated with it. The authors write, “Discovery brings curiosity, vitality, and meaning into your life because it opens the doorway to valued living.”

Part 1 of the book covers the DNA-V system, while part 2 looks at ways to build strength within yourself. It addresses topics like vulnerability and compassion, and explains why labelling ourselves can be limiting, even when those labels are positive. Part 3 focuses on building strength in social situations. I quite liked this bit: “Problem solving is one of your advisor’s most powerful abilities, but in your relationships, it’s the action that’s likely to get you in trouble. People hate being solved.” Amen to that!

While I was already familiar with ACT, the DNA-V system was new to me. It seems like a very balanced approach, and I like that the emphasis is on what’s workable in a particular situation. I liked that the authors offer personal examples of things they’ve struggled with, using the DNA-V model to explore ways to handle those challenges. I also liked that they acknowledge that the strategies they’re suggesting can be difficult at first and may take a lot of practice, such as trying to be more self-compassionate when you’ve got a loud, harsh advisor. Chapter summaries are always helpful, and each chapter in this book ends with a clear visual summary of the key strategies covered to help you find balance between extremes (e.g. trying to please everyone vs. being totally closed off to others).

I quite liked this book. In terms of the target audience, it’s not focused on mental illness or any particular mental health issue, and while sometimes a lack of focus can be a bad thing, I think the DNA-V system applies broadly enough that this book could be useful for anyone who’s feeling like they’re just not where they want to be in their life. The book doesn’t throw a lot of research results at the reader, but the concepts are very grounded in science, and I like the rejection of the ideas that you should control your feelings and always be positive. Overall, I thought it felt quite empowering and was very well done.

What Makes You Stronger is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: What Makes You Stronger”

  1. Love the part about thinking real hard to affect one’s outcome type thing. That might also be called manifesting. And, I always thought that was hokey.

    Another part I interpreted as letting people be themselves and not calling others out basically.

    Sounds like a good book.

    1. I will also say that I feel the new age movement or equivalent sought answers for vulnerable people, that just were not good answers.

      The problem as I view it, the new age gurus lacked good models themselves. So, that just perpetuates what their vulnerable readers and listeners were lacking as well.

      1. I agree, there were probably good intentions, but there’s probably also a lot of motivation to keep telling people the things they want to hear if there’s a lot of money to be made by doing so.

  2. I like your comment about what this book cautions “like the rejection of the ideas that you should control your feelings and always be positive.” I find that controlling thoughts and positive feelings are not a matter of will or willpower or of intent The only time I am remotely able to make progress on this front is when I substitute an unwanted thought or behavior with a wanted one. This takes an extreme amount of energy and I am not always or regularly successful at it. Though if and when it does occur it feels like moving mountains. For example in the last two years I have given up the thought that a job in project management is a good goal for me. I have replaced that goal with a goal of managing things within the home and keeping abreast of my blogging and my own self care. I feel I have changed my expectations of and for myself for the better. I am being honest with myself about my own capabilities and my own triggers. This is not some easy reaction of trying to make myself “feel good.” This is a change in expectations of myself based on years of self-observation and self work. It cannot be accomplished just by embracing the good. It is much more complicated than that. At least for me…..

    1. Acceptance has been a really important thing for me to develop. When I used to get fully well between episodes, I had quite a different outlook on the future compared to now, when getting fully well no longer seems to be a realistic possibility. It was a journey that took time and a lot of reflection, but I think I’m able to be a lot more realistic in my goals as a result.

  3. For what it’s worth, you constantly amaze me on the amount of ground you cover daily and weekly on your blog posts. Maybe that should be a part of your new normal…:) I consider myself to be pretty cognitively capable but I find I often need to review your posts a couple or three times to be sure I am getting it all. There is ALWAYS so much content there that is good for the taking. Just a suggestion: I think you should make the frequency and the in-depth nature of your blogging a key part or maybe even a keystone of your new normal that you can achieve and achieve remarkably well despite the depression and the slowing down that that entails. Your posts show no signs of slowing down.

    1. Thank you! Blogging is definitely part of my normal, but I try to be flexible around it rather than setting expectations regarding output. That way, if I don’t feel like writing, it’s not a big deal.

  4. Interesting. I kind of thought based on the title that I would hate this book. This will sound stupid, but I tend not to like books with strength and resilience kind of messaging because I feel like I am not a strong person and there is no good reason for that. I have faced zero trauma and zero hardships, and yet I still have virtually no coping or problem-solving skills. Anything suggesting that I have inner strength or should be a strong person just hits weird. Sorry, this is getting a bit rambling. Anyway, I didn’t respond well to the title of this book but I found your description of it intriguing.

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