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.