MF 379 : Writing series: Deborah Gilboa, MD ("Dr. G") ("From Stressed to Resilient")
Updated: Apr 21
Deborah Gilboa, MD ("Dr. G") returns to talk about her new book "From Stressed to Resilient" and shares tips on writing an interactive book and how to write a book when you don't like to write! More at www.bemovingforward.com.
Deborah Gilboa, MD ("Dr. G")
Deborah Gilboa (“Dr. G”) is a family physician and a mother of four, based in Pennsylvania. Dr. G's patients include kids, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. Additionally, her practice is within a federally qualified health center, which gives her the flexibility and freedom to help underserved and under-resourced populations across different cultures and backgrounds. Through her professional and personal life, she has become an expert on stress and resilience. Today, we talk about her new book From Stressed to Resilient, which tackles one of the biggest and most misunderstood issues facing us today. Dr. G also shares with us how to write a book when you don’t love, don't like, ahem, hate writing!
The journey behind From Stressed to Resilient
“It’s never not a thing but it’s so much more a thing now”. -Dr. G
From Stressed to Resilient tackles an age-old problem that has become more prevalent in recent years: stress and our ability to handle it. Prior to this, Dr. G. wrote several books on youth development, emphasizing how adults can teach resilience to kids.
While helpful to many parents, many of Dr. G's patients felt ill prepared to teach these lessons because they themselves didn’t have a great handle on them. Worse, Dr. G noticed the medical profession putting forth a paradigm of avoiding stress, likening it to smoking. The problem, as she explains, is that unlike smoking, stress is an unavoidable natural part of life.
“You cannot abstain from stress.” -Dr. G
It was this two-fold dilemma that became the catalyst to write From Stressed to Resilient.
The modern day business card
Dr. G is well known, having appeared on many daytime shows addressing issues related to health and raising healthy children. She’s a two-time TEDx speaker and a noted authority on stress and resiliency. So why write a book? Dr. G explains that a book is a modern day credibility card; the equivalent of “getting your own masters.” A book allows you to dive deep into a subject and clarify positions. It also adds that extra element of trust for those who are considering hiring you or retaining your services.
“As a subject matter expert, or as a thought leader, people want to see you have a book.”
Second, Dr. G felt this book would be an important component to her professional career. Notably, she has built a practice on a foundation of long term relationships with the goal of achieving and maintaining wellness. Dr. G designed her book to be part of an interactive treatment plan. As she explains, each chapter provides opportunities to interact with her via an online community. This enables her to have continuing dialogues with her patients and “to see what’s working and what isn’t.”
“Being just a little bit more intentional about building that resilience during and before new stressors come up, I’m much less likely to be totally overwhelmed and swept away when, not if, those stressors come along.” -Dr. G
Dr. G wants to shift away from the paradigm of stress as "smoking" towards seeing it more akin to "exercise." She explains that if you get winded climbing a flight of stairs, rather than avoid stairs altogether, you should walk up more stairs to get stronger and better at it. Just as our bodies develop fitness through increased physical activity, we develop resilience through facing stress. However, like exercise, if it's not done properly, stress can injure us.
Dr. G further explains that stressors aren’t simply random obstacles that life throws at us but are components packaged with the many intentional choices we make. When you apply for a new job, get into a relationship, have kids, or write a book, these positive goals all come with stress. I asked Dr. G what was one of the most surprising revelations in writing this book. She reveals that it isn’t so much adversity that we fear but change. We resist change, big or small, and that is a starting point to look at stress and stress management in a different way. At the heart of it, and boiling down the science, our brains have one job and that is “to keep us alive.” Thus, any change is viewed as “suspect” and this is what causes the brain to release stress hormones.
Living it, then writing it (or rather letting your audience write it)
Given that Dr. G is so passionate on these topics, and that she’s written several books, it may surprise you to learn that she doesn’t love writing. It was never a dream or "bucket list goal" of hers to write a book. Quite the contrary, she emphatically says writing is “my least favorite way of expressing myself.”
“No! I hate writing.” -Dr. G
So, what do you do when you need to write a book on an important topic and you hate writing? You come up with a hack. In this case, you let your readers write most of it. In contrast to her prior books, Dr. G decided to make From Stressed to Resilient interactive. The book contains minimal text, following a self-imposed rule of as few sentences as possible within as short chapters as possible. Dr. G's breaks down her writing to specific components: 1) communicate the basics of the scientific and medical research, 2) have the reader do their stress analysis, and 3) have them take ownership of their resilience development. In other words, Dr. G writes just what is needed and no more. However, this isn't simply a way to avoid writing. The other reason is a practical one.
“You write more of it than I do.” -Dr. G
While Dr. G is an expert on stress and resilience, she isn’t an expert on you. You, the reader, are the best known expert on who you are, which includes your life circumstances and stressors. As with her patients, Dr. G can ask the right questions and through those answers, guide you to the right way to develop resilience. It’s very much like a coach developing an individualized exercise plan, following her analogy of stress as "exercise" and resilience as "fitness."
“The definition of resilience is the ability to navigate change and come through it the person you want to be.” -Dr. G
Writing smarter, not harder
For an author who doesn’t enjoy writing, Dr. G has certainly found success as an author with books that convey important themes and timely lessons. Naturally, I wanted to lift the hood on her writing process, especially since some of you many need or want to write a book but do not actually enjoy writing.
Little chunks: Dr. G is to the point. She approaches her writing as if she is speaking to you one-on-one. She doesn’t belabor points or pad her chapters with verbiage. She explains the science, clarifies a point, and moves on to the next one. As a result, she keeps her chapters short: 2-3 pages max.
Outline: Dr. G spends a lot of time outlining and planning. This is key to keeping the text and chapters short. From there, she breaks down the concepts into the “tiniest to dos for me.”
Overestimate the time: Dr. G is busy with four boys and a full-time medical practice. Her hectic schedule doesn’t contain a lot of consistency. To stay on track, she gives herself more time than she needs, setting deadlines accordingly.
Accountability: Dr. G stays on course by promising to someone else that she will finish her books by a hard deadline.
Excel: Dr. G uses spreadsheets to compile and design the exercices for the book.
Despite having an effective process, Dr. G is candid that there are challenges with addressing topics like stress that are universal experiences but not universal in experience. Writing an inclusive book that's free from bias and not tethered to specific circumstances or life experiences is difficult. To address this, Dr. G gathered as many points of view as she could from test readers, especially for the exercises.
“That was the hardest thing about making it interactive – so it’s interactive in a positive way for somebody who isn’t me.” -Dr. G
Choose your own adventure
To address individuality, Dr. G wrote designed her book to be non-linear. It’s not a read from page-one-to-page-done experience. Rather, it is more like the "pick-a-path" books many of us read in grade school. From Stressed to Resilient covers eight principles with accompanying exercises. One reader may need to work on a set of principles that's completely different from another. The book recognizes that each person will differ in their circumstances, strengths, and stressors. Thus, the order isn’t chronological but rather individualized and tailored according to you. The book identifies particular skills for readers to work on; tying it back to accompanying exercises that build and develop resilience.
“Don’t do it in the order I wrote it, do it in the order it’s most helpful to you.” -Dr. G
Find the funny
Finally, Dr. G adds one important ingredient for engagement and resilience: humor. The book is filled with anecdotes of the earliest jokes. From there, Dr. G develops exercises that dive deep into what makes us laugh. As she explains, laughter is one of our best tools to develop resilience to stress and is an anchor point for the book.
“Because if it wasn’t fun, would you do it? … We learn a lot better when we’re enjoying ourselves.” -Dr. G
Dr. G recommends a holistic picture when it comes to writing an interactive book. Rather than ask “how you succeed with writing a book” look at “how you succeed with projects.” Specifically, look back on tasks you didn’t want to do that you accomplished. Equally important, don’t just look at successes but past failures and obstacles that prevented you from reaching goals. Taking stock of both will be instructive and helpful before you write a book, especially if it's your first. Finally, make connections with people who can support you.
Listen to Dr. G talk about her career on #MFPodcast 104.
Take a free stress test (stressedtoresilient.com)
Connect with Dr. G:
Watch the video of our conversation on Facebook:
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