❝When faced with a setback, we should treat it as a test of our resilience and resourcefulness, as if they were designed...to challenge us.❞ -William Irvine
I'm walking down the stairs after lunch to return to my office. I just had a good idea, and I want to get downstairs to record it before I lose it. I'm distracted, thinking about this new idea when I get to what I think is the bottom of the stairs. But it's not the bottom of the stairs - there's another stair! As a result, I fall straight onto the ground!
Then I start laughing.
Sure, my initial reaction was to get upset at myself for missing a stair. "How stupid!" I might think, or "What is wrong with you?"
Instead, I just reminded myself that life just gave me a test - and that test was that I fell on the ground. The way to address the test that life gave me is to think about the most efficient way to address the challenge.
In this case, the answer is embarrassingly simple; stand up.
RESILIENCE IS NOT...
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after setbacks and challenges. It's the ability to learn from these challenges and from mistakes to better equip ourselves for future setbacks and challenges.
We can close the door to potential misunderstandings here. Resilience is not about just sucking it up and letting bad things happen to you. Resilience is not hoping for and otherwise being happy about having bad things happen. And it's far from you being a doormat, letting everybody walk all over you.
PSYCHOLOGICAL IMMUNE SYSTEM
Think of resilience as your psychological immune system. You may be familiar with your physical immune system. Your physical immune system helps your body fight off illnesses. It helps you bounce back from whatever made you sick.
In much the same way, your psychological immune system helps you bounce back from mental and psychological setbacks. It helps you fight off psychological "illnesses."
It's important to remember that a physical immune system does not prevent you from getting sick. It helps you get sick less often, and when you do get sick, it gets you better faster.
Similarly, your psychological immune system - or resilience - doesn't prevent setbacks from happening. Instead, it helps put setbacks in perspective so that they don't impact you as much, and when you do experience a setback, you'll be able to handle it more efficiently.
With the physical immune system, you need to have access to germs so your body can create immunity. You can't develop an immune system without practice.
It's the same with resilience. You can't become resilient without practice.
FIRST AND SECOND ARROWS
Setbacks and challenges are inevitable. They are a part of what it means to have a life and to be a human. If you live your life hoping for no problems, you will be disappointed at the arrival of the next problem. You will live your life in a state of perpetual disappointment.
Setbacks and challenges, which are a part of life, are unavoidable. You can think of these like getting hit with an arrow. There is no avoiding these arrows.
As much as it hurts to be struck by an arrow, it hurts exponentially more to be struck with a second arrow. The second arrows represent how you deal with the first arrows. Somebody who expected a life without first arrows will spend a lot of time complaining about being struck by the first arrow, getting them struck by the second arrow. People who expect first arrows are better equipped to handle the arrows when they strike, helping them avoid being struck by a second arrow.
While first arrows are unavoidable, second arrows are completely in our control. They are optional.
The concept of reframing is powerful. The same information, if presented differently, can greatly impact how we interpret the information. For example, hearing that meat is 90% lean feels different than hearing that it's 10% fat. Learning about a procedure with a 99% survival rate feels different from a procedure with a 1% mortality rate.
Being able to reframe setbacks and challenges will help your ability to overcome them. For example, when you experience a setback, framing it as being unfair will make it less likely that you will efficiently solve the problem. Framing it as an opportunity to learn or grow can transform this into a powerful learning opportunity.
One powerful reframe is to imagine you are being challenged by life (or the universe, or God). Using this reframe looks like this: the moment a setback happens, you view this as a test that life gives you. Life doesn't give you challenges that you can't handle, and life wants the best for you. Life wants you to be strong and resilient. Therefore, life will occasionally throw you challenges to give you practice at solving problems.
So the second you notice a setback or a struggle, tell yourself that life wants you to solve this in the most efficient way possible. Your job is to figure out a workaround and a solution.
Using the resilience reframe and asking yourself the best way to solve life's challenges helps you see things from a new perspective. By using this reframe, a large percentage of your problems drop away. Even the bigger problems will be viewed as a challenge, making it more likely that you will do the necessary steps that are in your control.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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References and Influences
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Hanh, Thich Nhat: No Mud, No Lotus
Hanson, Rick: Hardwiring Happiness
Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient
Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha’s Brain
Irvine, William: The Stoic Challenge
Lukas, Elisabeth & Bianca Hirsch: Meaningful Living
PositivePsychology.com: Realizing Resilience Masterclass
Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.