Ever since the onslaught of COVID-19, people are talking about resilience. Suddenly, how to be resilient is on everyone’s mind. But there’s something that has been bothering me. When I think of resilience, I think of ways to bolster how I respond to what is happening but the focus is on how to get through it. And I’m not saying this isn’t important - it is. For many people across the globe, just getting through it is hard enough. Yet, I’m actually interested in what lies beyond resilience - in the space where we not only get to choose how we respond to something but we get to choose to grow from it, to improve our lives because of it. Notice I didn’t say “in spite of it.” Because that’s not it. I actually mean because of it.
In his perspective-shifting book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, Nassim Taleb dives deeply into this topic and shows us that there is an entire class of things that don’t simply resist volatility, randomness, disorder, and stress but in fact, benefit from it. And he’s not alone in his assertion. Decades of research into resilience tells us that there are certain people who can do this - take a crisis and instead of letting it undo them, letting it rework them - like soft clay - into something new, improved, more resilient than ever before. In fact, it is only through facing obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that personal resilience either increases or decreases.
So what determines whether someone will greet those obstacles with high or low resilience? Several psychological factors are shown to be present in those that have been called “super-resilient” by researchers. The super-resilient tend to have:
An autonomous and independent way of being - they meet the world on their own terms;
A high degree of openness & flexibility - they seek out new experiences;
An internal locus of control - they perceive themselves as having control and influence over life circumstances and their own outcomes and degree of happiness;
A growth mindset - they believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work and that mistakes, challenges, and failure are an opportunity to grow;
Positive social orientation - they have strong supportive social ties and seek support;
High degree of self-efficacy - they use whatever skills they possess effectively and develop and apply a more diverse range of coping strategies.
What this means is that people who are less resilient can become more resilient by increasing these psychological factors. However, research has also shown that the opposite can be true - those who are more resilient can become less so over time. There are two primary and independent reasons for this:
1) A tendency to worry, ruminate and exaggerate the stressors in one’s mind;
2) Too many intense stressors showing up all at the same time, which in essence overwhelms one’s resilience.
While we may not be able to control the second, we are capable of exerting a surprising degree of control over the first - which can actually raise our tolerance for the intensity and frequency of external stressors. So how do we become super-resilient so that we have a greater tolerance of intense stressors?
I believe that being super-resilient, or antifragile, comes down to a series of choices one makes over and over, so that it becomes your way of being with challenges.
Choose to accept the reality of the situation - to look unflinchingly at the truth and surrender any resistance to what is happening. It is simply life unfolding in a particular way. It may feel personal, but it’s not.
Choose to believe that you can make it through this, just like you’ve made it through other hard times, even if you don’t yet know how.
Choose to feel your feelings without repressing them, exaggerating them, or releasing them on others.
Choose to employ positive coping strategies and self-care like good nutrition, exercise, hydration, and sleep.
Choose to exercise self-compassion rather than being self-critical in the face of challenges. Remember, you’re only human.
Choose to connect regularly with others, share your experience, and ask for support.
Choose to actively look at challenges for opportunities to grow and evolve, rather than focusing on what is wrong or falling apart.
Bonus: Choose to find your way to gratitude for the experience and for how it has catalyzed your growth. It is this final choice that allows you to release the trauma fully. It may not be possible to do this while you are experiencing the crisis, but if you want to truly claim the gifts and integrate the experience, you need to find a way to gratitude.
This is what it means to move beyond resilience into actual transformation.
Is it easy? No. But I think it’s worth it. And it’s worth getting help with the parts that trip you up.
Becoming antifragile increases your capability in all aspects of life. It leads to deeper alignment with what is important to you, to a life more vividly felt and lived. It ultimately reveals your deepest authentic expression and sets you on the path of the most meaningful and fulfilling life available to you.
It requires a certain boldness. A certain fortitude that only comes from having experienced deep loss, crippling fear, and the black void of uncertainty - and survived to tell the story.
2020 has been wrought with collective crises. On top of that, many are experiencing personal crises as well. Yet these crises are simply the way that life is unfolding now. They are an invitation to grow and evolve - both collectively and personally. They are the doorway toward antifragility - if we choose to say yes.
What will you choose?