The term “Resilience” is a buzzword we hear being thrown around nowadays.
Given the recent events around the globe with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, Psychologists and gurus alike are urging people and organisations to learn, embrace and teach resilience.
Some individuals/entities have taken steps to write books and build businesses around resilience (see The Resilience Shield as an example), which is interesting.
What does it Mean to be Resilient?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as,
“…the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, primarily through mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”
In other words, resilience refers to how individuals or entities deal with adverse events like trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress they experience.
Resilience does not mean you can prevent and avoid adversity because that’s not how the world works.
It’s the stressors imposed on you during these adverse events that help you develop resilience.
How Do You Become More Resilient?
If we take the Resilience Shield’s model as an example, resilience has six tenets. Taken from their website, they are:
Innate - This is the resilience you already have inside you, built upon your nature and nurture, and influenced by your personality and values.
Mind - How you view the world and deal with stressors is critical to the development of a strong Resilience Shield.
Body - Sleep. Diet. Exercise. It’s that simple - the more we develop our physical capabilities, the more resilient we will become.
Social - Our interactions with other human beings nourish and strengthen our Resilience Shield. The support of friends, family and significant others builds this layer.
Professional - Work can create stress within our lives - or we can be empowered and inspired by it. Finding work with purpose - or purpose in our work - can tip the scales in your favour.
Adaptation - A strong Resilience Shield empowers us to embrace the unknown and unknowable - in short, to deal with whatever life throws at us!
The APA website includes variations of the above tenets within their strategies for becoming more resilient, including mindfulness practices.
What’s missing from these definitions is the category of things that stand to be gained from adversity and, in some cases, rely on the stressors to survive and flourish.
What is Anti-Fragility
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Anti-Fragility is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, which I recommend you read.
The classic example of something anti-fragile is Hydra, the Greek Mythological creature with numerous heads. When one is cut off, two grow back in its place.
But what does being anti-fragile mean?
“When you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible - for deviations are more harmful than helpful. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictive in its approach, and conversely, predictive systems cause fragility. When you want deviations, and you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.”
Developing the skills to adapt to changing circumstances whilst having the confidence to seek out challenging situations is a good start to becoming antifragile.
If your world were turned upside down by an adverse event, would you have the skills to start again and succeed, or are you too heavily reliant on one aspect of your life that if it were taken away, you would struggle to survive?