Looking Beyond Resilience
"Words create worlds." It's a quote used by thought leaders including Heschel and Wittgenstein, not to mention my mentor in positive psychology, Tal Ben-Shahar. As someone interested in human flourishing - feeling good and functioning well - I've long been interested in how words either limit or provide the opportunity to promote optimal mental well-being and human performance.
Take for example the term resilient, a term attributed to a person's ability to bounce back from a stressor. The more resilient a person, the quicker they can return to normal.
Resilience is that inflatable clown we got as children. You wobble on a weighted base and act as a virtual punching bag for any aspiring kid pugilist. If you shoved it, it would rock back and slowly return to it's resting position. It's almost like Bozo was taunting you to hit a second time with more even fury and vitriol. The harder we punched it, the faster it popped back up.
It's not a great image for the coulrophobic clown-detester, but it is a way to digest what resilience exactly means.
When you feel the press (a mental shove, a setback, an unplanned experience), resilience is your ability to return to normalcy. The more resilient you are, the faster you can snap back to your previous resting state.
This is where language limits. Often we will recall something stressful and realize that a perceived negative event served as the activation energy to get us out of a funk, propel you over a life plateau and become a better person. We sometimes attribute being resilient to outcomes that go further than just bouncing back.
Development as a result of introduced energy is NOT actually resilience. It's beyond resilience.
Coulrophobics run before reading this part! Can you imagine the clown punching bag growing a set of arms everytime you punched it? Or it beginning to speak to you if you teased it?
While we can coin it as antifragility, development as a result of energy introduced is a word we already have in our lexicon: growth.
"To experience trauma and function better as a result" is post-traumatic growth (PTG).
"To experience awe and function better as a result" is post-ecstatic growth (PEG).
"To feel good and function optimally day-in and day-out" is growth as a result of human flourishing.
Whether you feel an up, down, or an all-around, you have the opportunity to create growth.
Here's one way to do it that I explain in my book Beyond Resilient:
1. Capitalize on your strengths.
Ryan Niemec (2017) explains that you are nine times more likely to flourish if you are merely AWARE of your strengths and eighteen times likely to flourish (feel good and function optimally) if you use them. If you are interested in becoming aware of your strengths, you can get a free personalized assessment here: http://marccordon.pro.viasurvey.org
2. Tame your inner gremlin.
Our inner voice comes from a part of the brain that exists to keep us safe. Its primary function is to keep you alive, and it is NOT concerned about your flourishing. While it has a necessary purpose in fight-or-flight, sometimes fight-or-flight kicks in when the situation is not usually appropriate. This is where breathing and meditation come into play.
3. Utilize your social support.
See if you can spot what Aristotle calls your virtuous relationships. These are the friends, family, and community members that derived their highest sense of happiness from your thriving. If you have gone through something particularly traumatic, therapists are trained and take oaths to be virtuous. If you are looking to grow without trauma, coaches exist to challenge and support your development.
4. Operate through self-concordance.
Do things that align with your innermost values - where work doesn't feel like work, where you feel a sense of joy in the moment, and you are allowed to live out your passions. There is a ripple effect on other domains of your life when you practice self-concordance even in one area.
5. Develop a growth mindset.
There is always something to be learned from every experience - traumatic, awe-inspiring and in-between. A growth mindset operationalizes a simple feedback loop in everything you do and asks, "What did I learn from this experience?"
We're past the semantics of resilience. Sometimes we just need to bounce back to a status quo, but often times when we want to evolve, it entails more than just bouncing back. Awe and trauma, though seemingly opposed, both bring the opportunity for growth.
But what about on a day-to-day basis?
Create a micro-moments of flourishing, in which you live mindfully and gratefully and connect to an epic purpose larger than yourself. As you string these micro-moments together, your perspective will shift from living in the mundane and waiting for awe-inspiring moments to creating awe-inspiring moments in ostensibly ordinary life.
Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strengths interventions. Boston: Hogrefe Publishing.
About the Author:
Marc Cordon is the founder of Greater Good Strategic & Life Coaching which serves rebellious entrepreneurs, misfit coaches, and ostensible iconoclasts who are committed to changing history for the better. Marc is author the internationally bestselling book on coaching, business, and positive psychology, Beyond Resilient: The Coach’s Guide to Ecstatic Growth. He has received several coaching accolades from the Institute for Professional and Excellence in Coaching including an Energy Leadership Index - Master Practitioner, Certified Professional Coach, and COR.E Dynamics specialties in Transitions, Leadership, Performance, and Wellbeing. Marc loves spending time with his family and plays roller derby under the nickname of Manila Ice.