Earlier in our discussion about resources (here and here), we alluded to the fact that actual resources may not matter as much as perceived resources.1It’s easy to imagine someone who “has it all” and yet it is never enough. This “never-enoughness” will be the source of anxiety and stress. Similarly, you might know someone with not much of note, who feels as though they have much to offer and feels secure and resilient in their position. One might dare to say that the level of actual resources is almost meaningless – it’s all in the mind.
“Well,” you might ask, “if all that matters is perception of resources, and not actual resources, does the same apply to stressors?” Good intuition, that is exactly the case. Just as perception defines our level of resources, it also defines our level of stress. If we see something as within our capability, within our power, we experience resiliency, and are empowered. If we see something as negative or painful, we experience it as a stressor and are less capable of handling it in a productive manner.
Which brings us back to the idea of resiliency. A nice working definition for resiliency is:
“The ability to mitigate, or overcome, the effects of stressors on our lives.”
It is our defense against the things that we cannot control in life. We cannot succeed in any grand plan without resilience. While we may not need much of it to take on simple things, thrivelihood demands we persevere through adversity.
Whether you perceive your resources as low or the stressors as particularly strong, the end result is exactly the same in terms of your perceived ability to withstand the threat. This means we can think about our resiliency as a ratio, the Resource:Stressor Ratio.
Shown mathematically, it would look like this:2
r = resiliency
Rp = perceived cumulative strength of resources
Sp = perceived cumulative strength of stressors
One’s resiliency is equal to the perception of the strength of one’s resources compared to the perception of the strength of the stressor(s) in question.
It’s a simple statement with simple functionality, but profound implications. If we want to increase resiliency, we can either increase the perceived strength of our resources, or decrease the perceived strength of the stressors.3
This gives us the following relationships:
- If Rp ↑, then r ↑ (with more resources, we are more resilient)
- If Sp ↓, then r ↑ (with fewer stressors, we are more resilient)
- If Rp ↓, then r ↓ (with fewer resources, we are less resilient)
- If Sp ↑, then r ↓ (with more stressors, we are less resilient)
As we consider this ratio, there are three important points to focus on:
- Resiliency bottoms out at zero. This makes sense intuitively – we can’t have negative resiliency.
- The break-even point is when r = 1, when your resources are equal to your stressors. This would imply that you feel evenly matched. Your resources are fully utilized/challenged. Just a little more of the stressor would put you over the edge, and just a pinch more resources would give you quite a bit of comfort. It is a state characterized by uncertainty.
- The ratio can be greater than one. In fact, it seems to have no upper limit. Resiliency could essentially reach infinity.
And now things start to get interesting. Infinite resiliency? What would that even mean? This idea could have massive ramifications when realized in the physical world. However, in order to understand its potential for the physical world, we must first consider what it implies in the mental world. With an r of infinity, one feels invincible; as if nothing could possibly damage them. This is a person that could be as free from fear as is possibly attainable. Notice we did not say “absent of fear”, we said “free from fear”. It is not that they would not notice or feel fear. Rather, this person might experience fear in the same way Neo experiences bullets; it is quickly acknowledged, and just as quickly overcome or dismissed as insignificant.
Now, it’s important that we introduce a couple caveats here. Here are a couple things that are not resiliency:
- Resiliency is not an excuse to dismiss experiences outright, especially criticism. If someone presents something stressful to us, it is not resilient to say “I don’t care about _____’s opinion”, or “I don’t need this right now”. Avoiding something that might be painful is not being resilient; it is being scared. It is actually the exact opposite of resiliency.
- Resiliency is not suppression of fear; it is the realization that our fear is unfounded because nothing could possibly damage us in a significant manner. This is a far cry from telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel fear; this is recognizing that your immediate impulse was wrong (as they often can be), and remembering that you’ll be totally fine. To put it another way. “There is no spoon.”
Resiliency is not about dismissing an experience or the emotions that arise from it. It is about building one’s ability to withstand and overcome by changing the way we experience life’s challenges. It is about creating temporary and/or permanent alterations to our perspective that allow us to persevere. When you learn to control and alter your perspective in this way, you’ll see that it is not the fear that bends, it is only yourself.
For example, receiving criticism is typically difficult for many of us, because we feel we are being threatened. With enough resources, we can look at this anxiety we’re feeling, understand that it’s unfounded because we cannot be harmed, and then proceed. This does not mean we avoid the criticism; it means we are free to experience the criticism with open-mindedness and optimism. If anything, it allows us to better experience the criticism.
Again, it is not that we become absent of fear, but rather, unbound by fear.
Unbound by fear. An interesting sentiment, no? It may be difficult for most of us to imagine a state such as that. But the reality is that this state could, and likely does, exist in several forms. In fact, we don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most of us should strive to approach this state to whatever extent we can. Outside of its guidance in moments of danger, such as saving us from predators, (we recommend even those with r = infinity still evade predators), fear isn’t that useful on its own.
If we think fear is good, we likely mean something else. For instance, we might mean overcoming fear is good. We talk about doing things that create fear within us (being vulnerable, skydiving, asking your skydiving instructor out while skydiving) because we want to push our boundaries and explore new possibilities to prompt us to learn and grow. Again, overcoming fear. Strength and growth do not come from fear, they come from overcoming fear, and therefore building resiliency.
Which brings us to the point of bringing up CRT at all. Self-awareness is hard, and it is uncomfortable. It is completely natural to be afraid of admitting faults, shortcomings, or weaknesses. But if we cannot be totally honest with where we’re at in life, how can ever expect to plot out an accurate course for growth?4
If we desire to grow effectively, and enjoy that process, we must learn to build our resources and become more resilient to stress. When we learn to feel totally comfortable being vulnerable with ourselves and others, we put ourselves in the optimal position to create a fulfilling life for ourselves.
As we have mentioned previously, and will invariably mention again, the foundation of human growth and development is about building internal resources. Resiliency is a nurturing force that enables us to growth and allows our growth to last. Building our resources can profoundly improve every area of our lives.
However, there will, of course, be challenging moments when we don’t recognize or feel that we have adequate resources to handle a particular stressor. The good news is, we all have the capacity to increase our resilience, even on short notice. We call training this capacity “being resourceful”. More on that next week.
Exercise: A Prompt on Resiliency
This week we will take a moment to reflect on our own resiliency.
Consider a time when you felt un-resilient, or overwhelmed; when a challenge seemed too big to handle. Examine your behaviors:
- What did you focus on?
- How did you envision it would turn out?
- What was your internal dialogue like?
- What emotions did you feel? How do you think they affected your resiliency?
- Were your thoughts and your emotions related? Did they feed off of each other?
- How did you represent yourself physically?
- How did you move or posture yourself?
- How did you communicate?
- Were your actions appropriate for the situation?
- Did you have the outcome you desired?
- Most importantly, how did everything turn out in the end? Were your fears justified?
Often, when we reflect on stressful moments in our lives after considerable time has passed, we face with two incongruent concepts. On the one hand, at the time, we imagined we’d never make it through. On the other hand, we clearly made it through.
This realization can help us reassess our resiliency. Clearly you’re still here. Perhaps you are more resilient than you think you are.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Marcus Aurelius
Bonus: Consider the same sets of questions for a situation you felt quite confident you could handle. How was your internal experience different in this scenario?