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  • Writer's pictureGraham

Why resilience won't give you mojo

The economy’s going to hell. Technology is creating as many problems as it’s fixing. And we seem to be on the brink of World War III.

What's the most popular antidote being promoted for all the uncertainty this creates? Resilience.

It's the idea that you can recover quickly from setbacks, grit your teeth, and move on.

Sounds pretty good, especially if you're struggling through a difficult period.

But while resilience can be useful in some situations, it’s by no means the path to a flourishing life.

Google searches for "resilience".

Interest in resilience accelerated with the arrival of Covid-19. The pandemic was unexpected and unpleasant, meaning we weren’t prepared for it. So the best that could happen for most people was to bounce back. And if you believe in antifragility, some might even be able to bounce back stronger!

On a daily basis we’re told that resilience is essential for:

And they’re not wrong. The capacity to recover is important.

But it’s not enough.

Because resilience doesn’t help you make better decisions, and decisions are how you exercise control over your life.

Resilience is a cure. You employ it after the disaster.

Imagine a dog that crosses the road every day to get food. Some days it gets hit by a car. But it’s resilient, so it gets right back up again and continues on its way. It may even get more resilient – it becomes hardened by its experience, and may even brag to other dogs about the size and speed of the vehicles that it’s struck by.

But what if the dog spent just a little time looking up and down the street to see if any vehicles were coming. Rather than improving its ability to sustain blunt force trauma, it would be sharpening its skills in assessing direction, speed and distance of far-off objects. In other words, it would be exercising foresight.

Foresight is a set of skills and techniques that can help you analyse the future, decide what you want from it, then make great decisions now to increase the likelihood of it happening.

It’s a question of Hope versus Optimism.

Hope is what you feel when you want a positive outcome for something outside your control. (I hope I won't get hit by a car.)

Optimism is an expectation that there will be a positive outcome for something you have influence over. (I’m optimistic I can avoid the cars.)

Those who are more optimistic tend to be doing more to make the luck run their way. Those who talk about hope are focusing on things they have no power over.

Optimists take time to explore the future and shape it. They maximize their control. They don’t wait to “see what happens.”

How can you cultivate the skill of foresight?

  • focus on questions that are important to you

  • don’t read the news, read the analysis

  • talk to people who have knowledge about your question

  • force yourself to imagine a range of possibilities

  • position yourself to take advantage of opportunity

  • manage risks so you can sleep well

The future can seem confusing – some people have even told me it's not worth thinking about the future because you don't know what's going to happen.

But being unable and unwilling to consider future possibilities are the characteristics of someone suffering from depression, not someone who is hoping to make the most out of their lives.

That's why doing all you can to think about the future – understanding the dynamics that will shape the world you'll live in and stretching your imagination to create new opportunities for yourself – is so important.

But you still need resilience.

When I’ve written about the limits of resilience before, I’ve been criticised for creating a dichotomy, resilience or foresight, even though I’d done no such thing.

And I’ll repeat my caveat here: You still need resilience. Even humans get hit by cars sometimes, and we can never be flawless fortune-tellers.

But resilience is useful only when you need to deal with the unexpectedly challenging. Taking control of your future is always going to be a lot better than simply being able to weather it.

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