When the French philosopher Desecrates was wandering around Paris in the 1600’s, he had a thought. Strolling by the Seine River, through the Left Bank or “La Rive Gauche”, he mused on whether Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen (famous Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire) knew what they were talking about? Was it the right approach to see a human being in a holistic sense - or was the interaction between mind and body a more casual relationship? Before you knew it - Desecrates came up with the idea of the body and the mind working independently of each other. This became known as mind, body Dualism.
Thankfully for us, this idea didn’t take off - and - thousands of years of eastern and western thinking has not gone to waste. At PERIPHERALVISION, we understand that for people to perform - and - to be as productive as they can be, means they must experience a state of complete physical, mental and emotional alignment. When we are actively building our robustness - we feel alive, exuberant and full of vitality - reaping the psychological benefits of being focused and experiencing more than our fair share of productive emotions to collaborate and drive progress. We understand that the foundations for high performance - in both our personal and our professional lives - is the complete integration of our mindset / nutrition / movement / recovery in order to produce increased physical capacity, productive thought processes and resilient emotional muscles.
We all know that ambiguity and adversity is a constant part of life and business today - and - that our ability to thrive depends on our ability to face into such pressures and stressors. Traditionally, many have called this resilience - a quality that has been the subject of much debate as to whether it is a disposition or otherwise. Suzanne C Kobasa was the first to discuss hardiness in 1979, assisting us to better understand human stress response patterns. Work in this area since then [ Maddi and Bartone ] has helped us to understand that resilience can be self-taught and that endurance, emotional balance and mental toughness can be deliberately strengthened through commitment, control and challenge.
Commitment is the tendency to see the world as interesting and meaningful.
Control is the belief in one’s own ability to control or influence events.
Challenge involves seeing change, stress, pressure and new experiences as exciting opportunities to learn and develop.
Typical approaches to managing adversity target the actual situation - whilst deliberately building the resilience character muscle means: anticipate stressors, design your best stress response, prepare and practice this response, and then place yourself under the stress of performance. Kobasa’s research says that habitual ways of thinking about stressful triggers and events has a productive impact on mental strength - and - capacity for building executive hardiness.
What’s interesting is that hardiness distinguishes people who stay robust under stress from those who develop stress-related problems. For example, several studies have shown that soldiers who develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms following combat exposure are significantly lower in hardiness, when compared to those who don’t get PTSD (Bartone, 1999).
A NEW MINDSET //
Over the last few years, a new and challenging view has emerged that has shaped our thinking about resilience in the workplace. Professor Nassim Taleb - in his book Antifragile - stresses the differences between antifragile and the standard definition of being robust / resilient.
"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
We strongly believe in this notion of ‘gets better’ – always progressing our foundational strengths beyond where they are today – because new challenges are literally just around the corner coming at you whether you like it or not.
Something that is described as antifragile gains from disorder, benefits from shock, thrives and grows when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stressors. The easiest way of explaining it is if we drop something antifragile on concrete - not only does it remain intact - it grows stronger every time we do it. [ A little like a golf ball - it goes higher than the release point when bounced on concrete ] Anyone that has had young children knows the dread that comes with sending them off to kinder for the first time. From that moment on, little Mary is now exposed to every possible disease and guaranteed to come home with some obscure hand, mouth and eye virus. Though this is both painful and frustrating, it’s not such a bad thing for little Mary as she begins to develop a stronger immunity, thus getting stronger and less fragile. The same principle applies to building muscle. The muscle must be weakened - stressed - for it to get stronger, becoming less fragile. This is the at the very heart of being the leader that I want to be – I must continue to deliberately develop my hardiness/resilience holistically if I am to grow into that ideal vision of myself as a leader.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO //
What does this mean for the modern executive, looking to improve performance and productivity? For most of us, it is not natural to search out opportunities to test our fragility - so - to become antifragile, we must deliberately do so. We must fully and holistically commit – get some skin in the game and deliberately develop our resilient/hardiness character muscles by designing activities and processes to execute and test us. By pushing into fragility, we exercise vulnerability and expose our weaknesses - and in so doing - build greater capacity to conquer the stressors and pressures we will inevitably face in our day to day business/life combats.
“Broaden and build” theory [ Fredrickson 1998 ] is a process designed to help us develop positive emotions and in so doing build long lasting psychological, intellectual, physical and social resources. The building of antifragility requires the same basic approach. The choice to and process of testing ourselves - will increase the prospect of fragility, leading in turn to the development of greater resources and capacity, culminating in further growth in antifragility.
SO, WHAT ARE SOME TIPS TO BUILD ANTIFRAGILITY
Deliberately Commit – Control – Challenge
Commit - Add some stress to your life - intentionally. Challenge and test yourself emotionally and be prepared to be more authentic, transparent and open to emotional exposure. It may change the way that you relate to others.
Control - Practice via negativa. Instead of focusing your time on adding things to your life to make it better, focus first on subtracting habits, practices, things, people that make you more fragile. Control where your attention is being spent. A few examples: quit something - get rid of debt, stop hanging around toxic friends, eliminate an unhealthy foods habit, say no to ‘unproductive chat’ about others.
Challenge your mindset … Take increased risks in the way that you think, consider more options - and - question your assumption that there is only one way. Explore options - be curious and roll with your intuition more often.
Commit: Push yourself to build physical capacity through greater physical challenges and commitments. Run, walk upstairs, take the bike, lift weights or complete the ‘no excuse workout’ that you have been avoiding.
As always – we would love to hear your ideas - how do you go beyond the traditional definition of resilience – what do you do to get better and better in the face of new and emerging pressures?
Layne Stretton –
Executive Performance Coach