Building Mental Muscle : the art of prosilience
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got” - Henry Ford
The subject of personal psychological resilience has fascinated me for years; indeed, I wrote my dissertation on it. Resilience is notoriously difficult to pin down in words, but I feel the most apt description is that it describes the ability of a person to adapt to and survive a change or other challenge quickly, without compromising their physical, mental or emotional resources.
You’ve almost certainly seen that two people can respond to change differently: one person can view change as an exciting new opportunity, another as something threatening, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. How do we become the first person, the one who embraces change? What resources do we draw upon?
While there are certain attributes that characterize resilient people, resilience is not a fixed trait which you either have or don’t have. It is something that can be developed through consistent practice. This is where prosilience comes in. What is the difference between resilience and prosilience? Resilience is a response to challenge as and when it happens. Prosilience, in contrast, is using the frequent and lower-level challenges of everyday life as opportunities to actively and intentionally prepare yourself to deal with larger changes or challenges that might come along.
Prosilience as a technical term is fairly new, but as a concept it has been understood by thinkers as far back as ancient Greece. I personally been practicing it, and encouraging others to adopt it, for many years – but now it has a name! Here are a few strategies that I have found can be used in everyday life to improve your response to challenging situations:
Learn how to calm yourself down. Mindful breathing is a great way to bring your heart rate down. Apps for your mobile or wearable are a handy way to practise regularly and consistently;
Re-frame the situation. Re-interpreting an event can make it seem less awful. For example: traffic annoyances are everyday occurrences, and by thinking about reasons for others’ behaviour you will become less agitated when someone cuts you in. You don’t even have to tell anyone else what those reasons are.
Look for creative solutions. Ask yourself: what are the ways in which I can approach the situation that is different from how I have approached it before? Figure out where you have influence and control. For example, weather is a very good way to practise dealing with frustrations; we have no influence over the weather, but there are many things we can control such as our choice of clothing or our plans.
Practise acceptance. Sometimes it is impossible to change what is happening and you need to accept it and build an approach that incorporates new reality. This is extremely difficult to achieve simply because as human beings we always seek control!
Be pro-active and experiment. Practice getting far enough out of your control zone to exercise your responses to challenge (but not to the point, of course, that you feel paralysed). This could be as simple as taking a route you’ve been avoiding because of awkward junctions.
We all have unique styles and approaches towards dealing with change. Utilising the strategies above can work wonders in making you a calmer person who adapts to challenges better. Although there is no magic bullet to remove the stress from challenging situations, building personal awareness of your own responses and how you can influence them is the most effective route to long-term and lasting improvement.