Resilience is quite a known concept in health and in complexity science. In its origin, resilience is the ability of a material to absorb energy when deformed, and release that energy upon unloading. This definition is not far from the definition how we define it in psychology. Resilience in psychology means “an individual’s ability to adapt in the face of adverse conditions“. Resilience is thus a very important trait for healthy behavior. Usually, when we talk about resilience, we talk about the ability to recover after large traumatic events. However, through my Quantified Self experiences and my systems view of life, I’ve gotten a wider view on resilience. I believe that resilience is a huge part of our every day life, I will explain this in the first paragraph. Secondly, adapting to “adverse conditions” could be established through several ways. One could have a preferred state or not, and both states could have their own advantages. Healthy behavior is also largely dependent on the environment, what I will describe in the third paragraph. In the last paragraph, I will give some attention to the subjectivity of “adverse events” questioning the use of resilience as well. I hope you enjoy my article and care about resilience!
Resilience in every day life
Imagine you wake up in the morning and notice you overslept for like 10 minutes. You hurry with showering, eat your breakfast quickly and manage to arrive just on time at your appointment. I believe this is a sign of resilience, through the adverse event of oversleeping you managed to compensate and recovered to be just on time. This behavior is something that we all know during our daily life. In making schedules we manage to compensate for external events, in conversations we can answer resilient to unexpected questions, during games we can act resilient to smart moves of our opponents. Resilience is not just the recovery after huge events, it is a fundamental part of our every day life. Nevertheless, repetitive adverse events can break the resilience of people over time. A knight might be able to defeat 3 soldiers in a row, but he won’t be able to fight 10.
Having a preferred state
There is one thing that is very important with resilience, that is the existence of a preferred state. A preferred state could be the thing you want to reach, the goals you have (like fighting 10 soldiers), or just staying the same as you are right now. Preferred states could be consciously or unconsciously defined. You could know where you want to go or you could go somewhere without consciously realizing why you want to go there. Thus for now, we would call the preferred state, a balance where someone desires to move to. Resilience implies that there is a preferred state, a state where one could find his balance. In complexity science, we call this balance “attractors”, attractors are the (multi layered) result of repetitive patterns across time offering stability (read more about balance here). This balance could be spatial (as when being pushed by someone and be able to recover your position) or temporal (as a certain rhythm you want to follow). In our daily life, the temporal patterns that offer stability are more prominent. For example, if you want to be on time for your appointment, you follow a certain (social) rhythm. A schedule is an obvious temporal pattern, and with conversations we also often have a preferred direction where we can find balance. These attractors could be rituals or habits that we prefer to have in our daily life (read more about habits). We are resilient to keep up with these linear patterns and find stability in the things we do (read more about being a linearity). But when one cannot reach the preferred state, this could be quite a burden. When you always wanted kids but never get them, this could be quite a burden too. “If you don’t reach your largest goals, your largest goals can become your largest nightmares”.
Having no preferred state
If you have no goals or a preferred state, resilience is nonexistent. In these cases, you could just flow along with the external environment. If someone pushes you, and you just fall down and remain lying there because you don’t mind lying on the floor, there is no problem. Resilience is not necessary once you have no preferred position. It means that you have no behavior (attractors) where you prefer to go. But in general, not having your own stable state is very difficult to attain. Having no attractors requires a lot of fluency in your behavior and letting go of your internal desires and control. You would then be like a blank sheet of nothingness, molded by the wind and its environment. However, some fluency is almost often necessary, read more about that in flowing through life.
Adapting to the environment
Having your own goals, directions, and preferred stable state can thus be very exhausting if you perceive constant adverse events influencing your own rhythm. If you are successfully resilient, this means you can recover to your stable state but if you don’t, this same behavior will exhaust you (“If you can’t fight it, flow along”). A healthy system (person) would learn from the adverse events, and adapts its behavior to it. One could change its behavior or it could find other resources. The system would thus not return to the same balanced state, but finds a new balanced state, close to its old state but one that accounts for the (possible) adverse events. Resilience is thus closely related to adaptation but it is not the same. A system should learn about the environment through adaptation to its environment. A system that tries to be resilient in an environment that is not aligned at all with its environment needs to have a lot of capabilities to remain in its desired state (attractor). For example, it is difficult for a meat-eater to order a hotdog on a vegan-party. Discussions will emerge where the meat-eater would need to be very resilient to hold on to its original position. This could be a very exhaustive process.
Resilient against positive events
Situations like social interaction, and traveling are often unstable states (there is a lot of potential change) and require a lot of attention. These events are often very exhausting. When we want to recover, we shift (semi) automatically back into states where we find stability, the attractors we know. However, these familiar states can be very unhealthy, like being alone in isolation. These situations provide us certainty even if the conditions are quite bad. For example, it is not uncommon for victims to return to the person whom they flew away from. Therapy sessions are also situations of deep uncertainty. Therefore, one could avoid therapy because one desires to stay in a stable state, making someone resilient against therapy. Here, adverse advents become quite subjective, where being alone in at home doesn’t seem so bad. Here, defining the (true) desired state becomes a valuable thing. Possibly defining it in baby steps but changing attractors is possible. Read more on how to change attractors here.
In this article, we talked about resilience and how it is present in our daily lives, even if we perceive to be healthy. Resilience takes place when one interacts with the environment and has a preferred state. When one doesn’t, one could just move along with the external motion. This preferred state could be either conscious or unconscious, making quite a large difference in how one perceives himself, influencing their future paths. Secondly, having conscious preferred states might actually hurt you once you can’t reach what you desire to reach. Setting up appropriate desired states is thus very important when it comes to resilience. Either way, life is all about effectively interacting with the environment. Where goals influence the environment, and events from the environment influence you (read more about the self and the environment is this blog). One should find a balance between the self and the environment to sustain a healthy life. This could either require adaptation of the self, or adapting the environment, making them able to co-exist (read more about this paradigm of health in this blog).
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this article and agree with the texts I’ve written. I am setting up workshops in this area, so if you are interested, please contact me!