“What stands in the way becomes the way.” –Marcus Aurelius
This thought from Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome’s ‘Five Good Emperors’, is both simple and empowering. The obstacle in your path is, in fact, a fundamental part of your path. Within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve yourself. Here’s the quote in its entirety: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” He brilliantly summarizes the three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent principles of Resilience: Perception, Action, and Will.
Before getting into the principles of resilience, let’s talk about what it is and why it’s important. Resilience teaches us a mindset that is hard to embrace, but infinitely rewarding. It is the fundamental disruption of our own values. We then learn to look away from the blinding lure of happiness—after all, pursuing happiness directly brings anything but. Resilient people find what is truly of value is struggle, learning, challenge, growth. A traditional definition of resilience is usually something along the lines of “being able to bounce back from difficult situations”. However, this definition doesn’t really encompass the breadth of the resilience skills, or its benefits. The definition of resilience I prefer is “advancing despite adversity”. Let’s examine this definition in a little more detail.
The traditional definition of “bouncing back” only accounts for a return to status quo, whereas advancing implies progress, continual growth, and achieving one’s goals.
This brings up an aspect of resilience that’s often neglected: proactivity. That is, resilience must be developed in advance. A critical aspect of resilience, proactivity is almost universally ignored. We mustn’t wait until after adversity strikes to begin building our resilience. Another function of proactivity is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. Proactivity also includes having an understanding of your own beliefs and expectations that produce emotions in the first place. For example, if you expect that life will be fair, and everything will go exactly as planned, you’ll be in for quite a shock. However, if you expect that most likely something will go wrong, you’ll be in a far better position to handle it. It’s easy–expect that things will be harder than you expected!
This includes the monumental, life-altering events, and the small daily challenges. An abundance of small annoyances can add up to an emotional reaction. In fact, the cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) that is released when you’re late to work or forget a school project is indistinguishable from the cortisol released when being chased by a wild animal. Because of this, your nervous system has a hard time distinguishing between emotional threats and physical threats. It is up to you to observe and understand these reactions, and to put them in perspective. Getting emotional about a bad hair day or a traffic jam has never been useful, and robs you of the emotional energy you need for advancing toward goals and handling serious problems.
Principles of Resilience
Now onto the three principles of Resilience: Perception, Action, and Will. Perception decides how we face obstacles. It shapes our approach and attitude towards adversity. Retired Naval Officer and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink has an admirable response to adversity, meeting any challenge with a single word– “good”. Adapting your attitude in order to approach adversity as an opportunity to grow, learn, and strengthen yourself is indispensable. But you don’t need to be a Navy SEAL or a psychological wunderkind to benefit from it! Resilience, like all things, strengthens with practice. Action, as a principle of resilience, is the creativity with which we actively break down our problems and turn them into opportunities. Finally, Will is the cultivation and maintenance of an inner fortitude which allows us to handle difficulties and defeats.
Former slave and Greek philosopher, Epictetus, an authoritative source of wisdom regarding resilience once said, “In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.” I couldn’t agree more!
Science has yet to find a physical source of consciousness and self-awareness. It seems to be a specific brand of hopelessness which credits the vast array of human emotions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and experiences to a 3-pound wad of neurons, axions, dendrites, and grey matter known as a brain. I, for one, refuse to allow my life to be held hostage by a collection of hormone-fueled tissue, when the reality of the human experience is so inescapably vivid. Why entrust your greatest hopes and deepest desires to a biological computing machine that can’t navigate optical illusions and barely lets us rub our heads and pat our bellies at the same time? When I struggle maintaining a positive, constructive perspective, it helps me to ask myself “Who’s running the show here? Do I ride the metaphorical horse, or does the horse ride me?” And the wonderful part is, you can take the reins if you want! As author J.K Rowling said, “You control your own life. Your own will is extremely powerful.”
Make the choice. Challenge yourself to convert your obstacles to opportunities, to rise to the occasion! Turn your obstacles into stepping stones, and pave the path to your success with your struggles! Dig deep into your reservoir of inner strength and embrace the challenges! Because every time that you’ve thought you couldn’t go on, you have. Lastly, if the path you’re on seems to be all uphill, that’s because it leads to the top.
Y’all are amazing! Thank you for reading, and for your feedback! <3 <3 –Deen Howell