Becoming "Anti-Fragile"


Photo: Johannes Anderrson

When you bring up a conversation around millennials with someone of an older generation, what are the first things that come to mind? Often, we hear talk of two negative ideals. One, that they are lazy. And two, that they are overly sensitive. And although I myself am of this generation, I couldn't completely disagree with these statements. Although it is never a good idea to generalize an entire group to the point of labeling them based off specific values and traits, it can be difficult to find the evidence to disprove these labels.


But as in every generation throughout time, there has been a beautiful emergence of people who like to challenge the status quo. And many are making waves by exposing and conceptualizing the ideas that can help us purposefully exercise ourselves to create a stronger and more resilient mind in this modern day and age of convenience, pleasure over purpose, and the "I need it now" mentality. In fact, I think we are all seeing this very clearly now in the midst of post-pandemic product shortages, reaching every country no matter their rank on the greater global food chain. Patience and contentment, it seems, are values that have simply fallen off all together.


If you take a stroll through YouTube, you'll find endless content on the ideas of bio-hacking and productivity pointers. I, in many ways, found greater change in my life through content on minimalism and simplifying in a world of vast choice, as well as traditional methods of finding stillness and inner strength through meditation and the like. The self-help industry has greatly taken over as people begin to find themselves lacking many life skills and tools of resilience that generations before us were naturally exposed to. Things that may have never consciously occurred to them. It was simply a part of their everyday life. Consider the stories of your grandparents as they "walked through a snow storm, miles upon miles, just to get to school." Are these drastically exaggerated memories? Perhaps. But they also tell an important story of the lost art of overcoming obstacles through adversity. As mundane as these may be, it holds so much value in how we move forward as a human race.


Through this, the greater concept of "anti-fragility" has appeared. And although I cannot speak to how popular these methods of personal growth are for the millennial population, there are some great lessons to be learned. So here I would like to share some practices that can be used to fortify your own ability to face adversity, regardless of age. We will all be faced with it at some point in our lives. I believe it is safe to say that everyone has now been faced with the direct effects of uncertainty and hardship during our unified experience of the global pandemic. And I personally would like to build my resilience muscle for what's inevitably to come. Continue reading if you too would like to take initiative to stand firm on this journey through life.


1. Actively Letting Go

You probably knew this list was going to start here. I am a true believer in the power of decluttering and simplifying one's life for greater purpose and a surplus of time and energy for what really matters. And although letting go of physical things can greatly impact your level of contentment and your mental well-being, you can choose to let go of more than just the physical.


One of the biggest pieces of minimalism and intentional living that people often miss is what you continue to declutter once the stuff is gone. Yes, you may now be able to clean and tidy your home in under 15 minutes. But what about the real reason we seek simplicity? Once you can see clearly through the clutter of life, it's time to continue the journey inward and begin to let go of the beliefs, patterns, behaviors, relationships, activities, and commitments that are no longer serving you and your family.


Consciously taking the time to evaluate the pieces of your life that consume your time and energy, often leading to feeling completely drained and in excess, entirely burnt out, can free you of the self-made and societal constraints that we carry. These can leave us feeling unrecognizably heavy and even lacking in purpose, as we question the point of it all. And you guessed it, this mental exercise can contribute to greater overall resilience as we begin to understand our needs, wants, and how it all fits in to the grand scheme of things. Even the simple act of questioning ourselves and our desires can create a deep knowing of what we truly need to be happy. This comes particularly in handy when times may arise that many external sources of excitement and distraction are limited. Quarantine and lockdowns, anyone?


2. Building Physical Resilience

Since embodying a holistic approach to life, I have come to understand how deeply the ties of mind, body, and spirit run. "As above, so below" is a common go-to saying of the holistic wellness community, as it easily depicts the effects that our environment as well as the things and substances we are exposed to, have on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.


The great thing about this connection, is that we can use it as a tool to create greater adaptability and resilience for our minds by exercising our physical bodies. And it's not just limited to exercise specifically. But there are many unique ways to train and challenge our bodies to build greater immunity, strength and will power to help set the stage for a calm, cool and collected future. Just as many of us choose to physically exert our bodies in various forms of exercise because we know that there will be growth and strength built from the experience, we can begin to tone our physical stress response, which in turn creates greater mental strength and stability.


Some of the best forms of this training come with exposure to the elements. Cold water therapy has been praised lately for its immense effects on the immune system and our bodies ability to regenerate and heal from within. If you've ever experienced it first hand, you would know it also takes a great deal of mental will power, as the icy cold sensation overtakes your focus. But about 30 seconds is all you really need to create a regenerative response from your bodies major systems, creating an increased circulation rate and a "clearing-out", if you will, of the toxins that may be lingering. You can even complete this simply by finishing your regular warm shower with 30 seconds or so of cold water, and then returning to warm. Just the sheer capacity to experience the cold and push through (and more points for doing it regularly) will create an increased will power and mental endurance, such as that you would receive from meditation. Heck, this is a great time to engage in meditation. You will need it!


Another incredible tool and skill that can be cultivated for greater resilience is that of dopamine fasting. And in this day and age of endless scrolling, 1,000's of channels on your cable tv package, and a social credit score of likes and shares, we could all use some time away to reengage our contentment muscles.


In fact, our brains have now become wired through the use of social media and easily accessible goods, to expect and seek out the fleeting rush of receiving rewards in the form of attention and recognition or treats on a very regular basis. Simply by intentionally setting some constraints for yourself around consumption of media, including entertainment and digital social interactions, we can retrain our brains to be happier with less. In other words, we don't receive the regular crashes of low dopamine, which in turn require us to consistently feed the monster by picking up our phones and checking our notifications, because we have recalibrated our need for outward validation and retuned our intense desire for more, in all its forms.


3. Practicing Gratitude

From everything I have gathered over the years, it appears there is one true necessity to finding happiness and experiencing joy in our lives. Gratitude. Of all the studies that have been done, the books that have been written, and the personal explorations that have been endured, finding and expressing gratitude has always been proven essential. Some may say you can even find true happiness on gratitude alone, apart from all difficult circumstances and harsh realities. And this speaks to the fact that mindset and perspective are everything.


There will always be something that you don't yet have. Some reason that you "will be happy when...". We are always working towards that next goal. Wanting to obtain our next great purchase, or even looking to gain financial security before we are ready for peace of mind. But to be happy in the now is just one perspective shift away. And there is no better way to create resilience and inner strength than knowing the value of what is right in front of you.


This plays a big part in lack mentality that many of us hold throughout our lives, which often lead to things like cluttered homes, a large list of small talk acquaintances over deep friendships, and excessive spending and shopping habits. It requires us to fill the holes and continue filling for just-in-case scenarios and worries of the future or inadequacy. And platforms like social media and luxury magazines and television shows have done little to help. But we can begin to rewire this lack mentality and do away with the limits it creates for us through the practice of gratitude. In a sense, allowing the space to find peace of mind regardless of the circumstance.


4. Cultivating Unwavering Follow-Thru

We've all faced the debilitating effects of procrastination. I myself procrastinated writing this article even though I felt immense purpose in sharing it. But often these procrastinating tendencies are speaking to us in lesser known ways. Many times, as you will begin to learn while filtering through the dates on your schedule, the work and social commitments, and the excessive tasks and activities you've assigned to your family calendar, these instances of procrastination are quite literal signals that you are doing something you don't find value in. Or perhaps you're putting off the task because you are already completely overwhelmed and burnt out by the endless other line items on your to-do list.


But the choice to self-sabotage and distract yourself from things that need to be accomplished can also be a lack of endurance for the mind. We can easily choose to do "X, Y, and Z" when what really needs to get done is "A". This is because we believe that things have to be perfect in order for us to move forward. My own perfectionist tendencies have enticed me time and time again to organize and clean my entire house before I can find the mental capacity to work with a clear mind. But how often does life actually present these ideal and perfect scenarios?


I'm sure any parents out there will be able to testify that if you wait for things to be perfect and for you yourself to feel ready, practically nothing will get done. But done has always been better than perfect. And we need to begin to cultivate the ability to persevere with follow thru regardless of the external pressures that call for our attention. This will do nothing but allow you to put action and effort towards the things that matter most to you and create agility and resilience for your mental endurance.


There is a concept that has begun to circulate the internet that depicts "toxic minimalism". And I myself have fallen victim to its need for perfection and inevitably using decluttering goals and a "work in-progress" mentality to avoid beginning the projects that actually hold great meaning for me. Allowing for the means to never find an end, so that my next beginning, and the challenges it will bring, can never come.


In my learnings of what crafts true holistic well-being and health, adaptability is number one. We can do no good in life if we are not able to keep pace with the changing tides that we face over time. This in of itself is an incredible practice and skill that must be harnessed through experience. But what better time to begin than now? As they say, "the only constant in life is change."


5. Putting Yourself "Out There"

When was the last time you "failed" at something? In fact, this question is something that showed up for me recently while reading Tal Ben-Shahar's book Happier, No Matter What. In this sense, he phrased the question "how often do you fail?" as a way to measure your happiness levels and efforts in the realm of work and purpose in your life.


I found it struck me as I recognized this question as a means to measure your ability to intentionally put your work or your values in front of a larger audience. This in turn leaves us vulnerable to ridicule and questioning as well as the judgement we might face from even our closest of friends. But if we refuse to put ourselves on the line, can we really find contentment and purpose in what we are doing?


Often you will hear billionaires or highly successful individuals touting the benefits to repeated failure and rejection over ones career. And although this reality can seem harsh and unpleasant, it creates what Ben-Shahar calls "post traumatic growth" as opposed to the all too common post traumatic stress disorder we see on a wide scale. This post traumatic growth is like the strengthening of a muscle after it has been put under stress. We begin to find greater courage in the risks we take and the endeavors we pursue because we have now lived through the repercussions of what is on the other side. And although it may have been scary and we felt deep uncertainty, we've seen the so-called worst case scenario and seemingly, the world didn't appear to end. Rather the contrary. It gave us more will to pursue the next great thing.


I have certainly faced this in my life with the choices that I've made in search of a better way. These decisions have not always been received well by my community, and I have often been questioned as to what I will do if it all comes crashing down. But here I am, on the other side, stronger and more resilient of a human being than I was when I started. In fact, I feel I live more lightly and understand what contentment and purpose look like more closely. I can now pull from all the failed attempts and incredible experiences I have had along the way as I build and cultivate the life and the values that are true to me and my unique perspective on the world. Many of which, you are reading here now.



 

I hope these concepts can begin to create an awareness for you, on a personal level, to create strength and durability for the future (and especially the present). We all have the capacity to reframe our limited ways of thinking and begin to build the resilience we truly want. And exercising our greater will power, focus, and perspective can lead us to become the fortified individuals we so desperately need in the world.


I'd love to hear of any practices you might have that allow you to strengthen your resilience muscle and challenge yourself intentionally.

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