The Power of Resilience

23 January 2014 · 3 comments

Seth Godin wrote recently about three ways to deal with the future: accuracy, resilience, and denial.

In Godin’s paradigm, accuracy is predicting correctly what will happen tomorrow, and is the most rewarding way to deal with the future. The problem, of course, is that’s tough to make accurate predictions. You have to invest a lot of time and/or money, have access to inside information, or be lucky to get things right.

Denial, on the other hand “is the strategy of assuming that the future will be just like today”. Like it or not, you live in a world of change. The people and places around you are constantly evolving, and as much as you like the status quo, you can’t assume things will remain the same forever.

If you accept that (a) things change and (b) you cannot predict what will happen, then the most effective strategy for dealing with the future is to foster resilience. Instead of betting on a single outcome, you prepare for a range of possible results.

Godin argues that our society fosters a “winner-take-all” mentality that emphasizes accuracy over resilience. This benefits the few who have made accurate predictions, but penalizes everyone else. And it forces many people to take the path of denial, where they don’t prepare for the future at all because they realize there’s no way they can reliably guess what the future will be.

Like Godin, I believe that successful people foster resilience. Recently at Get Rich Slowly, I wrote about financial resilience, the ability to bounce back from unexpected financial blows.

In psychology, adaptability refers to how well a person can adjust herself to changed circumstances. Because we live in a constantly changing universe, your ability and willingness to adapt is a barometer that measures both your ability to thrive and your capacity for happiness.

So, don’t simply assume that tomorrow will be like today. And don’t try to guess precisely what the future will hold. Instead, prepare for a range of likely outcomes. Be open to alternatives and new ideas. Allow yourself to grow in unexpected directions. Doing so will ultimately bring you a happier, more fulfilling life.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen P 23 January 2014 at 06:43

Long Way Round one of my favorite movies of all time. Of course I own a BMW motorcycle so that helps. Seeing the interaction between natives and them in the various countries is the best part. I always feel like all people in general are good and what to help out others when they can when I watch that.

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2 Tyler Karaszewski 23 January 2014 at 09:34

Interestingly, when applied to personal finance, Buying index funds with the assumption that they’ll continue to return roughly 10% annually for the foreseeable future is a denial strategy.

Realizing that not only does the world change, but you change along with it, is hugely beneficial to the way you do your planning. For instance, if you’re buying a boat, it’s easy to think, “this boat is awesome! I’m going to use it all the time and keep it forever!” but if instead you take the view, “This boat is awesome now, but in a few years I may get bored with it or lose interest or even love it so much that I need a newer, better boat” then the second viewpoint really helps you consider things like the resale value of the boat and the cost per year of ownership, in a rational way. You just have to consider the likelihood that your own interests and priorities will change over time. This is doubly true if you think you might make big changes in the future, like move to a different city or get married or have kids. So many people *do* plan for the future as if it will be just like today, even when if you ask them, they can tell you all the things they think will be different about their lives in 5 or 10 years, and that’s only the things that they’re *expecting* to happen.

I never thought my wife might die at 33. If I had, I would have bought life insurance and I’d be sitting in a paid-off house right now. I also never thought I’d meet another woman who loved sailing, but that’s been going great so far. Still, my life is not really where I thought it would be even a couple years ago.

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3 Crystal 26 January 2014 at 15:25

I am working on being more resilient. I spend my life trying to control everything and plan, but then I overreact to stuff that pops up. For the last 6-12 months, I’ve been trying to handle those issues with a level-head. I’m also trying to simply be happy.

Good luck to us all. :-)

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