There is a mysterious force underlying everything in this world, and it has an unseen hand in all parts of our life from our job, to our relationships, and even our health. It is a force that is beautifully predictable in its unpredictability. What I’m speaking of is entropy, a term adopted from physics used to describe the process of inevitable social decline and degeneration when things are left unattended. Simply put, if something is neglected indefinitely, it is destined to wither, die, or fall into disorder.
If you’ve ever felt like you're fighting an uphill battle, or that as soon as you clear away one obstacle, another quickly fills the void, then it’s safe to say you’re brushing up against the universal law of entropy. Not a day goes by without me at some point, wishing to bury my head, or coast for awhile. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, so it's probably natural that I long for a feeling of security, something that was absent from much of my childhood. And here in lies the problem—chasing this elusive presence of security is self-limiting, and I would even go as far as to say, self-sabotaging. Helen Keller knew a thing a two about overcoming obstacles in life, and that’s why it’s rather humbling to hear her say: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “If nothing changes, nothing changes”. Well, it turns out, the reality is much worse than that because if nothing changes, the status quo, even if it’s palatable right now, will slowly erode into a chafing discomfort or unpredictability. We witness this every day in relationships that have run their natural course and no longer are being nurtured by either person. I look upon my 27-year marriage to my wife as being in a life raft together. If we are not willing to keep putting in the effort to address issues that come up in our relationship, in other words to bail out the water, it's not long before a subtle distance quickly becomes a great divide between us—We find ourselves sitting in a raft that once offered us safety in the storm, now precarious and waist-deep in water.
As a recovering alcoholic, I cringe when I hear an addict new to recovery saying that he or she is a “recovered” addict. 18 years of sobriety has taught that the foundation of my recovery is only as strong as my vigilance and gratitude. I remember hearing a speaker in one of my first 12-step meetings say that his addiction was always waiting in the wings doing push-ups and getting stronger ready to pounce the day he let down his guard.
Even though the law of entropy acts as such a driving force in our life, it doesn't mean we are powerless in its midst. Whatever we want in life comes at a cost. If you desire to make things better, you’ll have to pay the price of “uncertainty”, and if you’re incapacitated by fear and retreat from change, be prepared to pay the price of “inferiority”. But all is not hopeless because there is one thing we can do to make ourselves a little more immune to the risk of uncertainty—and that is cultivating a wellspring of resiliency.
I thought I’d share with you my three habits to forging a foundation of resiliency in your life.
1. Rewrite your history ~ Reframe your mentality
So many of us are prisoners of our past and the “story” we’ve constructed around that. To initiate substantive change we must first learn to embrace a new history, and the easiest way to do that is to adopt a new vocabulary because in so doing, we craft a different, and hopefully, more empowering self-narrative. In the words of Joel Osteen, “You're going to go through tough times—that’s life. But I say, 'Nothing happens to you, it happens for you.' See the positive in negative events.” Most recently I’ve witnessed this in my own life through a subtle shift in vocabulary when I chose to no longer identify myself as a “victim”, but as a “survivor” of childhood sexual abuse.
2. Open the door to mentors
When you listen to people saying how “resilient” they are, they typically describe themselves as independent and strong willed. That may indeed be the case, but I would venture to add that they are setting themselves up for potential future crisis. Instead of hunkering down to weather a storm isolated and alone, wouldn’t it be a lot easier and more comforting to have others around you as you face the adversity? The challenge is to invite those people into your life before you are in the midst of turmoil. Throughout the past year, I’ve been actively seeking out mentors in my life. I look for people who have built careers, personal lives, and a community presence based on integrity and commitment. These individuals challenge me to question my “default” way of thinking, and they provide a pathway for growth and connection. The resiliency enters the equation in that these mentors serve as a buffer, or sounding board, that helps me push through periods of great uncertainty and self doubt.
3. Dare yourself ~ Don’t compare yourself
I have a tendency to set myself up for failure when I attempt to copy what someone else has or does. This has a lot to do with the emptiness I am often left with when I compare myself to others. It leaves me open to the negative self-talk of “enough”—I’m not handsome enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m not generous enough…and on and on… Although imitation is the highest form of flattery, it could also be said it’s the killer of integrity and originality. When we “imitate”, all we do is copy or mimic someone else, but when we “emulate” we pattern ourselves after others and we adapt, and to some degree, attempt to surpass their behaviour. In the words of American entrepreneur Tim Fargo, “Don't envy what people have, emulate what they did to have it.”