• Catherine Hansen MD, MPH

Anti-fragility: Struggle catalyzes strength


History has been shaped by random, unpredictable upheaval. Famine, drought, flooding, fires. World wars, nuclear “accidents”, terrorism, genocide.

We are living in one of those times.

Humans are inclined to want a life that is stable, predictable, balanced and level.

We are uncomfortable with too much change. We pull back from things that seem out of our control. We fear anything we can’t regulate.

We go to great lengths to deny that anything truly life-changing could even be happening. We refuse to see it until it’s right under our nose. We ignore the signs until they are obvious and undeniable and then we, retrospectively, believe we knew it all along. It’s human nature. Our brains are wired that way.

First, we think, “that’s so far-fetched, it’s not real or possible.”

Then we question, “how bad can it really be?”

Finally, we look back and declare, “it was only a matter of time.”

Just as these disrupting events write the history books and define who we are as a collective humanity, they also inform our potential as individuals.

During these storms of life, we have a choice to make: Will we hunker down and wait for the skies to clear or will we lift the sails and use the winds to hasten our course toward exciting, new discoveries?

There are things we can do during this historic time that will expand our capacity and accelerate our growth so that we emerge with greater strength, stability and stamina.

Anti-fragility means, not just surviving but, using the assets we acquire during tumultuous times to deepen our capacity, expand our knowledge, extend our love and grow our soul.

Struggles catalyze positive change. Systems, from economic to political to medical have proven this model countless times: out of turmoil and disorder comes peace and resilience; Out of stress and strain develops strength and staying-power.

What are some of the ways you can embrace these uncertain times to grow yourself, your family and the world?

1. Start with yourself: What is important to you? What are your priorities? Write down your goals. Be very, very clear about what you desire for your body, your mind and your soul. Have you established an exercise program? A chance to pray or meditate? Healthy eating habits? Regular sleep routines? A list of books to read or on-line courses to take?

2. Next are your relationships: Have you established a regular time to come together with your partner and share your deepest fears, your biggest ambitions and what you desire most for your family? If not, do it now. Be intentional. Be honest. Be real. It’s times like these that open the door to greater love and bonding. Have the conversations that matter. What are you waiting for?

3. Then, consider your role on the planet: As you sense into the vulnerability of our human frame and the, almost unbelievable, connectedness of the human race, what has shifted for you in terms of values, roles and responsibilities? Now that you see, clearly, the ways we all impact each other, do you feel more globally connected? Do you feel more compelled to care for our world and the people we share it with? If you release the fear and open your heart to compassion and empathy, who needs your help now more than ever?

What foundational routines and heartfelt connections will become your new norm so that, as you drop back into your nice stable, predictable life you will somehow be different, stronger, better?

These times will define us. As a global community, as individuals and in our own homes. The conversations we have, the actions we take and the people we become will determine how ready we are when (not if) we experience another random, unpredictable, life-altering, world-disrupting event. Let’s hope we’re ready next time.


Photo credit: Mary Pickford. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Pickford-desk.jpg (accessed on Wikimedia commons March 28, 2020), This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.18840.

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