How to build a resilient and anti-fragile mindset

We all experience loss throughout our lives. In some cases, the loss can seem so debilitating that we are no longer able to function, to be there for people who need us or to be there for ourselves even.

The strong and never-defeated boxer starts losing the match. His opponent, someone no one thought would win, is beginning to land punch after punch, until he emerges victorious.

Yes, this may very well be a Hollywood movie script. In fact, most Hollywood movies feature similar scenes: the “underdog” defeating the “undefeated”.

What often happens in these movies is: the “undefeated” gets hit. He doesn’t expect it. He is surprised, and that is EXACTLY the reason why his superiority crumbles, and he eventually loses.

But the thought behind this idea goes much deeper into the human mindset, and how “loss” can completely derail our focus and our path towards success.

Loss can take the shape of so many forms

-    Loss of a loved one.
-    Loss of someone’s love.
-    Loss of a career or job.
-    Loss of a limb.
-    Loss of health.
-    Loss of money.
-    Etc.

Loss can be a quick-acting poison that completely takes over your life. 
You can’t function anymore. You can’t think, plan, or even feel anything positive.
Loss can change your outlook on “life”.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

My favorite Stoic philosopher Seneca says: “… if you want a man to keep his head when the crisis comes you must give him some training before it comes… we should be practicing with a dummy target, getting to be at home with poverty so that fortune cannot catch us unprepared. We shall be easier in our minds when rich if we come to realize how far from burdensome it is to be poor…”.

What Seneca is referring to is “practicing loss”. 

What he is saying is that in order for you to overcome any loss which may come your way, “practice experiencing that loss”.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is in today’s world, when people experience withdrawal and anxiety if away from their smartphone, let alone something more precious.

Practicing a loss will achieve 3 things:
1.    It will allow you to have an “emergency plan of action” ready for that loss. 
2.    You will be mentally prepared and won’t fall as deep into shock and paralysis
3.    It will make you much more grateful for what you have, and gratitude is one of the secrets for a happy life.

When a major shock happens, you can’t think and rationalize everything. You just “freeze”. You can’t think, can’t act.

This is why they train soldiers over and over again on the same task, so that when they face the shock and atrocities of war, they just “react” based on a plan they rehearsed 100 times.

This is why you get vaccinated: a small dose of a virus in the vaccine teaches so your body what it feels like to get attacked by a virus.

There is NO better way to develop mental strength and resilience, than to “PRACTICE” loss.

How to “practice” loss

There are 2 categories of losses:
-    Losses you can simulate physically.
-    Losses you can only simulate mentally (through meditation and contemplation).

Losses you can simulate physically

You’ve already done that: if at any time in your life you “fasted” for religious reasons, you practiced “loss of a desired food or drink” for a certain period of time.

There are many ways to practice loss physically.

Think “what is the worst thing that can happen to me” and then “practice” that loss:
-    Go hungry for 2 days per month.
-    Go for 2 months without your favorite food.
-    Eat the exact same meal 3-5 days in a row.
-    Don’t check social media for an entire week.
-    Take the bus/train to work instead of driving for a week.
-    Each just rice and water for 2-3 days.
-    Let yourself get really cold and uncomfortable for 2-3 days in cold weather.
-    Replace your bedsheets with something really cheap.
-    Etc. 

Create your own by looking at what gives you physical comfort, and depriving yourself from it for a period of time.

The end result will always be the same: it is NEVER as bad as you think it will be. You COPE. You’re HUMAN. You ADAPT, you SURVIVE.

Losses you can only simulate mentally

This is a harder one, and also the one which will terrify you the most.

You need to spend a few minutes every day imagining what it would be like to experience that loss. You have to focus on the “experience of that loss”, not just the idea of it.

It will send chills down your spine. It will bring tears to your eyes.

But when you end it with thoughts of GRATITUDE, you envelope it all with positivity. 

Start with easier ones (loss of career, pride), and build to more challenging ones (health, limb), and then (as you get mentally strong enough), build towards more painful losses.


Do I do this? Do I practice loss?

I absolutely do. The physical simulation of loss comes easy to me, but it's the mental one I find hard, really hard. I struggled with it for a long time, but I've come to make peace with it.

Today I find the experience rewarding on many levels.

I know, it’s hard, painful, and you will experience tremendous pushback from your brain’s defence mechanism.

Life will go on regardless of what happens and what losses we experience. We owe ourselves to do what we can to develop the mental strength to get through it.