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Better Than Resilient – Prosilient

If life gives you salt, make margaritas.

Resilience is an important idea in many fields, from psychology to ecology to economics. In psychology, resilience means the ability to recover from difficult life events such as illnesses, setbacks in love and work, and bereavement. In ecology, resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to disturbances such as global warming by recovering quickly from damage. In economics, resilience is the capability of an economy to respond to shocks such as stock market crashes and return to prosperity. Resilience is a more powerful response than sustainability, which maintains the status quo. A resilient system is not just one that doesn’t change, but more importantly one that can deal with changes by recovering from them.

Even better than resilience is the ability of a person, ecology, economy, or other system to respond to difficulties by getting better, not just recovering to a previous state. I propose to use “prosilience” to capture this idea. This word already exists in English although it’s not in most dictionaries and just means “prominent” or “jumping forth”. In my proposed usage, prosilient isn’t being proactive, which requires acting in advance to deal with anticipated problems. The world is often too uncertain to enable us to be proactive, but we can respond to unexpected events by trying to improve our overall situations rather than just reverting to the previous state. I didn’t invent prosilience, because similar ideas already exist: the transformability of C. S. Holling, the strategic resilience of Gary Hamel, and the antifragility of Nassim Taleb.

The importance of prosilience in people’s lives is reflected in various sayings:

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

If life gives you salt, make margaritas.

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Whatever does kill you makes your parents stronger (Israeli army saying).

There’s even a scientific study that found that people with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health than people with no history of adversity.

The American Psychological Association has a good Web article that provides useful advice on how a person can build resilience: Make social connections; avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems; accept that change is part of living; move toward your goals; take decisive actions; look for opportunities for self-discovery; nurture a positive view of yourself; keep things in perspective; maintain a hopeful outlook; take care of yourself.

What advice might help a person to be prosilient? One recommendation is to be creative, avoiding the pitfall expressed in the saying attributed to Henry Ford: If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. In an earlier blog post I suggested many ways to be creative, including making new connections, expecting the unexpected, being persistent, getting excited, and using the world.

Another way is suggested by my more recent blog post on procedural creativity, which requires generating new methods as well as ideas. I bet that generating new ways of solving problems is one of the best means of being prosilient. When you encounter a problem and you solve it, you can generalize the solution into a method that will make you much better at dealing with problems in the future. For example, if you lose your job, you can try to find a set of procedures for finding a better job that will serve you well if you encounter future job difficulties. A new method doesn’t just take you back to the status quo, but rather increases your prosilience by making you better equipped to deal with future difficulties. Then you’ll be ready for when shift happens.

More from Paul Thagard Ph.D.
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