Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World
by Linda L. Hoopes, PhD
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
For the past few months, much of my reading has focused on coping with adversity through resilience, perseverance, courage, mental toughness, mental and emotional stamina.These strengths are applicable to responding to attack and coping with the aftermath. Some of the articles and books I checked out were far too esoteric, and more than once I simply quit reading because the material was inapplicable to daily life. I’d about given up when Claude Werner recommended Linda Hoopes’ bookProsilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World. While its focus is not specifically on self defense, its lessons are applicable to facing conflict and danger.
Hoopes introduces her topic by observing, “Resilience is the ability to deal with high levels of challenge while maintaining or regaining high levels of effectiveness and well-being.” This, she notes, is of growing importance as the world becomes more complex. “Prosilience,” she continues, “involves systematically understanding, evaluating, and strengthening your own responses to adversity so you are better prepared for many different kinds of challenge.”
Resolving small challenges uses the same processes needed to cope with “large disruptions,” Hoopes explains. Practice undertaking manageable challenges strengthens existing mental pathways and builds new ones, she adds. “Every challenge draws on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy and can be addressed using a basic set of strategies and ‘resilience muscles,’” she writes later.
Hoopes defines life’s challenges as gaps between what we want and our current reality. “Resilience is the result of applying a set of tools and skills that help you close these gaps effectively,” she defines. Small problems may include rude store clerks or household breakdowns and are useful as “work out” opportunities, she teaches, adding later, “The way you respond to these small challenges is a good predictor of how you will respond to larger ones.”
Big challenges can be broken down into a series of micro-challenges, with a goal of “minimizing harm, making progress toward your goals, and using adversity to help you grow,” she explains, encouraging readers to voluntarily undertake difficult challenges in preparation for worse, unavoidable trouble.
When preparing for a new challenge a realistic evaluation of the size of the problem can be made by determining three aspects, which Hoopes defines as–
“Source: Where did it come from?
“Duration: How long will it last?
“Impact: How much energy will it take?”
Asking those three questions is useful in prioritizing multiple challenges to best decide where to invest energy and which to address first, as well.
Different challenges require different coping strategies, so Hoopes compares problems over which we have some control to those that are beyond our control. Endurance and courage play different roles depending on the type of challenge, she explains. This was of particular interest from the viewpoint of aggression over which the intended victim has little control.
Hoopes emphasizes the value of proactive prevention, tackling challenges before they have a chance to get bigger. She outlines strategies including–
- Keep your mind on what you are doing in the moment.
- Don’t ignore warning signs of disruption ahead: “The information may enable you to avoid or fix a problem, or reduce its impact, but even if it doesn’t, it gives you more time to prepare yourself for an effective response and recovery.”
- Know when to quit: “It’s important to recognize what economists call ‘sunk costs’…resources you have already spent that you won’t get back no matter what you do. Try to mentally write those off, and look at the current situation with a fresh set of eyes.”
- Anticipate problems and rehearse responses: “This will make it much easier to come up with a good response in the heat of the moment.”
There’s more and these are only the high points that spoke to me, so readers will want to get Prosilience to look for solutions to their own concerns.
Hoopes teaches specific steps to avoid panicked or desperate responses to trouble. These include calming down so you can “operate logically or make meaningful choices about what to do.” Stress interrupts rational thought, she explains, suggesting ways to first recognize then counteract sympathetic nervous system activation. She notes, “It takes about 90 seconds for the stress reaction to be triggered, surge throughout the body, and then be completely flushed out of your system. If you notice that you are experiencing high disruption from a short-term stressor, you can increase your ability to make intentional choices by hanging on for 90 seconds to allow the physiological reaction to pass.” While that’s not applicable to immediate danger, remember that facing non-life threatening stresses provides practice in keeping a clear mind and anticipating dangers that can become critical if ignored.
Different challenges require different approaches. Some, Hoopes writes, can be “reframed” and she explains, “Although you tend to think you are perceiving reality accurately, you often are not. A layer of perceptions, biases, and stories lies between what is actually happening in the world and the things your brain is reporting to you. If you can understand and minimize these potential distortions of reality, you may find there is less adversity than you thought.”
Resilient people “have a high tolerance for ambiguity–the ability to function well in uncertainty–combined with the ability to think of new and unusual ways to approach things. This means that they can come up with lots of options and strategies for solving problems rather than sticking with familiar ways of doing things, seeing the world in ‘either/or’ terms, looking for quick answers, and finding themselves uncomfortable when they are not able to reach a conclusion.”
Under stress many will repeat familiar solutions even after they don’t work. How can we learn to think more creatively under stress? Hoopes suggests practicing open mindedness. When presented with a new and different solution, respond, “Yes, and” not “But.” Creativity is killed by “the notion that there is only one right answer to a given problem,” she urges.
Preparing to handle challenges is elemental to the armed lifestyle. The final third of Prosilience opens by suggesting, “Resilience focuses on what you do after you encounter a challenge. Prosilience is about how you prepare for the next set of challenges before you encounter them by strengthening each of the building blocks in advance.” This section focuses on voluntarily engaging in situations that create “moderate levels of disruption,” to build resilience and habituate responses like flexible thinking in response to stressors.
I found so much of value in Prosilience that I’ve ordered several printed copies as gifts for friends. While Hoopes writes as if she is sitting and chatting with the reader, there is no dearth of supportive studies and science behind her recommendations. End notes give page after page of the names and key contributions of a wide variety of researchers, along with citing some of their published work. This will prove helpful in building a “for further study” reading list.
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