In building up a resilient mindset, we aim to embrace life’s unexpected difficulties as hand-delivered invitations to meaningful growth, as quickly as possible after the call to adventure appears.
The Buddha once shared the parable of the second arrow:
As you are walking through the woods, you are struck by an arrow.
This first arrow is the actual injury; the pain is real and outside your control. Then you are struck by the second arrow: your beliefs about the first.
It’s not fair. It’s not my fault. It shouldn’t have happened. I don’t deserve this. I wish I could go back.
And for those thoughts, you suffer.
This second arrow is self-inflicted; it is the suffering of resisting reality.
This concept of inevitable pain versus optional suffering is mirrored in the work of Joseph Campbell.
Campbell was obsessed with the universal functions of myth across culture, comparing the shared elements from the beginning of recorded history all the way to the Star Wars trilogy.
What he found at the heart of every story was the Hero’s Journey.
We’ve been sharing stories in order to impart life lessons to the next generation around the campfire since long before we could pick up a self-help book from the library.
The Hero’s Journey illustrates the reality of the journeys we all must take:
A reluctant hero is going through life when a challenge arises – the call to adventure.
Here, our hero resists, leading to suffering.
A mentor appears to help our shaky hero step into the unknown, just as Luke leaves Tatooine with the aid of Obi-Wan Kanobi, or Frodo accepts the challenge to destroy the ring with the help of Gandalf.
Our hero then encounters increasingly difficult trials, preparing for death and rebirth – symbolic of letting go of a part of ourselves that no longer serves us.
Eventually, we return to our life, forever transformed by our experience…and wait for the next call to adventure, which is always just around the corner.
The Fixed, Victim Mindset
When we compare the Hero’s Journey perspective to how we view life and adversity in Western culture, we find a stark contrast.
The beliefs embedded in our culture suggest that we can avoid discomfort, pain and loss – by being a good person, attending church and praying, or through diligent planning and accomplishing, or perhaps through denial and a colorful assortment of pills.
Western religion, philosophy and medicine all converge to delude us into believing that we are in control (or should be), that those who are suffering have a moral failing, and that our happiness and emotional freedom is earned in a battle of will, rather than in the vulnerability of surrender.
We unknowingly encourage a victim’s protest, rather than a hero’s journey.
Whatever terrible thing is happening to you, can you choose it? Can you give a good death to that which is leaving you? Can you, at the same time, trust in the as-yet-unmanifest life that sparkles to you like starlight across time and space? – Toko-pa Turner, author of Belonging
The Resilient, Growth Mindset
Once we open up to the unknown, we are liberated.
From this resilient, growth-oriented mindset, we accept that which is outside of our control, while taking ownership of what we can (a shared cornerstone with the resilience factor of Meaning):
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning
In seeing life through the hero’s journey lens, we nurture a resilient mindset that accepts our new reality, allowing us to shift our energy from fighting it, denying it or complaining about it, to the waiting work of rising to the challenge, and opening up to possibility.
The possibility of growth.
The possibility of that growth being necessary in order to become who we are meant to be, to fulfill a meaningful purpose, or even to simply carry forward a depth of gratitude and meaning from this encounter with adversity.
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” – Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset
The heroic, growth-oriented mindset can be applied to our entire lifespan, or to the much smaller challenge of getting out of bed in the morning after a restless night’s sleep.
But, just as with all of the factors across the Hierarchy of Resilience, a resilient mindset requires practice.
First, we must accept the reality that we all fall into the victim trap.
Our aim is to notice when we are there, and end the suffering as quickly as possible by then accepting the Call to Adventure!
I often share the story of getting two flat tires just six months apart, shortly after my divorce.
The first flat was met with predictable curse words and an hour of refusing my call to adventure while I sat in a coffee meeting texting every male friend in my phone. None were available.
By then end of the meeting, I was ready – and excited – to step into the unknown of changing a tire for the first time.
It took several failed attempts, but I succeeded.
About six months later, I got another flat, this time while en route to drop my children at school. I still reacted. I cursed. I think I even shook my fist at the universe. Why me?! Why right now?!
But instead of an hour, I shifted from victim to hero in minutes, asking my teen daughter to time me while I repeated the steps I had so recently learned.
15 minutes flat.
In peach jeggings and slippers.
Triumph feels good. Taking back our power; our freedom to own our response in any given situation, feels good.
Those flat tires cemented in the lesson of Mindset for me.
Nowadays, the shift is easier. When vulnerability is low, it’s automatic. New hurdles don’t even phase me. I invite the challenge.
And when vulnerability is high, perhaps when I’m tired and hungry, I can spot myself wallowing inside the victim trap, and ask myself: What am I going to do about this?
Whether a minor hiccup in your plans or a major medical diagnosis, we get to choose: Remain the victim, or open up to the unknown as the hero of our story.
At any moment, we can pull out the second arrow, accept our call to adventure, and rediscover the courage, gratitude, and humility of new possibilities.