Sunday, April 05, 2015

Winning Through Defeat: The Secret to Resilience

Thanks to a savvy trader for pointing out this Lewis Howes podcast with Eric Greitens on the topic of resiliency and falling in love with pain.  A former Navy SEAL, Greitens learned about resilience first-hand during his training.  In his book, he points out, "If we are trapped in a life where everything is provided for us, our minds fail to grow, our relationships atrophy, and our spirits deteriorate."  We grow through challenges, including those that are hardships.  Greitens points out that we never bounce back from adversity; rather, we find healthy ways to integrate those experiences into our lives.  When we do what we are afraid to do, we don't return to the person we were.  We find ourselves just a bit more fearless.

When Angela Duckworth researched the phenomenon of grit, she found that it wasn't the highly successful children who were most able to sustain effort in the service of long-term goals.  Those who knew little other than success and were frequently praised by parents had very little experience with adversity.  That made it difficult to persevere.  When children experienced setbacks and challenges, they were more likely to develop the internal resources needed to sustain efforts.  Grit is resilience sustained over timeAs Duckworth explains, "grit...entails having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades." 

Trading financial markets is unique in that it regularly forces us to experience loss and setback.  The uncertainty built into markets ensures that we will go through drawdowns.  The ever-changing nature of markets ensures that what worked today may not work tomorrow.  There can be no successful trading without resilience, and there can be no successful trading career without grit.

When we approach life as a gymnasium, even the most routine activities can be approached as workouts that challenge and develop us.  Every item in our daily planner--even those connected to recreation--can be pursued in a conscious, effortful way or in a routine manner of going through the motions.  It makes sense for us to undertake routine activities as routines, as this saves energy for more demanding situations.  But if all of life becomes a series of routine activities, we become less capable of responding to demands.  No one builds strength and endurance in life's gym by tackling the equivalent of ten-pound weights.

What's the key to becoming a resilient, gritty person?  I strongly suspect it's the ability to tap into hidden reserves of energy--that mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual second wind--that become available to us under conditions of high challenge.  Emilia Lahti refers to this by the Finnish term sisu:  "the second wind of mental toughness."  The paradox here is that challenges drain us of energy.  Extraordinary challenges--especially those that inspire us--help us tap into new and greater sources of energy.  When we tackle normal efforts, our willpower powers down.  When we reach for greater things, we find our willpower renewed.

In the long run, we don't sustain perspiration without sustaining inspiration.  Goals challenge us, but eventually wear us down unless they uplift us and pull from us the kinds of efforts that yield that second wind of sisu.  If you're cold and exhausted after long days of workouts and little sleep and that's all that's on your mind, you're going to drop on request and ring that bell to get yourself out of the SEAL program and into a hot shower.  The only thing that can move you past that place of pain is a commitment to your team, a commitment to your future, and a commitment to serving a larger cause.

Resilience begins with purpose.  We tackle life as a gym when workouts become the path to a greater future.

Further Reading:  From Setbacks to Success