What accounts for the differencein resilience from one person to another, and from one moment toanother in one person? Is resilience something we're born with, orcan it be learned? (Image: Shutterstock)

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I once saw a patient in my primary care clinic for a persistent nasaldrip. Though a common symptom, the degree of misery it was causinghim was decidedly uncommon. According to him, it had nearly stoppedhis life in its tracks. He couldn't go out or concentrate. He waseven having trouble doing his job. I prescribed a simple steroidnasal spray and went to see my next patient, an elderly woman dyingof metastatic breast cancer.

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In stark contrast to my first patient, she was the picture ofequipoise, seemingly fearless in the face of her impending death.What I remember most from my visit with her was that she had a lotto teach me about how to die well.

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I left my clinic struck by the obvious contrast in the mindsetsof these two patients, made more dramatic by the differences in theobstacles each was facing. I began wondering what accounts for thedifference in resilience from one person to another, and fromone moment to another in one person? Is resilience something we'reborn with, or something that could be learned?

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That question culminated in the publication of my book, “TheUndefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an IndestructibleSelf.” Grounded in the premise that our ability to control whathappens to us may be limited, but that our ability to establish alife state that enables us to surmount the suffering life brings usis not, the book distills the wisdom necessary for the creation oftrue resilience into nine principles supported by researchsuggesting resilience isn't something with which only a few of ushave been born, but something we can all develop.


➤➤ Be sure to attend AlexLickerman's Motivational Track session, “The Undefeated Mind: HowResilience Can Be Learned” April 2 at 1:30 p.m. at the2019 BenefitsPRO Broker Expo.


We all face difficulties in life which make us suffer. Butwisdom is so powerful that it can even put a halt to sufferingwithout changing the circumstances that cause it. Most of us deem aproblem solved when it no longer confronts us, but a problem isreally solved when it no longer makes us suffer, our escaping orovercoming oppressive circumstances representing only oneparticular means to that end. Certainly it may be the means we mostprefer, but it's not the only means at our disposal.

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As Viktor Frankl wrote, “When we are no longer able to change asituation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperablecancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”

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This means neither denying problems exist nor denying they makeus suffer but instead learning to use suffering as a springboardfor creating benefit. When confronted by circumstances we cannotcontrol, we become capable of enduring them only by finding a wayto create value with them—as Frankl, a psychiatrist, did while aprisoner at Auschwitz by attending to the suffering of his fellowprisoners and dreaming of the day he would lecture about thelessons learned while imprisoned.

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His example teaches that the essence of victory lies in refusingto be defeated. Whether our problems are diminutive or global,mundane or existential, resolvable in the way we want or not,winning doesn't just require we constantly attack with all ourmight: it is constantly attacking with all our might. Whether wecan declare genuine victory doesn't depend only on the finaloutcome, but also on what we feel in the moments leading up to it.How can we say we've won in achieving the best possible outcome ifat every moment leading up to it we suffered at the hands of thebelief that victory would never be ours?

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Given that we spend much more time fighting for victory thanattaining it, what we feel during the former is even more importantthan what we feel during the latter.

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When most of us experience a significant loss—the death of aspouse or a parent, for example—we suffer but then typicallyrecover. Knowing we're likely destined to recover doesn't mitigatethe suffering while we're going through it. Possessing anundefeated mind isn't just necessary for victory; it is victory. Inrefusing to give up, we refuse to give in to oppressivecircumstances and the experience of suffering itself.

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Resilience doesn't consist only of returning to our originallevel of functioning after a loss; it also consists of notexperiencing its decline in the first place.

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This is what it means to possess an undefeated mind: not just torebound quickly from adversity or face it confidently, but to getup day after day, week after week, year after year and attack theobstacles in front of us.

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An undefeated mind isn't one that never feels discouraged ordespairing; it's one that continues in spite of it. An undefeatedmind doesn't fill itself with false hope, but with hopes to findreal solutions it may not want or like. It grants access tocreativity, strength, and courage necessary to find real solutions,viewing obstacles as the means by which we can capture the lives wewant.

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Victory may not be promised to us, but possessing an undefeatedmind means behaving as though it is, as though to win we only needwage an all-out struggle, work harder, try everything we can, andeverything we think we can't, in full understanding that we have noone on whom we can rely for victory but ourselves. We understandthere's no obstacle from which we can't create some kind ofvalue.

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Everyone has the capacity to construct an undefeated mind, notjust to withstand traumas, economic crises, or armed conflicts, butto triumph over them all. Extraordinary people may be born, butthey can also be made. We need only look around for proof that anundefeated mind isn't so rare a thing as we think.

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I invite you to join me at the 2019 BenefitsPRO Broker Expowhere I'll speak about the principles I write about in TheUndefeated Mind that will teach you how to become the mostresilient person you can be.

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