How can I become more resilient?

Featuring Guillermo Echarte of 30in30

Today I’m ecstatic to be co-writing with my friend, former colleague, and fellow creator Guillermo Echarte. Guillermo produces a series called 30in30. In each series, he dissects a compelling and applicable topic of the month into two to four-minute “microlearning” videos over 30 consecutive workdays. He intends to share his growth journey and learn in public through the feedback of those who follow. His first series was on musical artists, and it improved many of my playlists. His second was on mental models, featuring a few that we will call out in today’s grid. His third is on health habits, which wraps up this upcoming week.

As part of this current series, Guillermo decided to manifest the health habits he was learning and sharing by adding a physical component on top of creating the daily videos. So, he just ran 300 miles (not a typo) in 30 days. My body hurts just thinking about it. With the support of his audience, he managed to raise an astounding $11,000+ for Black Lives Matter.

With that, here are a few introductory words from Guillermo to the Gridology community to kick off today’s post.

Let’s jump in:


About three weeks ago, Guillermo was laid off. 

He had worked at LinkedIn for six years and 10 months. COVID-19 spurred widespread cost-cutting measures, causing his global organization to be restructured. So now, Guillermo and roughly ~1,000 other LinkedIn employees are in search of new full-time jobs.

I can relate. I wrote an earlier post about adversity when I learned that coronavirus had pushed my MBA program from May 2020 to early January 2021. Ten weeks of FUNemployment instantly transformed into seven months of real unemployment.

Jarring, unexpected news feels a bit like you’re starring in an episode of The Road Runner Show, except you’re (unfortunately) Wile E. Coyote: One moment you’re pursuing your dream at full speed, and the next you’re looking down and realizing you’ve run out of pavement. Literally.

A live look at Guillermo the last few weeks and me a few months ago.

The fall is sudden and abrupt. There’s no parachute. There’s just you, your mindset, and your willpower to get back up and start running again. So, how do you do it?

It’s no easy task—especially now during a pandemic. It requires resilience—the topic for today’s post.

Before going any further, we want to highlight an important distinction. There’s a difference between what it means to overcome adversity and what it means to be resilient. Simply put, overcoming adversity is a documented step-by-step action plan to move from point A to a better point B. It requires a temporary, optimistic mindset and the support of your network. On the other hand, being resilient is a mindset. It empowers you to believe you can enter the arena and that you have what it takes to build a successful plan. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book with Adam Grant, Option B:

“I thought resilience was the capacity to endure pain, so I asked Adam how I could figure out how much I had. He explained that our amount of resilience isn’t fixed, so I should be asking instead how I could become resilient. Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity—and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”

This interpretation is spot on. Resilience is a mental muscle, not a battery. Having resilience turns you into the Little Engine that Could. 

To us, building resilience is the unintended byproduct of following Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. These agreements are inspired by ancient Toltec spiritual beliefs to promote well-being, happiness, and freedom. Here’s Guillermo explaining more about the Four Agreements in his 30in30 video:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word — Be honest and true to yourself. Have integrity, and think before you speak.

  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally — Don’t allow other people’s opinions to impact your sense of self and purpose.

  3. Don’t Make Assumptions — Don’t assume what others are thinking as it will lead to unnecessary anxiety, stress, conflict.

  4. Always Do Your Best — Live to your fullest potential, and limit believing that you aren’t enough.

These agreements offer wisdom as to how we all can live more resilient (and happier) lives. Given resilience is a state of mind, it makes sense that both of our axes for today’s grid will be based on how our minds perceive the world around us and ourselves.

On the x-axis, we have how your surrounding environment (people and situations) make you feel. When you disobey the second and third agreements—meaning you take things personally and assume negative intentions—it leads to animosity, anger, and anxiety. Your mood should not be contingent on the opinions and actions of others. Your feelings and your mind are sacredly yours. It belongs to you and no one else. No one person should have considerable control over it.

On the y-axis, we have your attitude towards yourself. The more often you try your best and remain honest in your words and actions, the more fulfilled and relaxed you should feel in return. Ultimately, the more often you can adhere to the first and fourth agreements, the more likely you are to land on the upper half of the grid. You are human after all. We’re not designed to be perfect. By being intrinsically honest on our shortcomings and patient in our journey towards improvement, the better off we’ll be. 

Understanding the Grid

With this grid, the idea is to navigate towards the top right. The top right is pure resilience. However, expecting to always land in the top right is unnatural and irrational. Our environment is constantly in flux and will inevitably affect us. That’s okay. We need to be able to feel and emote. That means that at times we will feel anxious and neurotic. Ideally, we can work to strengthen our resiliency muscles so that they become our preferred and primary tools in the face of adversity.

Resilient

The way you respond to external factors leaves you feeling content, and you are self-compassionate with yourself. Other people’s actions and comments do not impact your mood. When you make a mistake or fail, you demonstrate acceptance and self-forgiveness. You celebrate successes, not belittle them. You learn from mistakes, not dwell on them. Recently, Guillermo shared insight on the mental model of entropy—that the only certain thing in this world is uncertainty or chaos. Our sphere of influence is small when compared to the sphere that affects us. A prime example is the recent LinkedIn company restructuring (it’s not like Guillermo chose to lay himself off). A critical component of resilience is the internalization that we can only control so much in a world of disorder. Thus, prioritization is paramount. When we have numerous simultaneous commitments, we can’t expect ourselves to do a perfect job on each one. That’s setting ourselves up for failure. We must have the compassion to accept the way unprioritized items turn out. Resilience is built from self-compassion and control over your thoughts.

Perfectionist

The way you respond to external factors leaves you feeling content, but you are self-deprecating and judgmental towards yourself. Here, you are your biggest critic. This is where I have spent much of my life. In hopes of trying to be the best I can be, I put myself down when I don’t live up to the high bar I’ve set for myself. Even when I succeed, overthinking creeps in. I wonder how I could have done it better or faster. Often you are your own worst enemy. You think about all the reasons why you can’t do something before trying it, which prevents you from making real progress. Resilience, remember, is doing, failing, and doing again. Perfectionists tend to give up at first signs of failure. Jack Butcher, the creator of Visualize Value, recently made a powerful image to demonstrate this:

Doubling down on failure is how you improve. I wrote about this the other week. Failure and feedback are essential for growth. It also is critical for being resilient. Think of it like lifting weights. The more you bicep curl, the stronger you get. Over time, you can even lift heavier weight. The same is true for resilience. However, you don’t pick up dumbbells. The activity to repeat is failing and forgiving yourself that you did. Feedback helps as a perfectionist—it allows you to recognize that no one is perfect and we all can be more compassionate with ourselves and others. Another item that helps is abiding by Jeff Bezos’s Regret Minimization Framework (what he cites as his enduring reason for leaving his job and starting Amazon):

This framework fights perfectionism. The more you can optimize your life to minimize regrets rather than being perfect, you’ll find that you will be more compassionate with yourself when you inevitably make mistakes. I’ve started using it, and it has made a serious difference.

Anxious

The way you respond to external factors leaves you feeling judged, but you are self-compassionate with yourself. While you give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, you feel judged as to how others perceive or could be perceiving you. In this quadrant, you are trapped in a state of uncertainty and anxiety—unsure of the intentions of other people’s comments or actions. However, your self-compassion doesn’t protect you from negative thoughts stemming from the world around you. We live in a world where we all collectively spend an average of an hour and 22 minutes on social media a day. These platforms are designed to have us all compete with each other in both status and virtue. They are built to have us feel insecure or anxious as we gamify our lives into likes, comments, and followers. Ideally, living in this state of anxiety is temporary. Working through anxiety—by adhering to the second and third agreements—allows us to become more resilient.

Neurotic

The way you respond to external factors leaves you feeling judged, and you are self-deprecating and judgmental towards yourself. Here, you are worried about what other people think. You put yourself down. You question comments people make and even are potentially thinking about you. As per this quadrant’s name, you’re neurotic. Every action is second-guessed and overthought. Instead of living in the present and dreaming about the future, you worry—nonstop—about the past. Despite these actions not being able to be undone, they still take up the majority of your mindshare. Hanlon’s razor—another mental model Guillermo has covered—can be helpful here. It states that you shouldn’t assign malice as the reason behind people’s actions when stupidity or ignorance could be an adequate explanation. Or, said simply, abide by the third agreement: don’t take anything personally. In my life, I tend to worry about a lot of things that I shouldn’t. Seeing a therapist has been powerful for me in working to fix that. My therapist has helped me realize that when harnessed correctly, neuroticism can be a powerful tool. Instead of spinning my wheels worrying about what someone thought or how I messed something up, I can use that mindset to focus on all the ways I can improve. If I am going to be neurotic, it’s best that it works for me and not against me.

Grid Shortcomings

  1. This grid doesn’t mention support as a key component of resilience. Similar to the grid about overcoming adversity, having a strong support network makes it easier to build your resilience muscles. Think of your support network like you would a personal trainer. If you use one, it’s probably more likely that you would see improvement faster than you’d see it alone. Since we are building a brand new muscle, we need to first learn how to flex it. We need to lean on others to help us operate in the correct mind space—one where we are abiding by the four agreements.

  2. This grid assumes that these axes work to build resilience in all situations. Resilience is a powerful tool for overcoming many obstacles. Sometimes, however, this grid may not help given the situation. Take, for example, losing a loved one or experiencing a traumatic event. The x-axis here will not be as relevant. Focusing on your attitude and digging into your community for help feels like a better framework to reference.

Resiliency, as Sandberg and Grant explain, is a muscle. We aren’t born with it. It requires self-compassion to forgive your shortcomings and confidence to believe that others aren’t out to get us. Resiliency keeps our minds open, accepting, and clean. The concept is not intuitive for most. It takes time and experience to build and sharpen this powerful mindset. Ultimately, per the four agreements, resiliency can help make you feel more content and compassionate. How are you looking to become more resilient in your daily life? We’d love to hear from you.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
Ross & Guillermo


If you enjoyed today’s Gridology post, please consider forwarding it to your friends, family, or colleagues. As always, please reply to this note or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback, have ideas for a post, or want to collaborate. You can find more of Guillermo on his YouTube, LinkedIn, or Instagram.