When Roman philosopher Seneca spoke these words, he was referring neither to our bodies nor our positions in life. He was referring to the power of our minds.
Stoicism was a way of life for Seneca, and he taught it to all who would listen. Stoicism is the practical everyday philosophy of virtue and self-discipline introduced by the early Greeks. It was later adopted by the Romans.
Does Stoicism have anything to offer today’s leaders? In a world of battered ethical boundaries, as well as an ever-changing landscape of competitive advantage and consumer goodwill, the idea of an unconquerable resilience is a welcome one. With the proper mindset, Seneca offers, even the most challenging and difficult goal can become a victory, or, at the very least, a hard-won lesson for the next opportunity.
Resilience is a subtle and self-governing inner fortitude.
When business people are asked to identify resilient behavior, as witnessed in the actions of their CEOs, resilience is often described as an assertiveness bordering on obsession or an aggressiveness born from strong desire.
Resilience, however, is hardly obsessive and never aggressive. It is more often seen in a calm exterior facing chaotic upheaval, and a gentleness seemingly out of place in a critical moment.
Take this recent example: On June 17, a Bangkok police officer came face to face with a knife-wielding assailant inside a police station. Security cameras captured the astoundingly calm and resolute actions of a police officer engaging in thoughtful and disarming dialogue with the assailant, patiently encouraging the assailant to disarm and engage in a conversation about his troubles and what had brought him to take such violent action against complete strangers.
Eventually, the assailant disarmed himself, and the officer embraced the assailant and offered him both a chair and an ear.
This was not a resilience of dueling egos or aggression, but the direct and calm engagement of a dangerous situation with full situational awareness and self-control.
How does one build resilience?
Resilience requires a personal choice. Most skills today are taught as actions to be performed. But the skill of resilience is developed foremost in the mind. That training involves making conscious choices at every moment rather than allowing mindless routine or distracted thinking to dominate.
Take moments throughout the day to stop and take inventory of where you are, what business you are going about doing, and what you are thinking about that might be keeping you from noticing what is happening around you.
Secondly, make mental note of what pulls you away from moments of awareness and self-control. What circumstances cause you to “lose it”? Is there an unexpected event that pulls you away from yourself? What causes you distraction or to act habitually?
Those things that trigger you, distract you or upset you are the things that can master you. Identify the trigger, and you are well on your way toward mastering your response.
Lastly, if you are going to reclaim self-mastery, it is best to decide early what the response of preference should be. Resilience is not just a choice for self-mastery. It is a choice to feel, think and act in a self-determined and pre-determined way.
Ask yourself, how do I wish to respond to unexpected disappointment? To crises at work? To a late shipment or a lost client? Decide ahead of time how you wish to handle the daily hiccups in life. Imagine it, decide it and then watch for the opportunities to practice being resilient.
Do this, and you will be on your way toward unconquerable being.