Sooner or later adversity will knock on our door. We cannot escape them, but we can prepare ourselves to face them, we can strengthen our “resilience muscle” so that the problems of life do not turn into psychological traumas that destroy us.
Seneca, the highest representative of Stoicism, a philosophy that advocated the importance of mastering the facts and emotions that disturb our lives by getting rid of unnecessary attachment, viewed adversity as something positive. He said that "there is no one more unfortunate than the man who forgets adversity, because he has no chance to prove himself".
The key, according to this philosopher, is to prepare for the worst in the best way. A priori, his ideas may seem pessimistic, especially in the era of positivity at any cost, but a dose of foresight mixed with a little healthy realism never hurts.
In fact, Hegel said that negativity keeps existence alive and saves us from what the contemporary philosopher Byung-Chul Han calls "the fatigue of the ego that leads to a heart attack". The negativity these philosophers refer to is not pessimism that paralyzes us, but a driving force that empowers us because it encourages us to make decisions.
Unexpected adversity hits hardest
“The effects of what is not expected are more devastating as the weight of the disaster adds to the unexpected. The unexpected has always intensified a person's pain. For this reason we must make sure that nothing takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts into the future at all times to account for every possible eventuality, instead of thinking that events will simply take their course.
“We have to anticipate all possibilities and strengthen the spirit to deal with the things that might happen. Try them in your mind […] If we don't want to feel overwhelmed and confused by events, as if they were unprecedented events, we need to rethink the concept of luck in a more exhaustive way ”.
Science confirms Seneca's proposal. A study developed at the University of California revealed that, to achieve our goals, the best way is not to visualize the results and imagine that everything will turn out well. On the contrary, those who truly achieved their goals were those who visualized the path and prepared for the setbacks that could occur. That preparation process also helped them reduce anxiety and distress.
Another more recent experiment conducted at New York University revealed that fantasizing about the positive results we might get in the future becomes a double-edged sword. These psychologists found that people who fantasized the most performed worse in the long term because they took less responsibility for hiring.
This does not mean that we should be pessimistic, but that we need a dose of realism that keeps us grounded and allows us to anticipate problems. Because "those who are not prepared will be terrified of the most insignificant events," Seneca warned.
How to prepare for the worst?
Reality often surpasses fantasy. Sometimes life hits us harder than we expect. It is true. We can't always predict our emotional reactions and how hard the impact will be. However, Seneca was convinced that "the person who anticipates the arrival of these problems takes away their power when they arrive".
His advice was: “It is in safe moments that the spirit must prepare itself to face difficult moments. Take advantage of the fact that luck offers you its favors, to strengthen you against its refusals […] from time to time reserved for a couple of days during which you will settle for simpler food and clothing. Then you will ask yourself, 'Is this what I should fear?'
"A little barley, or a piece of bread and water are not a very palatable diet, but nothing gives us more pleasure than the ability to enjoy this too, and the feeling of having achieved something that no one can take away from us. ".
His words offer us a fundamental lesson: we must embrace the essential and be happy with it. When we are able to separate the wheat from the chaff, when we realize that the important and essential things in life are very few, many strokes of bad luck cease to be such because they take away only superfluous things that we can do without.
And when do adversities come?
His advice is as simple as it is precious: “in adversity it is often necessary to undertake a bold path”. Instead of being overwhelmed by the blow, we need to react. So it's time to take risks, to try other ways and change.