084: 13 Resilience Lessons From 2021

084: 13 Resilience Lessons From 2021


A look back on Cultivating Resilience in 2021, including Presidential leadership in turbulent times, the "stress-is-enhancing" mindset, how near-misses help you win and 10 more ideas to help you build, adapt, and lead.

This the 84th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, a PM, resilience coach, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

🎩 Presidential Leadership in Turbulent Times

In Edition 034 we looked at how Presidents like Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy and Franklin), and Johnson handled harship in their personal and political lives:

“[Franklin] Roosevelt had adapted all his life to changing circumstances. The routine of his placid childhood had been disrupted forever by his father’s heart attack and eventual death. Told he would never walk again, he had experimented with one method after another to improve his mobility. So now, as Roosevelt campaigned for the presidency, he built on his own long encounter with adversity: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Read more.

😰 Stress Can Be Enhancing

In Edition 037 we looked at research that found how we think about stress matters more than how much of it we experience.

A growing body of research indicates that the experience of stress itself is not necessarily as dangerous as the belief that it harms our health. A 2012 study of nearly 30,000 Americans over an eight year period looked at their beliefs about stress, self-reported stress levels, and mortality rates. The paper found that while higher levels of stress were linked to increased likelihood of dying in a given year, that was only true for people who believed stress was bad for them.

Read more.

💨 Three Breaths

In Edition 040, we explored a very quick but grounding exercise you can do anytime you need to recenter.

Before starting a meeting, or after a stressful situation, you pause for a moment and take 3 deep breaths.

1. The first breath focuses on just the experience of air coming in and out of your body

2. The second breath you consciously focus relaxing your entire body

3. The third breath you ask yourself “what’s important now?” and bring your attention to that answer

Read more.

🙈 How near-misses can help you win

In Edition 042 we learned about the science of near-misses, and how researchers who fall just short of earning grant funding for a prestigious end up publishing more hit papers in the long run.

Notably, it turned out that the two groups published at similar rates over the next 10 years—not what you’d expect, given that narrow winners got an early leg up from their NIH grant funding. Even more surprising, scientists in the near-miss group were actually more likely to have “hit” papers (that is, papers that cracked the top-five percent of citations in a particular field and year). In the five years after they applied for NIH funding, 16.1 percent of papers produced by scientists in the near-miss group were hits, compared to 13.3 percent for the narrow-win group.

Read more.

👉 The Resilience Rules Framework

In Edition 055 I shared my first take at the resilience rules framework, featuring four essential skills (Respond, Restore, Reflect, Rebuild) and 12 key strategies.

Read More.

👉 Check out:

I followed that up in Edition 059 with the INFRA model of mapping the impact of change.

Read More.

💥 Do you have enough disorder in your life?

In Edition 061 we examined some ideas from philosopher Rene Girard about the tension between order and chaos

Human beings are weird creatures. We crave order and structure—in our daily lives as well as in our social relationships—but we also chafe against it. We want to better our lives and lots and we definitely take umbrage with anyone else trying to do that at our expense. According to Girard, to prevent full blown social unrest and societal collapse, we need outlets to unleash chaos.

Read more.

🤸🏾‍♀️ Health over Medals

In Edition 063 we looked at the resilience of Simone Biles stepping back after a near-miss on vault at the Olympics.

These comments all stem from a larger mentality that sociologists Robert Hughes and Jay Coakley dubbed the “sports ethic,” which says that elite athletes should dedicate their lives to their sport and perform despite pain, injury, and any other obstacle in their way. As a former NCAA gymnast, I wore my injuries as a badge of honor. I learned firsthand how a mistake on vault can have massive consequences, tearing all four cruciate ligaments in my knee my junior year on a vault gone awry. But Biles violated this “sports ethic” by withdrawing without a visible, debilitating injury, à la Kerri Strug of the 1996 Games.

Just as athletes like Biles are expected to live up to the sports ethic, workers have similar expectations with hustle porn and grind culture, which holds that the best employees dedicate themselves completely to their organizations and do whatever it takes to get the job done. And both of these mentalities are problematic.

Read more.

👉 How not to die in the wild

In Edition 067 we reviewed some of my favorite lessons from the great wilderness survival book.

Read more.

⛑ Supporting a team member's mental health

In Edition 069 we tried to answer a startup CEO writing in to ask how she could best support a struggling team member.

One of my founding team members is dealing with a lot of mental health stuff. He’s getting professional help, but these things take time. I tried to give him 2 weeks off but he refuses because he believes he has to be working. However, when he is here, he doesn’t communicate with the team and it causes more confusion.It’s pretty obvious to everyone that he’s struggling. What should I do?

Read more.

💁 Ask those who have said "no"

In Edition 075, we looked at what science could tell us about how to best ask for help from others.

Not only should you not avoid those people, you should actually seek them out because people who have rejected your request for help in the past are actually much more likely to help you, not less. And it's for the same reason that I talked about earlier, when you say no to someone, even when you just ignore their request for help, which is essentially a no, it feels terrible. Not only do you feel bad about not offering the health that they're asking for, but also that you may damage the relationship to the extent that there is one as well. So usually what happens is people jumped at the chance to help to make up for not having helped you in the past and to repair that relationship a bit.

Read more.

😅 Sweat Therapy

In Edition 076 examined different ways of keeping anxiety at bay with Scotch & Bean.

🔪 How men hurt themselves

In Edition 080, we explored how traditional masculinity can end up hurting men themselves.

It's not simply that men seem to have problems, it's that men who more strongly adhere to those norms have more problems. The part about avoiding vegetables cracks me up but overall the points about heavy drinking, avoiding preventative health care, and lots of other dumb things that guys, especially in highly male-coded (aka "testosterone-laden") situations, seem to engage in do appear quite dangerous.

Read more.

Thank you for being a member of Cultivating Resilience. Would you be willing to share it with a friend or two who might also enjoy it?

More Resources and Fun Stuff

  • Book Notes: Summaries / quotes from great books I've read
  • Scotch & Bean: a webcomic about work, friendship, and wellness
  • Birthday Lessons: Ideas, questions, and principles I've picked up over the years
  • Career Spotlight: A deep dive into my journey as an athlete, PM, founder, and creator.