“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so the old adage goes. Simply stated, if there’s a strong need for something, someone will usually come up with a new invention. Back in the ‘60s, Frank Zappa, needed a name for rock his band, ergo… “The Mothers of Invention.”

In a round-about way, I recently thought of Frank and the “Mothers,” after reading an article about resilience by Eric Barker. Barker writes a popular newsletter called “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” As an aspiring writer, I’ve begun to look at him as something of a role model. He writes about serious subjects, but infuses them with a healthy dose of humor. Furthermore, while offering some personal opinions, he supports them with applicable research.

Here’s a brief summary of Barker’s most recent post titled: “How to be Resilient: 4 Steps to Success When Life Gets Hard.”

He begins by pointing out that Icelandic men live longer than any other men on the planet — 81.2 years. This is 13.2 years longer than the world average (for males)! U.S. males live an average of 75.1 years--a decline of 1.2 years from 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization says it’s not because of the Icelanders’ current lifestyle. Both their obesity rates and their activity levels are unremarkable. So what’s their secret? In essence, Iceland’s harsh lifestyle over centuries changed their DNA.

A corollary to that is that the easier tasks become, our brains become “addicted” to the easier lifestyle. You’ve probably heard the old grandparent story: “When I was your age, we didn’t have TV remotes… we had to walk 6-8 feet to change the channel!”

Barker states that our labor-saving devices have given us the “freedom” to spend an average of 2.5 hours a day on our smart phones. That’s more than five weeks a year!

This is how to be resilient:

  • First World Problems: Deliberate discomfort keeps small problems small. Barker contends, “…we need to deliberately challenge and stretch ourselves to remind our brains that our current difficulties aren’t all that bad.”
  • Boredom is a motivation state: Don’t feed it the junk food of phone time, let it propel you toward creative accomplishment. Grandma Moses, who lived to be 101, didn’t begin painting in earnest until she was 78!
  • Think about death: This is not intended as a morbid, depressing activity, but a gentle reminder that time is limited and we should make the most of it. Perhaps we’ll find better things to do than spending those 2.5 hours on our phones.
  • “Misogi”: This is a Japanese term loosely translated as: “Doing hard stuff because it’s hard.” My wife and I are in our late ‘70s. We spend 2-4 hours most days working in our yard, much of which includes the drudgery and discomfort of pulling weeds. The first few weeks are a painful reminder that parts of our bodies (including our brains) got “lazy” over the winter. After a week or so, however, we begin to savor the satisfaction of having done something hard.

Barker summarizes as follows:

  • We mistake comfort for happiness and this denies us the pleasure that comes from accomplishment. Without accomplishment we lose the pillars that support confidence and self-esteem.
  • When we dodge discomfort, our brain works against us and fear expands ... We can’t see the possibilities of life or our own potential — only threat. This is not how you win; this is how you lose slowly. As FDR asserted, “All we have to fear is fear itself.”
  • Deliberate discomfort is how we vaccinate ourselves against our brains finding smaller and smaller things uncomfortable. A little of the poison each day makes you immune to it.

In a sense, perhaps invention is the “mother of resilience”: inventing new ways to look at challenges, new ways to train our brains, and new and more satisfying ways to spend some of those 2.5 hours we’re currently devoting to our phones!