Fire Drill Syndrome: Why More Challenge is Better Than Less

It’s natural to assume that a crisis is bad. We do anything we can to avoid it. When we can’t avoid it, we work quickly to put it behind us and move on. So you might guess that someone who has faced a great deal of challenge, who has struggled often, would be beaten down. Burned out.


But research suggests that the opposite might be true. In a study by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, people who had been through a trauma or a challenge had greater psychological functioning than those who had never faced a trauma. Even more interestingly, people who had faced TWO traumas had better coping than people who had faced ONE. Instead of being beaten down, surviving a challenge seems to offer us the opportunity to come out the other side even greater.


It’s like a fire drill – if you don’t know what the sound is when it goes off, will you even know to escape? If you haven’t mapped out your route ahead of time, will you know where to go? If you haven’t prepared an emergency kit, will you have everything you need?


Having a life filled with several challenges isn’t the disaster you might think it is. Each struggle is an opportunity to build resilience. We do better if we’ve practiced for challenges. Instead of resenting the crisis you’re dealing with, think of it as a fire drill. This is the testing zone, where we practice our skills and our resilience for the future.


The next time something goes wrong in your life, imagine yourself shouting “Fire drill!” and perfecting your plan for the next time. Life will probably hand you a “next time,” because that’s what it does, but you’ll be strong and prepared when it does.