When something goes wrong, we often strive to be better prepared if the same thing happens again. But the same disasters tend not to happen twice in a row.
A more effective approach is simply to prepare to be surprised by life, instead of expecting the past to repeat itself.
If we want to become less fragile, we need to stop preparing for the last disaster.
When disaster strikes, we learn a lot about ourselves. We learn whether we are resilient, whether we can adapt to challenges and come out stronger.
We learn what has meaning for us, we discover core values, and we identify what we’re willing to fight for. Disaster, if it doesn’t kill us, can make us stronger.
Maybe we discover abilities we didn’t know we had. Maybe we adapt to a new normal with more confidence.
And often we make changes so we will be better prepared in the future.
But better prepared for what?
After a particularly trying event, most people prepare for a repeat of whatever challenge they just faced.
From the micro level to the macro level, we succumb to the availability bias and get ready to fight a war we’ve already fought.
We learn that one lesson, but we don’t generalize that knowledge or expand it to other areas. Nor do we necessarily let the fact that a disaster happened teach us that disasters do, as a rule, tend to happen.
Because we focus on the particulars, we don’t extrapolate what we learn to identifying what we can better do to prepare for adversity in general.
We tend to have the same reaction to challenge, regardless of the scale of impact on our lives.
Sometimes the impact is strictly personal.
For example, our partner cheats on us, so we vow never to have that happen again and make changes designed to catch the next cheater before they get a chance; in future relationships, we let jealousy cloud everything.
But other times, the consequences are far reaching and impact the social, cultural, and national narratives we are a part of.
Like when a terrorist uses an airplane to attack our city, so we immediately increase security at airports so that planes can never be used again to do so much damage and kill so many people.
The changes we make may keep us safe from a repeat of those scenarios that hurt us. The problem is, we’re still fragile.
We haven’t done anything to increase our resilience—which means the next disaster is likely to knock us on our ass.
Why do we keep preparing for the last disaster?
Disasters cause pain.
Whether it’s emotional or physical, the hurt causes vivid and strong reactions. We remember pain, and we want to avoid it in the future through whatever means possible.
The availability of memories of our recent pain informs what we think we should do to stop it from happening again.
This process, called the availability bias, has significant implications for how we react in the aftermath of disaster.