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I Broke My Rubber Band and It Hurt

Human beings are amazingly resilient. Physically we can push ourselves to an extreme like completing the Hawaiian triathlon (Swim 3.8 km, Ride 180 km, Run 42 km). Intellectually we have the capacity to solve complex problems like landing a man on the moon or self-driving cars. Psychologically we can endure extremely challenging conditions like that faced by the Thai soccer team who were trapped inside a cave for 18 days.

This ability to stretch is one reason why the human race has prospered. What happens when we stretch ourselves too far for too long and we are no long able to get back?

When I think of resilience I think back to what I learnt in my early trade training as a Motor Mechanic and the science behind rubber. Natural rubber is a polymer of isoprene (also known as 2-methylbuta-1,3-diene) with the chemical formula (C5H8) which has an amazing ability to be pulled, stretched and squeezed under immense pressure and return back to its original size and shape. In fact, the definition of personal resilience is very similar to the attributes of rubber band:

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – American Psychological Association

We all have a our own very personal resilience rubber band that has the capacity to help us stretch in time or stress or pressure. Everyone’s capacity is different and the ability to spring back is dependent on many factors, but like the properties of rubber if it is not maintained or is stretched too far, when we need it to work, it’s likely to fail on us.

Here’s the great news – We all have the capacity to strengthen our resilience rubber band and it’s not as hard as you think.

I believe that resilience all starts from a change in how we view stress and the concept of well-being. Stress like everything else is neither good or bad, it is just that, stress. Traditional approaches towards stress management had been to focus on ways to deal with the stressor or remove it all together, but in the past 10 years there has been a positive movement towards embracing stress.

Concepts like “Grit” from Angela Duckworth and PERMA by Dr Martin Seligman (my psychological man crush) have really started to change the view of resilience and stress.

Grit

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It’s the reason why some people can succeed in the most challenging environments while others, who despite having all the skills and knowledge, still end up failing. In Angela’s book “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance” she explores the concept of grit and ways you can develop it. One way that you can develop Grit is to do something hard. For many the fear of speaking in public is real and most people they would prefer to be in the casket at a funeral rather than giving the eulogy. I am a part of Toastmasters International and it is amazing to see shy timid mouse-like people join and within a few months turn into powerfully confident people. It’s true that when you overcome a challenge or a fear like that of public speaking, your inner strength or Grit grows.

PERMA

The PERMA model was designed by Martin Seligman and consists of five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Seligman believes that these five elements can help you reach a life of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning as well as enhance your personal resilience.

What can you do to develop your ability to remain resilient? Here are some personal strategies that I rely on regularly to stay on top of things:

  1. Become personally aware of how you are feeling – Self awareness is really the key to maintaining your personal awareness. Start by paying attention to what feelings you experience over a 24-hour period. Explore what they mean for you and how it actually feels when you are emotional. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. I know when I feel stressed because my left eye lid twitches on the inside.
  2. Juggle – Yes, I do mean the kind of juggling that clowns do. Unless you are a master juggler the act of juggling requires total concentration to keep 3 balls in the air at the same time. When you are concentrating on juggling, you are essentially being mindful which can help clear your thoughts.
  3. Get off your backside – There is a mounting body of evidence that proves that as little as 15 minutes walking each day has a major affect on the production of our feel-good chemicals. The act of being outdoors and in the sunlight also provides us with Vitamin D which also helps in the production of our feel-good drugs. Try eating your lunch whilst walking or having a walking meeting.
  4. Go Bush – When I’m say go bush I mean that I cut and collect wood, cook on the fire, have no electricity and most importantly no phone reception. I take myself away from the hustle and bustle of work, the confusion of trying to work out our prime minister this week and that damn phone that reminds me that I haven’t played candy crush for an hour. This time away gives my resilience rubber band time to rest and recover and get back to shape.

We all experience the rough and tumble of life, stretch ourselves too far or experience some form of adversity. As my mum said to me growing up “Whatever doesn’t kill you Scott, will only make you stronger”. Knowing that when we invest in developing and taking care of our own resilience rubber band, we will be better positioned to not only spring back during the tough times but become a stronger and a more resilient version of ourselves.

If you are looking to build on your existing resilience, why not register to attend the Enhancing Resilience session that Scott will be running in October.

For more support around mental health you can access Beyond Blue, The Black Dog Institute and Lifeline

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.