How To Improve Your Resilience And Master Your Mindset
'The Resilience Shield’ Is More Than Just A Self-Help Book.
Three Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) veterans have collectively written ‘The Resilience Shield’. This is more than a self-help book; it offers special operations techniques to help you master your mindset, overcome adversity, plus how to assess, understand and improve your resilience.
Penthouse spoke to the three authors, Dr Dan Pronk, Ben Pronk and Tim Curtis…
Huge congrats on the book. Love the tone of it; it’s warm, inclusive, down-to-earth and excellently researched, like talking to a wise friend. Is that just the way that all of you are?
Thanks for the congratulations on the book! After several years of research and writing we’re stoked to finally have it out there and to hear what readers think of it. Thanks also for the feedback on the tone of the book. The goal was to try to achieve a style of writing that has academic credibility but also is highly readable. We didn’t want to lose readers by having it overly academic, but by the same token we felt it was very important to back our thoughts up with scientific fact. We then wanted to pack all of that into something that was equal parts entertaining, informative, and practical for readers to have some immediate tools to start building resilience. Ultimately, we’re just three ordinary blokes who have had the fortune of having some extraordinary experiences, and we wanted to try to draw some lessons from them to share.
Sum it up for us, how do we become tough? What do we do, and what do we not do?
Tough is an interesting word. We would say that ‘tough’ is equal parts body and mind, but could not be devoid of social or professional components. A recurrent mantra throughout The Resilience Shield is ‘always a little further’. It’s a passage taken from a poem by James Elroy Flecker called The Golden Journey to Samarkand, which has been adopted by the British SAS as an informal motto of sorts. We become tough by the habitual practice of small, positive practices that over time build and maintain a robust Resilience Shield. It’s a lot like accumulating wealth in a diversified investment portfolio where you invest small amounts of money regularly across a diversified range of asset classes. Building and maintaining resilience is the same, it requires small, regular investments in the Mind, Body, Social and Professional Layers of your Resilience Shield.
Can you give us some examples?
Meditating most days, paying attention to your sleep, getting regular exercise, having meaningful interactions with loved ones, and ongoing professional development in the workplace are all great ways of building resilience.
We become tough by the habitual practice of small, positive practices that over time build and maintain a robust Resilience Shield
And what about things to avoid?
Things to avoid are long-term overinvestment in one area at the expense of others, and overreliance on alcohol and other maladaptive measures to deal with stress, which only serve to compound the stress and do nothing to help build resilience to face life’s stressors more proactively.
You begin by saying that the book exists because of the author’s lived experiences and own personal traumas. This is a huge question, but can you each explain a moment that sticks in your mind as something that changed you forever, changed the way you see the world, and how you respond to it?
Dan: I describe the first key pivotal moment in my life in a vignette in the book, which occurred on a special operations mission in Afghanistan in 2011. Our element had infiltrated an enemy village and were 36 hours into the fiercest fighting I had experienced up to that point. By that time, we had already sustained a number of casualties from grenade shrapnel and rocket fragments, which I had been involved in stabilising and handing over to the Aeromedical Evacuation team that had swooped in among the bullets to pick up our wounded. Mid-afternoon on the second day of the mission a four-man clearance patrol of our guys had moved forward into an enemy compound series to clear several machinegun positions that we had been receiving heavy fire from. As they moved deeper into the enemy territory the lead man of the clearance patrol struck a large Improvised Explosive Device, wounding him horrifically and injuring all three other members of the patrol to varying degrees. I moved forward as part of a Quick Reaction Force to assist the isolated and damaged clearance patrol. Despite our best efforts the soldier who initiated the device couldn’t be saved. It was the first time that I had responded to a critically injured mate of mine, and the first time I had a friend die right in front of me as I desperately tried to save them. That event left an indelible mark and fundamentally changed the way I view the world. Initially my reactions to that event and others like it was profoundly negative, with flashbacks and other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress, however as I’ve processed the trauma over the years, those experiences have recalibrated me to be far more grateful and appreciative of everything I have in my life.
Ben: In my last rotation to Afghanistan, we were starting to do a lot of targeting activities – trying to find where the enemy combatants were and then launching operations to take them off the battlespace. Because of the huge advantage our night-fighting equipment gave us, this generally involved trying to find out where they were sleeping and then, following extensive assessment and approval, conducting a raid on that location. In one particular mission, there was a gunfight during this process and the individual we were targeting was killed. I had no issues with that – I’d led on the target development and was comfortable that he was an enemy combatant. But, the fact remained that we’d killed him in his house. We were still finishing the clearance and reorganising for extraction as the sun came up and the realisation of what had happened dawned on the other occupants of the compound. Seeing the impact that this event had on his widowed wife and orphaned children will stick with me for a while. It certainly humanised the situation and made it harder to view war in terms of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. In the end, we were all pretty much just ‘guys’, with probably a lot more similarities than differences. The older I get, the more I realise that if I have a black and white view of a situation, then I don’t know enough about it. The world is basically varying shades of great and situations like that one have helped me look for the opposing arguments to things I believe in and to try to become more tolerant for alternate points of view. It also made me realise how fortunate we are here in Australia that our kids are not very likely to have to wake up to that same sort of situation.
Tim: I always assumed that people saw life through similar prisms as I did. I was often bewildered by the concept of ‘nervous breakdowns’, stress days and anxiety attacks. A friend of mine started dry reaching one night at the dinner table because they remembered an atrocity in Rwanda. Ignorantly I even found that odd. I had confronted significant stressors in my life but never ever dwelled on them. I’d lived and worked in post conflict environments for over a decade from Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan and been rocketed, mortared, threatened and lived with chronic risks amidst the worst of humankind including having a bounty on my head: But that only made me appreciate more what I had at home. Then a few years ago, I picked up Mark Manson’s, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ and made it to page 5 before asking a mate: ‘Who actually reads this? Do people really ruminate on matters they can’t influence?” It started a conversation that lead to my deeper understanding of how unique a variety of species we are. In many ways my ignorance stimulated my intense curiosity.
'Resilience Shield’ is published by Pan Macmillan and available at all good bookstores or online.