The Special Forces need people with basic human skills, such as resilience, intuition and the ability to make snap decisions under intense pressure. Showing weakness, vulnerability – or any kind of negative emotion – simply isn’t allowed and you must be able to bounce back and be on point immediately. This is an innate trait, going back to our primal days when we lived in warring tribes. Wallowing in grief wasn’t an option when you were under attack and fighting to survive.
There is a misconception that SAS operatives are impervious to difficult situations when, in actual fact, we’re not superhuman and we’re certainly not bulletproof. What we are is impeccably trained, therefore able to deal with whatever is thrown at us. This is a major part of the resilience mentality which, with the right strategy and programming, can be developed and grown over time. Let’s rewind a little. For me, resilience comes from failure and the ability to overcome it. In my career I’ve faced many failures and what I call ‘break points’. My first meeting with failure was during my first attempt at passing the Special Forces Selection. My team was caught on the final exercise making contact with civilians, meaning we failed. I was one of the seven that got RTUed (Return to Unit) and my life-long dream of being in the military – as a young boy, all I cared about was becoming a soldier – came crashing down in front of me. The break point, though, was not giving up on the dream. At the second attempt, out of 250 soldiers who began selection, I was one of only seven who made it to the end. I was 23 years old and a member of the illustrious Special Boat Service.
I experienced another low point after being involved with an organisation called The Grey Man, which was set up to prevent child prostitution and slavery in Southeast Asia. On one child rescue mission, we found 22 kids in a Thai village who were due to be trafficked and we evacuated them to the Burmese border. The high from that feeling of helping others was life changing and later became the catalyst of finding my purpose in life. However, the Thai government and media discredited the organisation and I had to flee to Australia, where I found myself with nothing but a self-destruct button. This was my rock bottom, the lowest period of my life, but it made me look at my failures. It wasn’t a comfortable experience, but I was able to take responsibility for where I was in life and look inwards rather than outwards, for the answers. Starting from scratch, I began to build a picture of the person I wanted to become, visualising the process and end goal.
All of my failures have led me to be the person I am today. My mindset is the greatest it’s ever been. I have clarity and belief to tackle anything that presents itself. I am mentally strong, resilient and have infinite potential – the same as every other person on this planet. But this wouldn’t have happened if I let my failures take me over. As humans, we’re genetically programmed to focus on failures. That’s our survival instinct, but this trait isn’t fit for the modern day, so we have to learn to not let them bring us down and instead learn from them. As bleak as it sounds, it’s entirely possible that more things will go wrong in your life than go right, so you might as well take them in your stride. Building inner resilience is a life-long mission that everybody should be on. It’s about taking control, creating new positive habits, identifying your purpose and setting meaningful goals. It’s deliberately changing your life for the better, picking yourself up and recovering when things go wrong and squaring away anything that weighs you down – be it insecurities or negative self-beliefs – so that you have the mental bandwidth to start realising your goals. I’m sure you’re thinking, “he’s a Special Forces soldier, this is easy for him to say.” Yes, the armed forces need people with resilience, but it doesn’t come overnight. Inner resilience comes from hard work and grafting, but the good news is that we can all train our resilience if we’re willing to step into discomfort.
Resilience in a business context is a similar kettle of fish. For a resilient business, its leader and its people need to be resilient themselves. This can be hard, particularly when you’re emotionally invested in the thing you’ve created, but it’s about being able to look at things objectively and work out why things have gone wrong. We can all be great leaders in good times, the real test is when the pressure is on. It’s in this way that I think military and business processes aren’t all that different, so I don’t understand why people in the corporate world don’t run debriefs. This is where things are reflected on, evaluated and lessons are learnt to do better the next time. As a leader, the last thing you can afford to do is just keep on keeping on when you know things aren’t working, you should be constantly reassessing and resetting. It’s the leaders who are able to recognise the opportunities in failures that give themselves a strong template for how to move forward, building resilience on the way – win-win.
My idea for building inner resilience, in order to build business resilience, came when I was at rock-bottom in Australia. I had a vision of an organisation that could help people change their limiting beliefs. I imagined corporate sector professionals doing a selection-style course that would help them reach their business goals. Veterans suffering from PTSD would find their feet again working as instructors and teaching mental fitness techniques to people who wanted to stretch themselves. But my mental struggles threatened to derail everything I sought to achieve. It wasn’t until I overcame my own battle and exposed my weaknesses that I overcame this break point and so my company was born.
For beleaguered victims of the corporate world, mired by procrastination, momentum and persistence are the conduits of success. Leaders should be encouraging that potential, through independent and resilient thinking and by empowering their staff with responsibility. That in turn builds resilience, as it means staff are prepared to take responsibility for their bad choices and decisions. That said, here are my top tips for building resilience: “Do you have goals?” Yes, we all do. Our subconscious mind is a goal-striving machine which will stop at nothing until it achieves what our dominant thoughts desire. So, let us play this to our advantage. Without one chosen goal, we can succumb to this mass of ideas swirling around our brains, causing us to focus on things that we don’t want. If you have a strong enough ‘why’, then the ‘how’ will become clear, even if there are obstacles in the way. Nothing in life is permanent, so the real test of people’s resilience lies in their ability to embrace change and adapt to new environments. Learn to embrace short-term discomfort for long term gain. Understand who you are and how you are wired. If we can step into the unknown, pivot, adapt and keep moving, we become stronger. When faced with difficulties, we panic, moan and complain. We say: “Why is this happening to me?” But this negativity doesn’t allow for learning and growth. We need to shift our mindset to see struggles or difficulties as opportunities to learn and gain something from. The next time you have to take on a task you don’t want to do, instead of saying, “I have to do X”, say, “I get to do X”. You’ll be surprised at how your mind sees it differently.
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