Chapter 4: Resilience
Episode 4: At a time when we have all been put through our paces, facing decisions to ensure the survival of not only business but our own mental health Greg shares his insights and some tips on how he tackles mental resilience! It might surprise you this isn’t a list of ways to ‘toughen up’ but more a way of linking your overall purpose to your work and reverse engineering your daily life to match up to that.
It’s often banded around in sports circles, this idea of ‘resilience’ or ‘mental toughness’ but what does it actually mean?
Charlotte and I have been talking to clients recently both existing and prospective and the overriding feeling of dread of Q3 of 2020 is very real for many of them. The uncertainty of the COVID pandemic along with the usual ebbs and flows of business life are a cocktail for us all to be hitting the wine rack earlier than usual.
So, we were talking about what advice we can offer to our clients to help them navigate through what is undoubtedly a very real and very rare moment in our personal and professional lives.
She asked me, ‘what strategies do you use as an elite athlete?’ I was firstly flattered to be considered elite ? but I quickly found myself raving about my fascination with Time Management.
In the most-simple terms the definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Notice, it’s not about not experiencing difficulties, or avoiding difficulties but having the capacity to recover in good time to continue with your objectives.
Capacity – think of capacity like space, seeing as we’re talking about the mind, I like the term ‘head space’. So, the question then becomes; ‘How can we create headspace to deal with the inevitable challenges that are going to come our way?’
As part of my time at Curious I took all the great advice I’ve had from being involved in high performing teams to create the ‘Curious Resilience Chain’.
To briefly explain the ‘Curious Resilience Chain’ it starts with planning daily tasks and activity on a daily level. Then take a broader view based on values and personal purpose drivers. A brilliant coach I previously had the pleasure of working for used to do our post match reviews by breaking it down into microscope, helicopter and satellite views moving further and further out from the granular detail of a technical element of the game and addressing the values we had agreed on as a team and club.
Lastly address the free space you have left and plan in your recreational time. This is crucial to add the balance you need to give you what you need beyond what you do but more importantly who you are and why you’re doing it.
I was always so reticent to manage my time, firstly it felt like a boring thing to do. It also felt constraining on my ‘free spirit’ to be able to do ‘whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted’. However – when the rubber hit the road and struggles came my way, I found it so difficult to get out of a state of procrastination, or if I was finally committing to getting something done I’d be thinking of the other 100 things I’d put off to commit my time to that item.
When I was really struggling with my personal life some of the best advice my sports psychologist gave me was about planning my diary. Every day, every week, every month. I can still remember the feeling of disappointment that overcame me when I thought about what that would mean.
So, what that looked like was a weekly planner where I wrote down my activities every day. Which meant everything:
- Business needs
- MBA Studying
- Date Nights
- FaceTime with the kids
- Golf Lessons
- Job List – I’d put this in the bottom corner to keep on top of items that were over a few weeks, people to call, deals to arrange etc.
There were a few ground rules I had to abide by. I’d have to accept that things moved and were out of my control, I’d commit to doing it after my first weights session in the changing room at work. I also stayed away from tech so it couldn’t be distracting.
- When you’re planning your day, week, make sure you’re completing it at the same place & time.
- I’m a pen and paper guy for this stuff so I can keep it somewhere visible, in a book, diary of planner.
- Accept things might move: Best laid plans and all that!
SIDENOTE: Read or Listen to ‘Daniel Pink: When’. It’ll talk you through your circadian rhythms and when you’re most effective at various tasks.
We all go through 3 stages of a day – a Peak, Trough and a Recovery and they’re best suited to different tasks. When your stages are is dependent on your waking and sleeping cycles. Probably best left to the expert.
Initially, it was amazing the simple act of purposefully allocating a time and place for things gave me more focus on the task at hand. I felt much less anxious because I wasn’t worried, I hadn’t spoken to the kids, or not seen my partner or the boys for a few days. I was truly present and truly focused.
This helped me enormously because it removed ‘Cognitive Dissonance’. Simply put this is where you know you should (or shouldn’t) be doing something but do (or don’t) do it anyway. What happens is our minds are wonderful at making excuses for us.
For example; I know I need to reply to Charlottes email, but I did say I’d catch up with the boys, Charlotte can wait, the boys haven’t seen me for ages. Or, I’ve got so much other stuff to do, that’s not as urgent as I’m making out.
Ok Greg, that’s great but HOW DOES THIS ACTUALLY HELP YOU? What I’m saying is – when I’ve got my head down in my MBA or business work the chances of that dissonance becoming a reality are reduced because I’ve given those ‘excuses’ their own time and place but right now is time for THIS piece of work I’ve allocated. The same goes for my sporting life, when I drive through the training ground gates, that’s the only thing on my mind because the rest has its own space away from where I’m focused on my performance.
Then something surprising happened, I got bored. And quickly. I found that I wasn’t connected with what I was trying to do. I was ‘going through the motions’ and didn’t know why I was doing the things in my diary.
Back to the Psych.
He asked me one question. What do you want to get out of life? I mean, how much time have you got?! I explained my targets for my professional rugby career were split. Into categories
Professional – games, awards, selection etc
Personal – connecting deeply with people, making friends for life and making contacts and networking for my life after sport.
Holistic – Enjoyment, it’s a bloody hard job – so I want to enjoy it and make some significant memories, both on the pitch and off it.
So, we started to discuss those as bigger picture goals and values. By which I could be more ruthless about the things I was putting in my diary. Of, course there’s crap all of us have to do but I was much more purposeful about what my week looked like, where I was spending my time and my energies were focused because I was doing it for something, it was aligning with my values.
What these do is anchor us, they give a purpose and a reason to give up our valuable time in our weeks for things.
Interestingly this is like a personal version of the work Charlotte and I do with our clients about assessing values and goals.
Space Creation Strategies
When planning your week, one of the first things you’ll notice is – there’s a hell of a lot of blank space. Even if you’re a busy bee. The things we think take up large chunk of our time, when written down actually occupy far less than we think. So, what do you do with this surplus of time? The temptation is to fill it, to feel busier, feel more productive BUT I would strongly recommend you use that time to create space (capacity). This can look like anything:
- Take the dog for a walk
- Sauna or gym session
- Watching trash TV.
What you do isn’t important, but how it makes you feel. It needs to create space from the ‘grind’ of your week. It needs to be distinctly just for you. My space creation strategies are:
- Gym or Sauna
- Golf – I’m far from good but I find the focus on the process means I leave everything else behind.
- Dog walks – being outside is such a healer for me, where possible I even leave my phone behind (unless I decide to listen to music and podcast or whatever)
What am I saying? I’m telling you to book in this time in your week to do these activities that are just for YOU. That way you’re less likely to resent the work you need to do, because you know you have your own space booked in. When you’re there you don’t have to feel guilty because you have put everything else where it needs to be.
To come full circle on the journey we’ve been on. This was about resilience, about dealing with the inevitable tough times ahead. What I’m proposing will not remove hardship, I can promise that. However, I can promise you’ll feel more connected, more purposeful with what you’re doing and more importantly WHY. I can also promise you’ll enjoy your down time more, because you’ll feel like you can relax into it fully without feeling guilty. I promise you’ll be challenged to think about what you want to achieve, and it might be hard to say goodbye to things that aren’t conducive to that goal.