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Assess, Understand & Improve your resilience with the Resilience Shield

Good as Gold's Podcast EP13

‘The Resilience Shield’ was jointly developed by three Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) veterans – Ben Pronk, Tim Curtis and Dr Dan Pronk. They combined what they learnt in the defence force with medical research to create a model of resilience and write a book that will help you master your mindset and overcome adversity. This week Cal and Em speak with Ben and Tim about all things resilience and the benefits that come with being resilient. 

Ben and Tim first met 20 years ago at a mutual friend’s wedding…before Tim became Ben’s squadron commander in 2003. Throughout the years they kept in touch, and in 2008 they kicked off ‘The Resilience Project’. 

“It very much came about from our own experiences and our experiences in uniform. So we’d seen our colleagues being exposed to all sorts of different stressors, including in combat and having really different sorts of reactions. And that struck us as a bit strange. On paper we were kind of identical humans. We kind of look the same, we’ve been selected with the same stuff, we have the same training, all that sort of thing, and yet people reacted quite differently in the moment under extreme pressure like combat and then in the days, weeks and years that followed. So that sort of piqued our interest that there’s got to be something to this thing, this resilience concept.”

The concept of resilience was further explored when Ben observed how his brother Dan’s (co-author of the book and co-founder of the methodology) PTSD manifested years after discharging from the Army, while he was living in tropical north Queensland, in a great job and he had just welcomed his first child.

“Again, this got us very interested in how this whole mechanism worked and importantly, how we could get proactive. Like it seemed a lot of the reason we were putting attention on resilience was only ever sort of implemented after people were having these negative stressor events. Why can’t we get proactive in developing some tools and mechanisms that could stop us from having that negative stress?”

 The men worked to settle on their definition of resilience with their research partner.

“She introduced this definition that resilience is a better than expected outcome given the adversity faced. That’s brilliant. You can have everything taken away from you – professionally, health, your social life, your marriage, your kids – you can be confronted with the most chronic of adversity but if you have a better than expected result, then you are defined as being resilient.”

 And then broke down the components of resilience into six layers. 

  1. Innate layer (genetic and epigenetic factors)
  2. Mind layer (psychological and spiritual factors)
  3. Body layer (physiological factors)
  4. Social layer (factors related to support from others)
  5. Professional layer (vocational factors)
  6. Adaptation layer (the ability to transfer resilience you have developed in one domain to transfer to the unexpected for the novel challenge)

 To put science behind this method, they applied for a federal government research grant and the results were recently posted in a peer reviewed journal article.

 “The bottom line is you need all of those things – they all contribute. While they interrelate, you can’t expect to just pull one out and expect to have a complete resilience shield.”

 “Philosophically, what’s the difference between fitness and toughness? It’s what’s between your ears. The tough people have to be fit, but if the fit people aren’t tough, they’re not going to make it through.”

 To help change lives, they suggest making a little contribution every day, to every layer, to improve your resilience and mindset. Whether it’s sleeping better, eating better, doing exercise, connecting with family or friends or doing meditation and mindfulness, they encourage everyone to build up their own Resilience Shield.

 “And last but not least, you know, our bonus layer is that adaptation layer – find a meaningful challenge. Something that is going to take you out of your comfort zone, perhaps something you don’t really like doing because the adaptation layer is what’s going to allow us to do things that we never thought were possible – to confront the unknown and the unknowable.”

They also highlight the benefits of modelling behaviours like this to those around us, especially our children.

 “The shield is the iconography and Tim’s got this beautiful line about the shield being the common good for all. It’s not just about protecting yourself individually and we think that metaphor carries into developing resilience. If you are more resilient as an individual, you are going to be a better colleague, boss, girlfriend, parent, child, whatever it is, and so there’s that almost a virtuous circle that can spread around.”

The episode with Ben and Tim dives deeper into their six layers, and why we should practise and build on resilience to live happier and healthier lives. To hear the full chat subscribe or follow us on YoutubeSpotify or Apple Podcasts.

You can also take the test to see how resilient you are here: 

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