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Four tips for becoming more resilient

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Michael Garrou
  • 90th Missile Wing command chief
Over the next few months, every unit in the Mighty Ninety will train Airmen on Comprehensive Airmen Fitness Resilience Skills. This training is essential to prepare each of us to handle life challenges we face every day. The Air Force definition of resiliency is the ability to withstand, recover and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands. Simply put, it's our ability to plow through problems and rebound or bounce back quickly.

When I think of resiliency, I use the Garrou rubber band theory. Just like a rubber band our lives flex and rebound depending on the pressures or challenges we face. The harder we pull on a rubber band the more tension is placed on it. Unless a change is made and tension is relieved, the rubber band will snap when the stress is too great. As we face challenges in life, stress can pile on unless we work to manage it. Too much stress can lead to mental, emotional and physical health issues. Resilient Airmen know how to manage stress and have the techniques to rebound quickly.

There are four hints I'd like to share. Although these are not the skills to be taught in your resiliency training, these skills helped me over the past 25 years in my career. The first hint is to understand stuff happens. Life is dynamic. Inevitably you will encounter situations at work, with family and friends or financial difficulties. There's only so much you can control. As I've faced many of these challenges in my life, understanding they will happen and I have no control over them helped me recover quickly. Control what you can control; the rest should run like water off a duck's back.

The second hint is to know yourself and how you deal with stressful or unexpected events. The worst course of action is to shut down and keep the stress bottled up inside. Each of us have mechanisms to blow off steam: some like exercise, for others it may be blasting away at zombies in a video game. If I have a stressful day at work or home, I always feel better after a nice run or going for a long ride on my Harley. Things don't seem so tough at 55 mph on the back roads of Wyoming or Colorado. What works for me won't necessarily work for you. Develop healthy techniques to release the tension from your rubber band and bounce back as quickly as possible.

The skills we will learn and develop during our resiliency training will only be as good as the time and effort we put into them. The third hint is to practice, practice and practice. When you practice your skills in your daily life with the small challenges, they will be second nature with the big trials that come your way. A few years ago I trained at Fort McCoy, Wis., preparing for a deployment to Iraq. Many of the skills we learned were repeated over and over until we did them without thinking; often you hear this called muscle memory. By training these skills until they became second nature, we would use them without thinking in combat. Our resiliency skills need to become part of our everyday life so we can fall back on them automatically. Acquire them. Practice them. Use them.

The last hint I would like to share is to build a circle of trust. Circles of trust are those people you turn to for help in tough times. They are the trusted agents who will say what you need to hear not necessarily what you want to hear. These trusted confidants could be supervisors, friends or family. We all need this circle of trust to help pick us up and get us through challenging times. My circle of trust starts with my wife who has been with me through thick and thin during my career; two retired Chiefs, Chuck and Jeff, who are always willing to lend an ear; and a new member to my circle is Chaplain (Capt.) Brad Kimble, 90th Missile Wing Chapel, a fellow southerner and trusted confidant. My hope is you have a circle of trust you can lean on when you need it most.

Your ability to bounce back after tough times is directly related to how you prepare yourself. Learning resiliency skills will certainly go a long way in your preparation. Understanding problems will occur, knowing yourself and how you deal with stress, practicing your skills daily and building a circle of trust have paid dividends in my career; I hope they provide positive results for you.