Special Forces and their take on resilience: 4 insights from Fly

04 April 2024

Some highlights of our conversation

#1 Start with yourself if you want to build resilience

Fly says there is no magic pill to succeed in life. Nor does he believe in the purest form of talent. Because he knows first-hand that hard work always beats talent and that resilience plays a crucial part in this as it is linked to adaptability and discipline.

'For me, resilience is very much about adaptability. I am a big fan of American philosopher Thomas Higginson, who posited that the one most adaptable to change is the one that survives. You must be able to cope with new situations and unexpected circumstances. To do so, resilience is needed.'

'Being resilient is inextricably linked to discipline,' says Fly. 'After a while, motivation fades and is replaced by discipline. There is nothing innate about this. Instead, it is a prolonged growth process. Structure less enjoyable tasks, organise things you'd rather put off, and go the extra mile if you want to rise above the rest.'

He uses an example to explain the difference between motivation and discipline: 'Motivation is going on a crash diet and to the gym in the three weeks before your summer holidays. Discipline is putting one rather than four sugar cubes in your coffee. These sugar cubes can be the start of something bigger, of a major change. Discipline does not mean making superhuman efforts but taking small steps in the right direction time and again. With discipline, you really become the best version of yourself.'

"Discipline does not mean making superhuman efforts but taking small steps in the right direction time and again."

#2 Stress is not always negative, although stress that won't go away is

Fly says stress is very personal. Each person's experience of stress will be different, triggering different reactions and consequences.

To better understand the concept of stress, the SF has studied how the stress response begins in our brain. 'Stress is anything that makes our body and mind feel uncomfortable. I purposefully use the word 'feel' because stress originates in our limbic system. That's where the amygdala is. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it will activate the limbic system as part of a functional response, releasing adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. The latter is detrimental to your mental and physical health in the long run.'

'Stress is a very healthy, natural, and evolutionary response against threats. These hormones help us survive. Unfortunately, our body sometimes releases so many hormones that we cannot function anymore.'

So how do you cope? And does everyone have different coping mechanisms? Fly shares some useful tips. 'Everyone handles stress differently. This is partly due to genetics. This won't change once you're an adult. Part of it is also learned behaviour, however. Your parents and the culture you grew up in also have a big impact. You also learn from experiences, and these experiences will help you in the future. Finally, there's also habituation.'

He explains that stress hormone production is not necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes an issue when these hormones are no longer broken down, leaving the body out of kilter (homoeostasis). There are two ways to fix this. You can prevent stress by exercising and ensuring you're in good physical health. Take a walk, for example, instead of munching on snacks while lying on your sofa. Adjusting your attitude to the stressor can help you cope with acute stress. 

#3 The 'why' is incredibly important in an organisation

Employees and managers need a higher purpose. There must be an answer to the question, 'why are we doing this?' According to Fly, this has several benefits: 'When all the stakeholders know why they are doing something, they will spare no effort to achieve their goal. That's the sweet spot you're looking for. Employees need to know why they are doing something to feel useful and needed. When all these boxes are ticked, people come to work with great pleasure. That's when they'll make sacrifices they would not have before. Working overtime, offering support to co-workers, or going that extra mile.' 

"When all the stakeholders know why they are doing something, they will spare no effort to achieve their goal. That's the sweet spot you're looking for!"

The 'why' is also hugely important for leaders. The lack of a 'why' is often a major cause of stress. In the SF, operators constantly ask their leader why they are doing something. And that's why it's so vital that efforts are made, both at the organisational and individual level. 

#4 The qualities of a good manager

According to Fly, you don't have to be a born leader to become a good leader. 'There are many techniques and actions you can use to manage a group, and these can all be taught. However, leadership is based on two principles: strength and empathy. You can't be afraid to make decisions, even if they are wrong sometimes. This puts you in a position of power. Empathy is listening to and caring about your team.'

Fly has one last bit of advice for leaders and managers: 'Leave the door to your office open. Show employees you're available. Tell people. Explain the reason for your decision and communicate this clearly and transparently.'

So, what did we take away from this interview? The Special Forces consider resilience, stress management and leadership something you can learn. Instead of innate talent, it's a matter of observing, anticipating, and adapting when needed. A very labour-intensive process, but one that will definitely pay off in the long run.

The full interview is available to organisations with access to our digital wellbeing platform My Health Partner


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