The Resilience Shield is a contribution by Dr Dan Pronk, Ben Pronk and Tim Curtis to support character training with a particular focus on employing resilience techniques to overcome current and future challenges. This book takes resilience seriously and suggests if you want to build resilience then you need to reflect on your life to see where you can process thoughts and plan how to do better.
What’s so wrong with just hardening up?
The book does an excellent job in establishing a clear definition of resilience. Two factors must exist for resilience; a stressor to display resilience against and a better than expected outcome given the adversity faced (p.51). Further, resilience is something that for individuals is dynamic, multifactorial and modifiable (p.3). In short it may change over time in different locations and encouragingly, it’s something that can be made stronger!
The framework of how to understand one’s resilience is as a multi-layered shield. A shield is a form of defence (primarily), but a good shield also enables a hand to be free for offensive operations. As resilience is complex and everyone is different, this multilayered shield consists of the innate, mind, body, social, professional and adaptive dimensions. What strengthens the discussion of resilience is the image of the Afghan rug and Kevlar. The authors want the readers to think of the layers of resilience as only being strong when they weave in and out of each other. One strand of Kevlar is weak. Woven together to form a vest, Kevlar can stop bullets. In proposing these images, the authors convey the message that being resilient in life is about more than simply being physically fit or ‘hard’. The strength of the opening chapters cannot be understated and is worth the investment of time.
The handbook of resilience
Each chapter describes what that layer of the shield consists of and why it is important. Punctuating these chapters are research summary boxes, case studies and what the authors refer to as ‘a call to action!’ where the guts of what was suggested are summarised.
Below is a very brief summary of the contents.
The innate layer is a solid start to the book and addresses the fact that at some level we all have a level of resilience from the get-go. Things like nature and nurture, genetics, personality and grit all feature in the description of what makes up the innate layer and how you can understand your innate layer better. The discussion regarding values encourages critical thought for what people value. To strengthen this, the chapter could lead the reader further into evaluating why they value what they value and see if their values are congruent with their worldview.
The chapter concludes by suggesting something familiar to military minds, after action reviews. Although some might brush this off as idealistic (‘who has got the time to dear diary’?!) I must admit that a month into keeping a short daily reflective journal has done me the world of good.
The mind layer is where I thought the idea of belief might play a stronger role in the discussion. Rather than canvassing many different beliefs, the authors suggest the philosophical approach of stoicism. Indeed this chapter is a solid primer for understanding the fundamentals of stoicism but the door remains open for the readers to define their flavour of virtues they are willing to live and die for.
A major highlight of this chapter is the discussion on mindfulness. The authors here touch on what some of the scientific benefits could be in mindfulness in strengthening the brain and provide some really easy breath work tips to get people started.
The body layer is one of the most comprehensive chapters that discuss the spectrums of being active/being asleep and eating/pooping. From when you wake, to while you sleep there is not much that happens to your body that they do not discuss. By touching on a lot here, like in the discussion on stoicism, the authors leave the deep personal investigative work to the readers which invites the ownership required by readers for any of this to be effective.
The social and professional layers are solid chapters. The social layer has a newfound emphasis in recent times with the pandemic (of which the testimony of Brigadier Rod Curtis AM, MC later in the book attests to) and qualifies much of what I think many instinctively know to be true. The professional layer does an excellent job in not overstating the importance of our jobs while reinforcing it is important to find purpose in what we do – and it is important to pursue ways to increase our competence at our jobs.
The adaptation layer is the result of working hard at all of these layers and functions to wrap the layers together. This chapter has a cracking case study of Dr Richard Harris and the rescue of a soccer team in a Thai cave. It builds the case of being able to benefit from the challenges that face us – essentially becoming antifragile.
Call to action! (Implementation ideas)
This book is an excellent resource for soldiers and units to use right away. It’s not the silver bullet but is still an excellent round to have in the chamber to understand and develop resilience in a holistic sense. Spirituality is largely lacking in the book and for a large proportion of people still provides a key part to their ability to press on and be resilient. On reflection, this model is still extremely good to use, but for those for which spirituality plays a fundamental role in who they are and what they do additional work is required to integrate the model to one’s life.
At 3 CER this year we have established the groundwork for maximising the benefits of the book and the topic of resilience became a live one in the brew room. This was a huge win as it started the shift away from thinking that to be more resilient you simply needed to ‘harden up’. The regiment did the resilience shield survey and responses provided an overall picture of the resilience of the unit, identifying some trending areas where improvements could be made at a collective level.
The need for structured resilience training is great. This resource is an excellent contribution to the discussion because it empowers readers with;
- A framework to understand resilience – the shield.
- A handbook to reference resilience topics, with a compelling argument that the many different strands of resilience all play a role in overall health.
- First hand stories of lessons learnt from a vast array of people who have commendable levels of resilience through challenging experiences (many of which resonate with defence personnel).
- An accessible way to take the defence values such as excellence, courage, and service seriously enough to strengthen one’s ownership of these values and make them their own.
About the Author: Chaplain Chris Booth joined the Army straight from a high school in south-west Sydney ‘because he thought he looked good in khaki.’ He enjoyed a bit of time experiencing the highs and lows of logistics in the military before seeing the light and joining the chaplaincy department. He is passionate about helping people consider their worldview and living lives consistent with that.