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How to build resilience - 5 top tips from a pro

on March 17, 2021

ELITE ultrarunner Andrew Heyden (pictured below) has been a CurraNZ Ambassador since 2017 and uses his experience to host talks on resilience and mental health for running and corporate groups.

As well as representing England and Australia in ultra-running, Andrew has spent 25 years working in large global asset management firms and also draws on time spent in the Territorial Army and courses with the Special Forces.

As a father-of-two, Andrew also has 12 years of parenting experience that have boosted his own resilience!

Here are his five tips to help you manage when confronted with challenging times.

1. Develop coping mechanisms

We all get nervous about what might happen or go wrong at work or in sport and we can’t always prevent it, but we can prepare for certain outcomes.

If we are aware of how we will probably feel in certain situations we can be ready to control our emotions.

In everyday life, if a certain work colleague makes you nervous or winds you up, being prepared for how they might make you feel will help you control those emotions when a situation arises and reduce anxiety.

In running particularly long-distance races I know I will feel tired and doubt myself at some point but I’m ready to combat those negative thoughts when they arise – awareness and preparation are very useful coping mechanisms so work on developing yours.

2. Focus on variables you can control, rather than those you can’t

Two pillars of physical and mental resilience are simple things we can influence and control - diet and sleep.

Elite athletes are able to train hard day after day because they know the importance of prioritising these two factors.

However, it’s not just for elite athletes. Prioritising sleep is one of the most important aspects of life. We all face different challenges but, if you commit to getting the magic eight hours on a regular basis - and do the same for your partner and kids, you will see the results.

Planning is key in helping maintain a healthy diet, try to have healthy snack options available at home or work and find some simple recipes that work for you – from smoothies to protein balls - challenge yourself to one healthy alternative a day

 3. Resilience building: The 'Six Ps' to live by

I love the mantra 'Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance', which comes from the British Military. I believe this is true in most aspects of life, whether work meetings, family trips or sport ­– planning ahead helps produce better outcomes and reduces stress.

We eat better if we plan ahead with shopping and meals, we train better if we plan sessions around family, weather, work etc.

At work we all need to push our envelopes and get out of our comfort zones now and then and that is a great way to build resilience. Practice in a controlled environment with family and friends – such as delivering work presentations to those at home - and you might surprise yourself. 

I’ve been through many corporate restructures at work, many of us are creatures of habit and don’t like change, but we will always be faced with change so try to embrace it and look for the positives.

4. The importance of goal setting

Goals are a great way of keeping focused and getting through tough days. It’s good to have daily goals and longer-term goals too.

No goal is too small if it builds confidence, helps motivation or makes you happier.

Simple things like daily step goals and healthy food decisions each day add up and can soon become regular habits. Sharing a goal with a friend helps keep you both accountable too.

My running training often sits in ten-12-week blocks, but I stay motivated by breaking it down into week by week and trying to nail just one or two particular aspects in each daily session.

This helped me last year, I managed to stay fully motivated, didn’t miss a single training session and broke an Australian age group record that had stood for 30 years.

You may have heard of ‘SMART’ goals - they should be ‘specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely’.

Setting unrealistic goals is likely to lead to disappointment. 

5. The big picture: Focus on what is most important. Find a way to reset to reduce stress

Stresses come from numerous sources and it’s becoming more and more common to get caught up in social media, which can make us feel inadequate.

Resets for everyday life, which can often be simple, such as time with family and friends, a family walk, connecting with nature and animals, help ground us too.

Exercise has so many benefits, so always find time to build it into your days and weeks.

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