How to Build Resilience in Uncertain Times

me&my health up podcast episode #42 – Transcript

Anthony Hartcher 0:00
Welcome to another insightful episode of me and my health up. The purpose of this podcast is to enhance and enlighten the well being of others. I’m your host Anthony Hatcher. I’m a clinical nutritionist and lifestyle medicine specialist.

This episode is on resilience with Graeme Cowan and how are you Graeme? Very well Thanks, Anthony. Graeme helps leaders and teams to be more caring, resilient and growth oriented. In his early career, he worked in senior leadership positions with Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and AT Kearney, in 2000. He went through a five year episode of depression that he psychiatrists described as the worst he’d ever treated. He emerged from this crisis with a different view about how we can increase our resilience, our mood, our performance, he describes, he is described by the Australian Financial Review as the workplace resilience expert.

He is the author of four books, including internationally acclaimed ‘Back from the brink’ recommend you read it, which is a, which has a testimonial from the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and it’s become the best seller in China. So fantastic work there. Graham, it’s an amazing accomplishment.

He recently co founded the tech startup Factor C, which is in incorporates a range of e-learning resources, apps, and digital resources to help leaders build a more resilient team. Graeme has also started a charity which you are probably are well and truly familiar with. ‘Are you okay, in 2009?’ and is an active board member. So welcome, Graeme, how are you today?

Graeme Cowan 1:58
I’m really well, thanks, Anthony. Great to be with you. I would just ask that, you know, the was actually given like and who started ‘Are you okay and I joined him pretty soon afterward, but yeah, he was the founder and it is wonderful just to see how that initiative has grown in reach and impact

Anthony Hartcher 2:20
are totally I mean, I came across it in my corporate career, which was now many years ago, and I see it flourishing every year and the brand getting stronger, and the messaging getting stronger amongst the community and the question being more frequently asked, which is fantastic. So tell us a bit about how you’ve arrived at what you are doing today, your journey to where you are, yeah, so please share your story.

Graeme Cowan 2:48
Yeah, well, I started off in marketing and worked in marketing for probably about 10 years with groups like Johnson and Johnson, and, and Pfizer and then I transitioned into human resources, and I recruited usually sales and marketing people into the healthcare sector, you know, so it could be pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic companies, but also I was involved in recruiting key staff in hospitals and in the Health Department and then finally, I sort of evolved into a cultural change specialist, and so for about 18 months, I led a group that that was, you know, endeavoring organizations to make more constructive cultures, and then I left Morgan of banks who was with their time and went to AT Kearney, and I was the vice president in the executive search division and it was really that time where I had a really bad depressive episode, the market turned down, and I really crashed.

And I was out of work for five years, and, you know, I, my marriage broke down. I became estranged from my kids, and it was pretty dire there for quite a while. Luckily, my parents really supported me and helped me and I did gradually come back, and so it was a combination of, you know, starting to exercise reconnecting with family and friends. It was also beginning to meditate, and it began a very long ritual of meditation, which I continue to today; and then I think probably a really key thing was then transitioning to write my first book, which was called back from the brain, and,

It was when I interviewed other people who’ve been through tough times intended, how they came out of it, and what the difference was that and I launched that at the Black Dog Institute and John Brogdon, the former Opposition Leader lotion for me and I had some well known people there, including Jeff Gallup, former WA Premier, a couple of gold medal swimmers like John Conrad’s and Protrude Thomas, and the guru or the icon of the art world, Mike Rodali and I think because it had some online people there, did you know very well, well, there was lots of publicity, lots of inquiries.

And after the launch over the next sort of month or so I end up doing about 200 interviews and that led to my next book, and then I was asked then to speak, offering regional areas, country areas, and I’m from the country originally. So I really resonate and enjoyed that and then probably in the last sort of five or six years, I really evolved to going back to the corporate environment, and in particular, helping leaders to build personal and team resilience.

And if you get the resilience, right, and get self care, right, you get growth and you know, that’s a real theme in your podcast, Anthony, it, certainly your message really resonated with me as well.

Anthony Hartcher 6:11
Yeah, so let’s, let’s switch to this resilience that you mentioned. So what is meant by resilience? And how can we be more resilient? So what is you know, some of your tips that you share in your talks and what’s helped you, particularly, you know, from, you know, I guess the episodes of ‘Back from the brink?’

Graeme Cowan 6:32
Yeah, I, I decided, in process of writing my book and written five books now, you know, I’ve really been very, very interested in mood and, you know, if we are just victims of our mood, or we have some control and what I found was examining the work of Professor Sonia Lieber Mirsky, who looked at charitable called the howl of happiness and when she reviewed 400, peer reviewed studies, it showed that our mood or what psychologists call positive effect is affected by three things.

The first thing is genetics, and that contributes 50% A big chunk. The next biggest is our intentional actions, what we choose to do each day and that is 40%, and then the events that happen analyzes is 10%. And so, now, that was a real, you know, I guess insight for me that there are things that I can do that boost my mood.

And after a lot of reading, I really decided that there was three outcomes I was seeking from life and that was vitality, which is physical health. Intimacy, which is emotional health and Prosperity, which is contribution health.

So with Vitality, you know, things like exercising, well, eating well, resting well sleeping well.

Intimacy is really making sure that I have really strong friendships and both, you know, in a work environment and also in a private environment. I’ve done a lot to sort of nourish, nurture those relationships.

The third element is Prosperity and the outcome that you’re seeking, there is contribution energy and, you know, I really do find a lot of fulfillment in the work that I do and you know, what’s happened in my own business, but also just seeing how our UK has grown in impact and so I tell people I talk to you should be acting like a VIP and acting like a VIP means that you do things each day that top up, you’re like vitality, glass of well being, your emotional glass of well being and your prosperity, glass and well being.

And I really find that if I really do this consistently, each day, it does make me a lot more immune to low moods, it doesn’t mean I don’t have tough times, of course, but I’m much less down than then I am. I am up now, and that’s really been my real discovery, and of course, I’d really like to encourage other people to you know, to discover that as well.

Anthony Hartcher 9:19
And so just your tips on this vitality bucket or our cup so to speak. So what do you do? I mean, you did mention there was you know, the resting the sleeping, you know, exercising, can you share any more specific tips that have really helped you around boosting your vitality?

Graeme Cowan 9:41
Yeah, I, I use a little app, which is called streaks and they cost about $5 from the apple and the Android store unless you set up daily rituals to follow and so on my daily rituals, you know, I have 20 minutes meditation in the morning, 40 minutes exercise, and then deciding what are the most important things I’m going to be doing in the day.

Who am I catching up from my, my green zone, try, you know, the group that helps me stay in a positive mood and then I finished the day also with a 10 minute meditation. And it’s a very, very good interface that this has he just, you just, once you set those things up, you put you, your, your thing you want to do this, so whether it’s meditation and stuff, and if you do it, you put your thumb on it, and does his call and it shows the number of consecutive days that you’ve done a particular thing.

So that’s the way that I’m trying to really make it a ritual but it’s also just realizing that when I do these things, I’m bettering myself and, you know, we do need to have this mindset that self care isn’t selfish, we can’t care for others if you don’t look after our own well being.

Anthony Hartcher 11:08
Absolutely. And you touched on your intimacy buckets, in terms of what you do for your vitality. In the morning, as you know, who are the people that keep me in the green zone, lift me up and help up, take me forward, and yeah, so that tribe, if you got any tips of how people can create their green zone tribe, and what you do in order to nurture this tribe and grow within it,

Graeme Cowan 11:32
I found that I want to read a book, very, very good book called friend intimacy, and she, the woman who wrote that I think, summarized incredibly well, she said, that, really build these strong relationships, we need to have three things.

And the first thing is positivity. So you feel positive after being with a person and they feel positive. So you know, that’s the first tick. And obviously, that’s really, really important.

The second one is consistency, you know, it was really, her finding in the research, this doesn’t happen, unless there is consistency, because she gets to know each other much better and can really, really build on that.

And the third element, and this is I think the real tough one for a lot of men is vulnerability and this is actually, you know, we can be vulnerable and say, Look, I’ve had a really shitty day, you know, and things aren’t going well or, and be able to just be really authentic with what’s happening with you.

And I’ve been fortunate enough to build, you know, probably about four or five mates that fall into that category and when I do have a setback, I am able to really engage with them and just say, Look, we’re not doing too great at the moment, if you’re a help, let’s go for a walk and a bit of a chat and so it’s quite a good traffic to think about, you know, consistent sorry, positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.

Anthony Hartcher 12:59
Yeah, I agree with that third point around vulnerability, particularly with men and I work for a not work, I volunteer my time for a charity called the Banksia project and it’s to help men share and express their vulnerability and to feel that peer to peer support. So, the Banksy project, call it the, you know, the gym for the, for the mind, essentially, and it’s set to guess that safe space where they can go and, and share what’s going on, and then feel that they’re not being judged or, and they’ve got the back of, you know, the peers around them, and they’re not being told what to do.

So it’s really, the peer to peer support is, you know, other people just sharing what’s worked for them and I find that that that model certainly works really well and, you know, it achieved great results for people that will particularly you know, what, focused on men that struggle with expressing the vulnerability and showing or what’s perceived as a weakness but really, it’s a strength, isn’t it? If we can, if we can be vulnerable?

Graeme Cowan 14:06
Yeah, and I think men do have a potential to be really vulnerable when things happen, you know, for example, if a marriage breaks down, or a male loses his job, often men joke about, you know, their partner, their wife, being the Social Secretary, and they organizing things and when such a relationship breakdowns, often the whole social aspect breaks down as well.

And that’s why I think it is really important for men to have, you know, those individual relationships and like-wise also with men and things are changing, of course, but traditionally, you know, men have been the bread-winner, and a lot of their self worth is placed around their work and a lot of their time is at work and so often if they lose their job or go through a restructure or something, you know, they also lose their social connection, they lose their sense of identity in terms of not working anymore, they often lose their whole social group, because it often revolves around the workplace.

Anthony Hartcher 15:18
Yeah, certainly, you know, you, you experienced all of that firsthand, you know, the job not having a job and then secondly, the marriage breakdown, and then yeah, the distancing with the kids and, and then you mentioned that your parents were really a key contributor to really bringing you back from the brink and I was thinking, what was it? And how did they go about that? Because there’s, you know, that there’ll be certainly listeners out there that know people in this situation or really struggling and often think, you know, how do I approach the subject or you know, what’s going to really help bring them, you know, to life, so to speak, when you’re so down.

And, as you said, Men withdraw, and you don’t have that Social Secretary anymore. So just wondering if there was anything that you know, you can remember that really was a game changer for you are around how your parents approach the subject, or how they provided that support help you?

Graeme Cowan 16:19
Well, they really provided unconditional support, and really believed in me, when I’ve lost faith in myself, that was a really important component, by actually, because, you know, when my marriage broke down, I had to move out of the family home, and I actually went back to live with my parents, it felt impossible, I just didn’t feel that I could look out for myself and so it was very, very regular contact, it was a belief in me, and that I could come back.

And it was just patience, you know, I went through lots of rocky periods, and they and they weren’t patient and if you if we want to help someone, you know, just saying that you care that you’re here to listen, can be very, very helpful, and in the case of men, it’s often better to, you know, suggest doing something like, you know, whatever is important to you and that person could be going fishing together or walking or jogging, or having breakfast or a coffee, but to have a little bit of a, you know, an occasion around it, and then the conversation becomes the byproduct of that.

Anthony Hartcher 17:27
Yeah, and you mentioned that key thing was the time with them and as you said, they will, when they’re ready, they’ll come out with what they need to come out with and, but it’s you being patient being with them and as you also mentioned that thing around the intimacy, but the back at all copies, that consistency, so you’re always going to be there for them no matter what the circumstances.

So, yeah, so I really love that those three points around, you know, finding that green zone tribe. So the, you know, that first being positivity, lift, lift you up that consistency, so, you know, being consistent in the relationship and the third one, which is escaping me, my mind now, mobility, vulnerability, that’s the key one that we just discussed. So, yeah, a great, great way to break down how to build your own tribe, to keep you in the green zone.

Just thinking in terms of, you know, building resilience teams, you do a lot of work with leaders around this and, you know, we’ve spoken a lot about the individual and how the individual can improve their resilience. What does the leader do? And, you know, when I say leader, like a parent is a leader to their children. So, you know, I’m talking in that broad context around leadership.

So you’re really keen to find, you know, on personal appearance, and, you know, how can I improve my children’s resilience? Because they’re my team? And you know, yeah, and likewise, there be other people out there leading teams in organizations? What can they do?

Graeme Cowan 19:12
Yeah, I think it’s, it is really worth thinking about. One of the most important things is to practice self care. You know, when you are a leader of a family or a leader in the workplace or leader in a charity and by practicing self care has been shown that it has a dramatic impact of people. Well, no, it doesn’t. It’s not just about your own well being but it actually flows on to other people and, you know, there’s been rich research on in the workplace that shows that if a leader practices self care and supports a well being initiative, it increases the engagement of the team. It increases the commitment the team, it increases the length of time someone stays in a team or wants to stay in a team so just doing that as is really important, once that’s under control is some things that we just need to think about.

None of us talk, first of all in the workplace, but you’ll see it applies very much in a family setting as well and that’s to ask yourself, Are we connected, are we as a family, are we as a workgroup connected, and what that means is that there is lots of interaction, and we’re seeking to have an outcome there have we belong, and it’s a basic, basic human need to have to belong to a group or a tribe.

And so, you know, I was actually interviewing a senior leader this morning and she oversees 3500 People in Main Roads and Transport in Queensland, and she said that when the whole COVID thing happened, you know, she really tried to ramp up the connection across the group, and she did things like, you know, have Q and A’s every month, where everyone could ask a question, the ideas and things put in place that encourage that, getting together, and in the family situation, it could be, you know, doing things together, you know, having a movie night or, you know, going on a walk together, and just thinking that through.

The second thing is having safety, and I’m primarily talking about psychological safety. And that what that means is that you’re comfortable being yourself, you can be yourself, you can be authentic, but you can also try new things and be encouraged to try new things, and know that if things don’t work out, well, you tried, what can we learn from it? It’s not the end of the world, and so that’s the second element.

And then the third thing, the third component is really, you know, do we have a shared future? And that could be in the workplace, you know, what’s our priorities as a team? What are we going to do? What what do we do differently in the year ahead? But likewise, I can also be planted with a family and you know, what holidays we’re going to take this year, what are we going to try that we haven’t tried before? You know, how can we plan a year where we get done all the things that we hope to do? And so yeah, those elements, and obviously, there’s a lot of depth that can be gone into each of those, but it’s a good way of thinking of it.

And I really saw this first in a great book, which is called the culture code and it was by Daniel, Daniel Coyle, and examined a whole lot of really high performing organizations and teams, like, you know, Google, and the Navy SEALs, elite sports teams, etc, etc. And, and that’s what they identified from that is that these, these high performing work teams are almost like family, people, they have each other’s back, they enjoy their time together, and really strive to have a sense of enjoyment and fun as well.

They work hard, they have clarity around what they do but one of the things they often describe, and I often do this, my, in my talks is how, as people reflect on, you know, what were the qualities of the best team they’ve been part of, or a greater number and part of, and people say, you know, we had each other’s back, we had common goals, we had complementary strengths, we enjoyed ourselves, we had fun and that they’re really important ingredients; and in fact, Google has shown that it’s the number one ingredient agreement.. number one predictor of high performing team is where there is high psychological safety.

Anthony Hartcher 23:51
And we’re certainly, you know, witness that through COVID, you did raise COVID. And, you know, it’s important, because we’re still going through at this point in time, was around that, you know, increased tribalism. So people were, you know, looking for who they could connect with and relate to, and, you know, there was tribes popping up everywhere. And, and then you the other thing I observed was, you know, great leaders really shone during the crisis, and the poor leaders just went downhill in the spiral and, you know, the ones that lead with empathy.

So, you know, really lead with the heart and the people’s interest, you know, first and foremost, and I’m just thinking of, you know, the trends and, you know, what’s happening in society around like, well, particularly pre COVID and it’s sort of picking up again, now that we’re emerging from COVID Was this, you know, this drive for productivity, you know, and increase with the rapid rise of technology. So, you know, we see technological changes just coming in, in our AI, there’s a lot of talk around AI, job losses associated with that, in particular, particular industries wiped out and, and so we’re really entering a phase of, I guess, I mean, we always have through civilization, but there’s this technological influence that is really driving this next phase.

And there is that apprehension about what does the future hold? Am I in the industry? Where will I still have a job, and I’m thinking, you know, your work, the work that you do is more important than ever. I’m really, or certainly in my time to help navigate us through this time and I’m just wondering, from your perspective, what are you seeing, you know, challenges with respect to this, and the way in which us as humans can really move through it?

I think you’ve mentioned a few of them, and it’s fine to reiterate some of these key points, but I’m really keen to get your insight in this area of rapid change and, you know, how do we navigate through with resilience

Graeme Cowan 26:08
in the last four months have certainly been incredibly volatile and with that volatility, there’s also been, you know, complexity and ambiguity and beauty and the homework from home has really suited some people like some people will love it. Other people miss the connection in the office, you know, the catching up for coffee, bumping into each other in the office, and that sort of thing and then there’s people in the middle that, you know, ideally would like to get advice and, funnily enough, I, I surveyed my database to ask what they would prefer going forward and, but by far, the most popular, which I think was about 55%, was half and half, you know, working from home, and but also working at work and I think increasingly, the companies will have to find some sort of medium that allows the social interaction, as well as being able to work remotely, there’s no doubt that stress levels, you know, grew substantially last year.

And, you know, the lots of stresses and strains, but the biggest thing that people found difficult, was the uncertainty, you know, and have no control over many of those, many of the things that were happening to us, like, you know, with literally a couple of COVID cases, the whole state shuts down, you know, it was just quiet, you know, extraordinary, nothing like this has ever happened now, lifetime and so the thing that I really encourage people to do is focus on the things you can control.

As I mentioned, at the start, you know, 50%, so 40% of our mood is contributed by things we choose to do each day and so making sure that you do have time when you’re catching up with people that are good for you, making sure that you have time for exercise and having good wrists and good sleep but also, you know, thinking about the workplace as well, because there’s lots and lots of little things, but in my webinars in particular, I really try to encourage people to think about what are the big things you can do that are both important, and not necessarily urgent, that could really be really helpful for assisting longer term, you know, always the important and the urgent get done, but really making time for the important and the non-urgent.

So to give you an example that I’ve really just been thinking about, how do I scale what I do, you know, there’s any, so many live events, you can go pay when that went down quite a bit in 2020, but, you know, then I was able to ramp up webinars, but then also online learning and creating learning programs when people can access what they need to learn that and make that really accessible.

So that’s an example. I guess, it was hard work to do it and it wasn’t urgent, but I just decided that longer term, that was a really great thing to do and I was very fortunate to form a partnership with Brendan Carter, who’s an e-Learning Specialist and so we’ve just created a range of products which can be found at effector and you just see on there, there’s learning products that show you how to reach out to others.

Ask Are you okay and guide them to the help they need really be very, there’s specific help sheets like you Know how to find a good mental health savvy GP how to prepare for a psychological appointment, how to assist someone who’s away from work, etc, etc. So, you know, that was meaningful work and it doesn’t happen over time that ultimately, it’s quite fulfilling producing, things like that, that really expand reach and impact.

Anthony Hartcher 30:28
They touched on two key important areas, which is that proactiveness and working in that prevention space and really allocating time to, as you said, it’s not, you know, it’s very important to have but nonurgent, and that that is very much our, our health, generally, you know, if we’re, well, we need to, in order to stay well, we need to keep investing into it and as you said, it’s, you know, filling up that vitality class. So, yeah, I couldn’t agree more around that proactiveness and working in that preventative space.

And I, I really love this concept that you’ve shared with us multiple times is this contribution and how that improves mood and you’ve really found fulfilment by doing a lot in this space and it’s, I can see it’s really helped you and continues to fulfil you, doesn’t it? I sense that you know, every time you talk, you’re always talking about how you’re contributing more to society and helping people to be more resilient and, and helping them avoid going to the brink.

Graeme Cowan 31:39
And if people are interested in taking the first step here, I also have something called a self care snapshot and what is the last five questions in vitality, five questions in intimacy, five questions in prosperity, and so you can identify which is your emptiest glass? And, and then there’s also a tool for planning the week ahead, how do you make sure that you have a focus on things that you may not be doing at the moment, and I never suggest that people try and take on too much just take on one year ritual, you know, whether it’s walking 40 minutes a day, whether it’s resolving to meditate for 10 minutes at the end of the day, but to actually make that change.

And as I mentioned, it’s a free resource, which is available on my website at Graeme and so people might, like, you know, just really see where they could be missing out, and how they’re missing out and they need to, perhaps look at addressing that in some way.

Anthony Hartcher 32:53
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, that first step is awareness and that tool that you share, which I’ll share in the show notes creates that awareness within the individual, because, you know, when you’re busy with work and life, and you can, you know, really get Yeah, I get pulled in certain directions and whereas what this tool does is really help people to reflect on you know, where they’re spending their energy, and whether there’s a cup that’s becoming more and more empty and as you said, they need to start topping up that cup. So yeah, absolutely share those resources that you shared on shared with us on Factor C, as well as that self care assessment tool.

So you really appreciate the wisdom that you’ve shared with us your time, because I know you’re very busy with everything you do and you know, me reading out their bio, you just accomplished so much and I’m in awe of what you’ve been able to achieve and now give back in a big way. So I really appreciate you giving your time to my listeners, so that they can really, you know, improve in so that they can further develop their self care, their resilience and become, as you said, more resilient in these uncharted waters that we constantly, you know, now encountering more with these changes these rapid changes with an edge and then focusing on the things that they can control.

Graeme Cowan 34:26
Yeah, very much. So I really appreciated the chance to speak to you as well, Anthony, and congratulations on the initiative you have in place and you know, sharing what you’ve learned and what other people have learned. So, yeah, thanks for the opportunity.

Anthony Hartcher 34:43
Hi, you’re so welcome Graeme and if you have any other concluding comments you’d like to share, like anything that you’ve felt that I haven’t covered, or that’s on top of your mind.

Graeme Cowan 34:56
Stage or on webinars, my sign off is to be caring and so that’s about self care, crew care and red zone care, which is helping someone who will be struggling, be helpful and so if we’re helpful, we’re useful, and we’ll always be in demand and then the final thing is go for the growth son and that means always endeavouring to go a little bit outside our comfort zone, try new things. Learn and yeah, it keeps us alive and vital and learn new stuff.

Anthony Hartcher 35:28
Fantastic I love that conclusion. So yeah, with that, without any further ado, I’ll wrap it up there and thank you again for listeners. If you really liked this episode, please share it with others and they can benefit so the more people that hear about Graeam’s Excellent work, the better we are as a society, so please like and share and get the word out there. So thanks Graeme. Thanks again.

Graeme Cowan 35:56
Thanks, Anthony

Anthony Hartcher 35:57
Cheers. Bye.

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