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Five Key Stress Resilience Skills

In my Stress Resilience Blueprint I described stress resilience as the ability to recover quickly and easily from stress, upsets and set-backs. I made the case that resilience is a composite skill-set that can be learned and developed with the right tools and training. And the foundation is a set of what I called mind-body skills. 

Mind-body skills you could say are about managing the mind-body connection (that is, the relationship between experience and biological processes in the body) so that it works for you rather than against you.

My services and programmes focus on training and developing these mind-body skills, especially with biofeedback. The basic strategy is to learn to guide your biology towards states that support well-being and optimal performance.

In this article I explore the five key mind-body skills that I set out in the resilience blueprint.

Let me first list the five, before tackling them individually.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Attention – flexibility & stability of focus
  3. Letting go (1) – physical
  4. Letting go (2) – mental
  5. Accessing & sustaining positive emotion


This is self-awareness in a particular sense: it's awareness of your body responses and processes, including feelings, desires and urges to act, plus awareness of your thoughts and thinking patterns, and then crucially how these two relate to each other – awareness of how the mind-body connection plays out in practice. How your body responds to your thinking, and how the feelings in your body condition your thoughts.

Self-awareness is a prerequisite for choice and control. If your thoughts and feelings are operating outside of awareness, then they control you. If you want to control them, the first thing is to open up a window of awareness that is a chance to pause and consider before choosing, deciding and acting.

Self-awareness is the foundation of all other resilience and emotional intelligence skills.


Your attention, or your focus, is like a muscle in many ways. It can be trained and developed. It's not obvious how focus relates to well-being generally, and one of my later articles will explore the connection in greater depth, but one part of the answer is this: being focused means being in the here and now. When you're not focused, your mind tends to be either worrying about the future or regretting the past. And that's where you generally find stress and unhappiness: when you're off in the past & the future rather than the present moment.

Mindfulness is a key tool for training attention, and a particular kind of attention: present-moment awareness that is receptive, accepting, kindly and appreciative. That's why mindfulness is a key part of my resilience programme.

Letting Go Part 1: Physical

There are two parts to letting go, and the first is letting go in a physical or bodily sense. In the first place that can mean letting go of muscles and tension, but I mean it more broadly than that – calming the body, reducing restlessness and agitation and physiological arousal.

In terms of the Human Performance Curve model of stress that I introduced in an earlier article, I'm talking about the faculty of moving to the left – just what you need if you're caught in the “quicksand trap” when you're to the right of the peak and heading down the slope.

Letting Go Part 2: Mental

The second aspect of letting go means in a mental sense. That means separating yourself, to a degree at least, from your own thinking, and the narratives playing in your head – creating mental space, so that you differentiate your thoughts, beliefs and stories about the world, from the world in itself. And of course your beliefs and stories are intimately bound up with emotions. So creating space around thinking tends to take the heat out of emotions – that's it's value.

In CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) the emphasis is on changing negative or unhelpful beliefs, but in other approaches you don't need to go so far. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, it's enough to create this space in the way I'm describing here. In ACT the process is known as cognitive defusion (I explore cognitive defusion more fully in this article.)

Cognitive defusion is an aspect of acceptance, which just means letting go of internal struggle or resistance. This is acceptance in a positive sense, not just resignation – so for example forgiveness is a kind of acceptance.

Here's a key point: cognitive defusion is made significantly easier when combined with physical letting go, especially letting go of muscle tension – an idea I'll return to later in this series of articles.

Accessing & Sustaining Positivity

In my experience of working with clients, most people are primarily occupied with getting rid of negative emotions. But it's not enough to get rid of bad feelings, and ultimately not always possible anyway: there's always a danger of creating mental quicksand.

Positivity is not simply the absence of negative emotion, or even the opposite. When you withdraw your attention from negativity (stop feeding it energy, but at the same time not struggling against it) and instead give your attention to positivity, it can start to naturally displace the negatives. So you don't have to get rid of bad feelings first.

Accessing positivity is a relatively distinct skill, that can be trained and developed like the others in this list. Positive psychology has developed some great research-proven tools and techniques.

Mind-Body Skills Are Foundational

Mind-body skills form a foundation for higher-level resources. I'd like to briefly give one example: will-power. What I mean is, when you draw on your will-power you are implicitly drawing on the lower level mind-body skills.

Will-power includes resisting impulses to act on short-term desires that conflict with your higher-level goals (e.g. eating a cake when you want to lose weight). This desire is an embodied process, and you need to be aware of it in both mind and body (self-awareness). You need to stop fighting or resisting the feelings (letting-go) and instead focus on your wider goals (attention) and your motivation for achieving them (which means accessing positivity).

In conclusion, I hope you can get a sense of how the five core skills I've listed are so important in daily life. To repeat my mantra: these skills can be learned and developed with the right tools and the right training. That's what my Stress Resilient Mind Programme aims to deliver.

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