A former SAS commander on how to forge resilience in your everyday life

Mark Wales is a former SAS commander. He speaks with Body+Soul about his tips to get through challenges big and small.

Let’s imagine you wake up, there’s some new acne, you missed the bus, your boss is on an ego-trip and it’s raining. Again. Sometimes life gets you down and it can be hard to see the blue sky.

These are trivial moments, but that feeling of being overwhelmed by life can happen on all manner of levels and scales. For Mark Wales, it was when he thought his life was about to end in a cornfield in Afghanistan after his mentor was gunned down.

The harrowing experience sent him spinning.

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Speaking to Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, former SAS commander and ex-Survivor contestant, Mark Wales says that he made it his mission to rebuild himself after war. Now, he’s sharing the self-development tools he used to do just that, with us.

“I think as a young person, I knew if I did experience war, it could have a lasting effect. You kind of know that. But I don’t think I was fully prepared for it when I did find myself involved in it,” he tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode A former SAS commander on forging resilience (in your everyday).

“The impact that it has on you, not just on a personal level, almost like in a spiritual sense…and I carried it with me for a long time…I found it took a lot of work to overcome all that and not have it dominate my life.”

While not all of us have been on a battlefield, that feeling of being overwhelmed physically, mentally and spiritually is something that we can all relate to.

If resilience is the key to beating this feeling, first we need to understand what that truly means and what it can bring us.

“There’s a lot of official explanations and definitions of it. But for me, I think it’s centred a lot around mindset and this notion that, tragedy is going to happen to us in life no matter who we are. But you do have a choice about your response to it,” he says.

“I think that’s really an exciting thought. I think that you can use a tragedy as an opportunity to kind of ‘clean house’ in a spiritual sense…and use it as a platform to do something different, start your life again or change the way you’ve been doing things.”

“I think that, to me, is where resilience really comes into it. Where you take values and things that are bad and you turn them into an opportunity.”

When you start your journey of inner strength to build resilience, you may wonder where to begin. Given Wales has personally walked that path, we wanted to pick his brains on the best tips and tricks to try so that we can also achieve it.

#1 Take your time

“You can’t do it quickly. It’s something you’ve really got to apply in small doses for a long time.”

#2 Be ok being uncomfortable

“For me, it was exposure to things I was slightly uncomfortable with, whether it was a skill or an activity I had to do. One that I wasn’t sure if I could do properly,” he says.

“Those little bits of exposure and those little bits of fear (and little bits of learning and failing) – doing that repeatedly every day, over years and years. That’s what I think really does build resilience.”

#3 Make your bad habits hard and your good habits easier

“If you want to try and go to the gym in the morning, make it easy for yourself. Get your gear laid out the night before and book a class. Have someone that holds you accountable. It’s just those little things that make the habit so much easier to follow.”

Use your strength for the better

Going through a difficult time will not be an overnight fix, but with these simple steps you can move towards it and chip away at it overtime. Eventually you will have built yourself back up to such a height that you can not only help yourself, but you can help others. You can also start to reach for goals you previously thought impossible.

“The thing I’ve tried to do to improve myself is try and be true to what I knew I wanted to do for most of my life. I think everyone has some sort of little goal that really got them excited when they were a young person, at some point we would deviate from that and go into a shadow career that we think is the right thing (but maybe it’s not),” he explains.

“And I think, for me, it’s always been thinking about what it is I wanted to do and going back to that.”

While for Wales that was becoming a strong surfer and writing his own book (which is now available), he encourages anyone who has undertaken a resilience journey to reconsider the goals that are closest to them and use their newfound strength to actually meet them.

More info on Mark’s book, Survivor: Life in the SAS (Macmillan, $34.99), can be found here. Or follow him on Instagram, @mark.a.wales