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Learn Life Skills for Extreme Situations

The sun was blazing, the terrain barren and unforgiving, and the instructors were working us hard.  The extra twenty pounds or so of gear we were wearing just added to the fatigue – a Kevlar vest, knee and elbow pads, sometimes a helmet, a pistol strapped to the right thigh and an American M4 or Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle in hand…
                            At the firing range, carrying an M4 assault rifle
That was last week for me.  I was privileged to attend an elite training course down in the deserts of the south-western US, a course taught by special forces veterans and frequently attended by everyone from members of such elite organizations as the British SAS or Canada’s JTF2, to ordinary people facing deployment to the world’s most dangerous trouble spots. 
(The trip also allowed me to explore some issues of leadership, teamwork and corporate culture with these people.  Did you know that what we consider the most advanced leadership and corporate culture solutions in the corporate world today were actually developed by special forces units decades ago?)
The “Yang” Side of Resilience Training
You may have noticed I like to divide resilience training into its “Yin” and “Yang” aspects.  And I tend to talk more about the Yin or “soft” aspects, such as meditation, mindfulness, Qi Gong, Yoga, nutrition, relationship skills and the like. 
However, we should never forget the other side of the coin – those Yang skills that will keep us and our loved ones alive when the unthinkable happens.
In North America we live the pleasant delusion that we personally will never face an extreme situation.  That situation could be street crime, a home invasion, a natural disaster or something as commonplace as a car accident out in the country, where you’re on the scene and the nearest first responder is still twenty minutes away.  Meanwhile, the accident victim on the ground in front of you may only have two minutes to live, not twenty, unless you personally take some very specific and simple actions.  Do you have the skill sets required?  Do you have the right medical kit with you?  What if that victim were your spouse or child? 
                            Rescuing a man down, moving him and applying 
                                          a tourniquet to save his life
Our delusion is the ingrained belief that we don’t need those skills because the paramedics will save the day.  Likewise we assume we don’t need to know how to carry an unconscious person out of a burning building or know how to defend ourselves because the firemen and police will do it for us. 
Yet the stark reality is that when the s**t hits the fan, you will more than likely be on your own for the first five to fifteen minutes of any serious event.  And by then, it’s very often too late.
The Value of Acquiring Extreme Skills
One of the most challenging features of last week’s course was that you never knew what challenge the instructors would throw at you next!  This is when you find yourself worrying about whether you’ll screw it up and look like an idiot, whether you’ll have the energy, and whether the back muscle you pulled yesterday will hold out…
                            Participant learns how to escape when tied up
                                          with rope, hand-cuffs, etc. 
And then you realize that you just need to surrender.  You can either continue wasting energy worrying about what comes next, or you can surrender, live in the present and mentally let it all go.  So one of the greatest benefits of the kind of training that tests your physical and mental limits is that you learn a lot about yourself. 
Some of the other specific benefits of learning some of life’s extreme skills are:
  • Improving your personal resilience
  • Passing on these skills to those around you
  • Boosting your self-esteem
  • Becoming a greater asset to your family, workplace and community
  • Acquiring the confidence to face extreme situations
  • Learning how to function effectively under extreme stress

                                          Clearing rooms and rescuing hostages (hint: 
                                          the way you see it done on TV shows will get
                                          you killed)

So although the Yin side of resilience training (improving your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health) is absolutely vital, it’s important not to forget the Yang side of resilience training, where we acquire the personal power and the critical skills to handle life’s most extreme situations. 
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

The Educational System and Personal Resilience

Apropos of our educational system, the following is an excerpt from my Resilience 2010 Special Report:
Sparta was certainly a warrior culture by any definition, and those blind to its many virtues are quick to condemn it as “militaristic” or “violent”. In reality, whatever its flaws, Sparta was based on high ideals of honor and justice. 
The Greek historian Xenophon writes about an incident he witnessed personally:
An elderly man was trying to find a place to sit and observe the Olympic Games. As he went to each section, all the other Greeks laughed as he tried to make his way through. Some ignored him. Upon entering the Spartan section all the Spartans stood and offered the elderly man their seats. Suddenly the entire stadium applauded. All the Greeks knew what was the right thing to do, but the Spartans were the only ones who did it.
Sparta was widely known for its educational system for both boys and girls. The system was very demanding physically and produced people who were exceptionally tough and resilient in every way.
The purpose of this toughness and resilience, though, was to inculcate a strong sense of self-identity, values and a virtuous character, as Xenophon’s story illustrates.
Without a strong sense of who you are, of what you stand for and the inner strength to act on those values, you have no real chance of achieving real happiness or a fulfilling life.

It Has Always Puzzled Me…

As somebody who’s been through the modern Western educational system from one end to the other – Kindergarten to PhD – I can tell you it’s always left me totally perplexed.  It claims to want to achieve certain laudable goals and then does exactly the opposite of what it says.

That’s why I have a lot of time for anyone who’s willing to stand up and tell the truth about the educational system – that it’s failed us and it’s failing our children even more.  And that’s why I’d encourage you to go and see the new movie, Waiting for Supermanand no, it’s not about the guy in the blue tights and red cape 😉

Here’s one of the trailers:

I certainly plan to see it myself, because my personal commitment is to bring the cultivation of personal resilience back into the educational system, so that our schools can once again start guiding the young toward lives full of health, self-confidence, intellectual honesty and diligence, self-fulfillment and superior leadership.  

And the educational system that does this will not be the same one that:

  •  Repeatedly gave my then grade 8 daughter pictures to color as a regular homework assignment in French class.  How the f#%! do you color “in French”??!!
  •   Developed an entire high school curriculum for languages like German and Latin where you didn’t even hear about key elements of grammar essential to make a basic sentence during the entire first year
  • Drove lots of kids away from their natural fascination with science by boring them to death with tedious equations about stuff that didn’t interest them
  • Had me going to the dean of a graduate school to protest a final exam I considered so insultingly simple as to be a joke (masters level students getting 10 identification questions to be answered with no more than one sentence each??).  Imagine my shock when the dean informed me that several students had failed!  

Education has long since degenerated into the (largely) state-run babysitting service.  Isn’t it time to do something about an educational system that’s manifestly inferior in several important ways to those of many ancient cultures?  

Be sure to go see this movie!!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 

Fools Go Where Angels Fear to Tread…

“Fools go where angels fear to tread…”

Well that pretty much sums up my Labor Day weekend!  My wife and I were scheduled to fly to Halifax, a beautiful city on the Atlantic coast, to attend the wedding of the daughter of some close friends of ours, a trip we had booked back in February.  There was just one last minute complication…

… Hurricane Earl

…and as of last Friday night, Earl was hurtling toward the Halifax area and due to make landfall just to the west sometime around mid-morning on Saturday, about the time our plane was to land!  And Earl still stubbornly refused to fizzle into a mere tropical storm, despite having lost some of its force after leaving the Carolinas. 

Our dilemma was that because of the way we had booked the tickets, we couldn’t get a refund unless Air Canada actually canceled the flight.  So we kept checking the status of our flight on their website all day Friday.  “ON TIME” it said.  We even called and asked them how they planned to land their little Embraer 190 in winds predicted to gust to 139 km/hr.  Stunned silence on the other end of the line…

So at 10pm Friday we actually decided to pack just in case Air Canada thought conditions would be safe to fly into Halifax ahead of the storm.  We still didn’t think they’d actually go through with it, especially since the other major Canadian carriers, Westjet and Porter, had already canceled their flights to and from Halifax for most of Saturday. 

The next morning we checked the Air Canada website at 5am and discovered the flight was still a go – damn, I was so looking forward to a leisurely long weekend at home by this time and figured anyone who would willingly fly into a hurricane shouldn’t be let out in public unsupervised. 

Yet within two hours I found myself sitting, somewhat dazed, in Seat 15C on that very plane having those same thoughts: “They can’t be serious…” I still told myself. 

Then the pilot came on and said, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  As you may have heard, there are some windy conditions between us and Halifax (!), but flying at 39,000 feet should keep us well above the weather.”  Yes, that’s true enough, I thought, but there’s this phase of the flight called “descent and landing” that’s tough to do without getting up close and personal with the weather.

Well, as we descended there were a lot of white knuckles on that plane, as the high winds battered us and caused the aircraft to roll wildly.  There were moments when I seriously doubted the pilot would be able to maintain control in that kind of wind shear.  Yet… somehow… whether thanks to his own expertise, guardian angels or both, he did manage to land us without incident.  And he got the “sitting ovation” he deserved (we still had our seat belts on).  And then…

…they shut down Halifax International Airport, practically the moment our nose wheel hit the tarmac!


An hour later my wife and I were eating lunch at a restaurant on the outskirts, enjoying our salad and pasta as the lights flickered and the windows gave signs of impending collapse.  Trying to walk back to our rental car was an adventure.  Have you ever tried walking against a 120km/hr wind?  Wow… With the wind cutting across our path to the car, we had to aim at a point way to the left of the vehicle and allow the wind to push us back toward our destination, a lot like walking in a strong ocean current. 

The city looked a bit like a war zone – a few big trees had been ripped up, large branches were down everywhere and on the radio was the voice of a friend of mine, the head of Emergency Measures Nova Scotia, asking everyone to stay home.  By this point, I wished I had!   All the traffic lights we came across were out and most residents, including our hosts, had just lost power.  

You can get some idea of the damage from this video.  This shows only the damage hours later, after the hurricane had past.  I was unable to find any video that would convey what it was really like to be outside during the worst of it.

Surprisingly, within a couple more hours the rain stopped, the winds died down and the sun even came out later in the afternoon.  And the rest of our holiday, including the wedding, went really well, just as we had imagined it before Earl complicated our lives.  We had a much needed weekend getaway, saw some of our favorite relatives, celebrated with some dear friends and had some truly memorable, if occasionally traumatic, experiences.  Who could ask for more?

Lessons Learned?

Okay, I’m used to taking risks, even big ones.  And I’m used to facing the elements and seeking out meaningful challenges – that’s just part of working on Personal Resilience.  Resilience isn’t gained by sitting in front of the tube or being afraid of a little discomfort.  

That said, is the lesson from all this that if you persevere in the face of apparently impossible odds, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams?  Or is it that the line between daring and stupidity is a very fine one and we just got lucky this time?

I’ll leave that decision to you, since I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet!  I’ll also leave you with one tiny piece of advice… 

The next time your airline tries to tell you it’s perfectly safe to fly into a storm with winds in excess of 100 km/hr., trust your gut and stay home 😉

The CORE SKILL of Resilience and How to Learn It Today

Face it, you’re already a leader in some capacity in several aspects of your life.  You are now, you have been or you will be a leader at some point in your home, your workplace or in organizations you belong to.  

Leadership, and more specifically “Self-Leadership”, is the key to attaining true Personal Resilience and all the benefits that flow from it: vibrant health, clear focus, great relationships, a sense of extraordinary well-being and fulfillment and all the rest.  So what is “Self-Leadership” anyway?  

Simply put, Self-Leadership is the CORE SKILL of Resilience itself and of any kind of leadership.  It’s the ability to be the leader of your own life – to establish a clear direction in every area of your life, to establish the actions you’re going to take to move in that direction and to execute those actions on a consistent basis.  

You’ve probably heard the expression “a born leader” so often you assume leadership is an innate quality – you’ve got it or you don’t.  Wrong!  Ninety percent of leadership and therefore of Self-Leadership is learned.   And you can learn it, irrespective of your age, sex or temperament.

The following exercise is designed to set you firmly on the path towards acquiring genuine Self-Leadership.  You can start right now and make a phenomenal difference in the quality of your life over the next week using it.  Here’s a hint for you… If you find yourself vacillating about what to write down or what to do, just force yourself to make a decision and to follow up on it over the next week.  You can always change your mind after that.  Force yourself to be decisive.

Also, you must do this exercise in writing.  So get out pen and paper or open a new document on your computer.


1.   Write one paragraph describing who you are, what values you stand for and what you want to be remembered for (time limit: 15 minutes)

2.  Describe your most important immediate goal in each area of your life – Health / Relationships / Career / Spiritual life (Time limit: 15 minutes)

3. In the coming week, what ONE action will you undertake in each of those areas to get you closer to your immediate goal for that area? (Time limit: 10 minutes)

4. In the coming week, what ONE challenge will you set for yourself to take you out of your comfort zone and build your resilience?  (Time limit: 10 minutes)

5. In the coming week, what will you read, watch and listen to in order to inspire you to adhere to your values, preserve your personal integrity, build your confidence, challenge yourself and benefit others? (Time limit: 15 minutes)

Go through this exercise, follow up consistently on what you promised yourself you would do and I guarantee your quality of life in the coming week will surprise and delight you.  And how will you know you’ve done it right?

Well, if you sit down and take stock of the coming week next Friday afternoon at, say, 5pm, and you find yourself thinking “Damn, this week was a great ride!”, then you did it right.  

And the funny thing is, you’ll be able to say that whether you were “successful” or not, whether you experienced victory or defeat or a bit of both.  As Robert Kiyosaki once put it, “Only losers think losing is bad.”  If you take action, you can be defeated, but you can’t “lose”.