Forgive yourself start to accept yourself unconditionally the whole self esteem movement has achieved nothing and takes away resilience. If you can breathe you have all of the necessary criteria to be able to accept yourself. The point of trying to achieve anything needs to be to increase your happiness. It’s ok to be unhappy when things don’t work out but it’s not ok to beat yourself up about it.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Ball.
Craig is a professional speaker, consultant and men’s mental health and empowerment mentor. A veteran of the Australian Army, having served twice in Afghanistan, making him acutely aware of mental health issues and how they manifest particularly in stressful and life threatening environments. Craig credits his own mental health to a little known and perhaps even less often practiced form of cognitive behavioral therapy called REBT. His point of difference is his passion for his audiences, empowering them to speak openly about mental health making the once taboo subject part of everyday conversation and normalizing vulnerability. Craig’s audiences learn techniques that are scientifically supported, tested in the real world and easy to implement. Being one of the only presenters who makes the stoically based practice of REBT something everybody can benefit from. Starting right away. Presenting regularly to groups from, blue collar work teams to corporates, community groups and youth. Craig’s message of hope and becoming more, whilst dealing with day to day stress and emotional upset, through acceptance of self, others and circumstance in order to move on has helped many to achieve humbling results.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I’m from Sydney, Australia. I grew up in a regular middle class suburb, nothing too remarkable. Finishing high school I found myself without much direction and as parental pressure was applied and I had done some work experience with a youth worker in high school and decided that working to help others was where I wanted to focus my energy.
This resulted in finding myself every so often on counseling courses, being a people person I also drifted into working in hospitality. I always had a desire to serve and somehow find a way to help empower others to improve their lives and to take action.
My desire to serve as well as set an example for others and a thirst for adventure that working in hospitality could not provide led me to join the army and attempt special forces selection in 2000 as a reservist, not a natural and with limited experience in the military led me to attempt the training a second time and coming very close to not being successful I achieved a turnaround when things seemed unlikely the opportunity to back myself and prove I had what it took to get through is one of my prouder moments. I’m no natural or super soldier in any way and some of my mates I served with would certainly attest to that but I loved the challenge and what serving meant.
Upon passing selection I began working with an entrepreneur to develop myself to become a speaker, this resulted in starting a psych degree and securing a number of engagements in highschools. Not satisfied with the progress I was making in my business I decided I needed more life experience. This resulted in my return to the military in 2006 this time in a full time capacity.
Whilst I don’t believe the military is for everyone it certainly was for me a significant influence. I have for many years considered it to be a university of life and looked for the growth opportunities every time I could. The result after 71/2 years of service was that I certainly had my act together more than I otherwise would’ve and I learnt to expect more of myself.
This resulted in a career post service in consulting as a change manager, this compliments my work as a speaker and mentor in the mental health and empowerment space as I get to help people through some of their most challenging situations dealing with workplace change.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In 2012 on my second deployment to Afghanistan I was offered an opportunity to mentor the partnering force who were indigenous pashtuns. Pashtuns are the largest tribal group in Afghanistan. I’d been told a whole bunch of negatives about these men prior to working with them and I made it my mission to bring out the best in them. My role as a radio operator was to teach them how to use and develop a HF radio capability
From day one I told them that I was a grateful guest in their country and that it was my job to show them how intelligent I believed them to be. This resulted in 6 months of adventure and fascinating times resulting in the communications capability working over a distance of 200km and some life long friendships made.
The skills and experiences I developed in the process of helping them to develop included cultural awareness, project management skills, language skills, ambassadorship to the rank of general and many other skills to mention here. The result was the thank you that they gave me on my last day in the country which to this day is one of my career highlights.
Takeaways include formal schooling is no measure of intelligence, anyone that can survive in a country can most likely survive anywhere. Always be prepared to try and different way to get things done and above all else listen to your clients or those you are privileged to serve as that is where you greatest lessons lie,
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company is different for a number of reasons, firstly in my consulting work as change manager I believe that service delivery comes down to 2 things support and empowerment. When dealing with impact staff who may be experiencing a range of emotions, the opportunity to give them hope should never be discounted. I also believe that mental health is where the most significant growth for workplace change lies.
As speaker and mental health and empowerment mentor I teach what has been responsible for my recovery and ongoing management of my mental health injuries. Having had the great fortune to work with and become friends with people who would otherwise be my heroes through my service, I have been lucky to test my system and the lessons I share in one of the toughest environments on earth and for this I am truly humbled.
One story in particular that comes to mind was early in my consulting career, I was working with a blue collar team who worked on our diesel fleet of passenger trains in the state in which I live. I was responsible for delivering a new operating system that they were not interested in. On one of my first briefings to them I found my first pocket of resistance from one team member who was quite vocal. I made it my mission to get to know him and learn what I could as I expected that he may be influential. As it turned out we hit it off and sometime later he asked me what else I did. I replied by telling him that I ran a resilience program and it turned out that he was on the health and safety committee and they were looking for someone with my skill set. Long story short, as a result of my training they were able to achieve over 1000 days of no lost time injuries due to the skills and techniques that I was able to help them to develop. For those not familiar with no lost time injuries that can be anything from an hour off to visit a doctor up to almost a fatality there are a lot of people who were able to go home to their families as a result of that work and for that I am eternally grateful for the opportunity and humbled by the results.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
What I am able to do today and the opportunities that have come my way would’ve only been a dream had it not been for the guidance and support of few key individuals. The first that comes to mind was an entrepreneur that I met in late 2000 who I ended up working with for 2 and half years. He gave me a start and supported my development to become a speaker and trainer and introduced me to the main philosophy that I teach my clients to this day.
We met in a nightclub, I was visiting a mate who had started working in a club and we worked together during the week, once I had drink and said hello I looked around and saw an old contact that I hadn’t seen for a while upon sitting down and sharing what I had been doing with the military and my dream of becoming a speaker based around my story of setbacks and eventual success, he said to me wait here. He then grabbed the aforementioned entrepreneur and said to me tell him what you told me, the rest is history and without that support and guidance to develop, whilst it has been a long road I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is different for different people. A lot of my clients like to cite the ability to bounce back as a key element of resilience. Whilst this might appear to be the case for resilient people I think in reality the ability to grow through adverse experiences is key to resilience, as I tell my audiences you are not made of rubber we are cellular organisms and as a result we can grow. It comes down to choice at the end of the day.
The three traits of resilience that I like to focus on although there are more than this of course are:
The ability to accept reality but not be resigned to it — Often people who accept reality feel as though they are powerless to do anything and just accept their fate in a challenging situation. This is evidence of an external locus of control and the opposite of resilience of these people who become victims.
Where as a resilient approach, requires you to accept that an adverse circumstance has occurred and to not allow the negativity of the situation to become your reality that by choosing a course of action to address the situation that you can lead a better more empowered existence significantly mitigating any unfortunate outcome that reality might throw at you.
Understanding there are four things you can control what you say, what you do, what you think and what you feel that leaves the door open for a wide range of responses. Not being resigned to the adverse situation allows you to make a change to any or all four of those things you can control to effect a positive outcome.
As Martin Seligman said, people are capable of Post Traumatic Growth simply by knowing that it’s possible.
To grow through traumatic experiences and become more as a result — Instead of allowing trauma to rule their life and to make it part of their identity, resilient people are aware of the fact that they are capable of becoming more because of the trauma. Unlike bouncing back which is a commonly assumed quality of resilient people, human beings not being made of rubber are instead capable of growth.
The ability to help others though adverse circumstances — Truly resilient people have a desire to help others. Not content lick their wounds as they get through an adverse set of circumstances they want others to also have success and become more as well. This is a key leadership trait of the truly resilient.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
Courage is vital to being a resilient leader, the ability to stand in the heat as Blair Singer once said takes courage. To face up to adversity and to attempt to weather the storm as it were is a courageous thing to do.
Courage is different to resilience in that being courageous is a quality that can be applied to many situations in life and whilst an integral component of resilience is not confined to the resilience space alone.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
In general I would say anyone who refuses to give up is an inspiring example of resilience however my friend and fellow veteran Damien Tomlinson would be the most resilient person that I know of. Having lost both his legs in an IED blast in Afghanistan he thrives today and is an inspiration to many due to his ability to not give up.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I certainly had people doubt me when I wanted to attempt selection for special forces in the late 90’s. I heard it all, from people’s belief that it was a bad idea to who you think you are and all sorts of negativity. In Australia we have a cultural issue called the Tall Poppy syndrome where many people are just conditioned to pull you down or doubt you.
I did it anyway and some of the methods I used included not telling anyone about it anymore. I thought at one point that I am really starting to hear some rubbish around doing this and I just need to stop sharing it and instead just focus on getting on with the job of doing it.
It wasn’t easy. I mean physically I’d never passed anything much physically, never made a representative sporting team or anything of the sort, so I had a lot of work to do. However as I’d been a skateboarder in my teens and early 20’s, something that came in handy when dealing with the challenges of parachuting later in my career, I’d become really good and going off by myself and working on the elements that I personally needed such as fitness and self discipline that ultimately helped me to be successful.
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of my greatest setbacks in life came on my long journey to even be able to attempt special forces selection. Back in 1998 my mother passed away, about 9 months prior to this she became sick with cancer again. When the illness came back we were told that this time it would most likely be fatal and to prepare.
Within weeks of learning of my mothers situation, I developed reactive arthritis. This resulted in me not being able to do very much physically and walking as if I had two clubbed feet. I was later to learn that its not an uncommon response to an impending loss. I wouldn’t say bouncing back is accurate as human beings aren’t made of rubber. We grow through adversity and set back. I certainly did by making some bold predictions of what I was determined to become as a result. This was a firm belief despite having no knowledge of what the future might hold.
At the time I’d visited a second specialist and no one could tell me how long this might last and I was even told that if you do get over it don’t mention it to anyone in the defense force as you may be kicked out as no one can predict if under stress that it won’t return. Potentially making me a liability.
But I took all of the advice, and even consulted a naturopath and did everything I could. As soon as the symptoms started to improve I was back trying to run again as soon as my arms didn’t hurt anymore I was doing push ups again. Once I had movement back I was back in the zone and motivated to succeed like never before.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I think all of my experiences growing up contributed to resilience, being a skateboarder with all of the falls and injuries, being a fairly chilled out kid and being content to spend hours by myself teaching myself to skateboard all played a part. I remember one particular slam or injury I sustained skateboarding, I was sharing with my son the other day. I must’ve cracked my elbow or chipped the bone or something, but my elbow became so swollen that the swelling went all the way to my wrist and I thought I might actually have to give skateboarding up. This was something so important to me at the time that not being able to do it anymore was unthinkable.
Luckily within a week or so the swelling subsided, but being confronted with the potential loss of something that at that age gave me part of my identity took some serious intentional fortitude to deal with.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Firstly be aware of what you can control vs what you can’t. The 4 things that we can control are:
- What we say
- What we do
- What we think and
- What we feel
- Second refuse to rate yourself as anything other than a fallible worthwhile human being
- Thirdly refuse to overgeneralise between yourself and your outside world — you are not your successes and are certainly not your setbacks and failures. Claiming you feeling like a failure is not only costing you it’s actually not accurate as failure is not an emotion
- Fourth remain flexible in the pursuit of your goals and outcomes, this whole BS rhetoric of “if you cant you must’ is actually preventing people from achieving their goals
- Fifth forgive yourself start to accept yourself unconditionally the whole self esteem movement has achieved nothing and takes away resilience. If you can breathe you have all of the necessary criteria to be able to accept yourself. The point of trying to achieve anything needs to be to increase your happiness. It’s ok to be unhappy when things don’t work out but it’s not ok to beat yourself up about it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
- I think forgiveness is a great place to start, forgive yourself and learn to forgive others. You don’t need to accept or approve of their behavior if they have somehow led you to upsetting yourself just accept that they are like you just doing their best.
- Perhaps #forgiveness could be the motto
- I think continuing the work of Albert Ellis would be the most important movement we could establish
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
There are many people in the US who I would very much like to have a private breakfast or lunch with. Being from Australia we love the US and it’s exciting that the feeling is mutual. I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with anyone who might have some advice about how to share my message with US audiences more.
However, to give you some names, I’d like to meet Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink, Martin Seligman and perhaps even Tony Robbins. I know you asked for one but there are so many thank you for this question.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
- You can find me on Facebook at:
Craig Ball — Men’s Mental Health Speaker
My Facebook Group
My Men’s Walk
Youtube — I post videos 3 times per week
Instagram and TikTok
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!