How I build resilience by increasing margins

MitoQ Ambassador, Nick Allen, works hard to practice resilience every day. He is constantly inspiring us with his positive outlook on life and can-do attitude, so we asked him to write about it. In part one we explored what resilience means to him and 5 steps to practice resilience every day. In part two, we explore how Nick himself practices it in his everyday life.

Nick Allen at hut

By Nick Allen, Neurological health advocate and founder of Mastering Mountains

I’m not sure about you, but for me, 2020 was a year of change. I wasn’t expecting the shift of perspective that resulted from the highs and lows, joys, and challenges of life during a global pandemic. For me, the year highlighted the importance of a good lifestyle and mental health choices. For this, I am grateful.

It didn't take long for the importance of healthy decision-making to move to the fore of my mind.

The problem

My intention is to always use resilience to push myself through any obstacles that come my way. This could be by learning a new skill to help me attack a challenge or by simply identifying and accepting the things I cannot change.

+ Read Nicks previous article for other tips to practice resilience.

Last year I hit a hurdle with my health and found myself caught between what I was wanting to achieve, and my physical ability do it. This was frustrating and confronting and, whilst I struggled with it to begin with, I realized that the only person capable of doing something about it was me.

So, I asked myself the question: What do I need to do to increase my quality of life and make myself feel better?

Solution part one: Increase capacity

Capacity is a measure of the limits of a person's potential to perform a particular task or activity. It’s the envelope within which we function.

A person with a high capacity has the time, ability and energy to do a lot of things, while a person with a reduced capacity doesn’t.

When we examine the attributes that give a person capacity, we find that capacity comes from the skills they possess, the amount of spare time they have, their emotional and physical strength and health, the strength of their social support, and, most significantly, their mitochondrial health. The extent of these attributes in a person's life determines and limits their ability to act.

In theory, this means that a person can increase their capacity for resilience by pushing the envelope through exercise, education, mindfulness and improved social connection. This gives you a larger envelope. For example, a person with a low-level of physical capacity (low fitness) can train for a marathon by increasing their skills and physical strength.

There is a snag to this solution: a person's potential to increase their capacity is limited. As much as we wish otherwise, we are human and do not have infinite potential. The limits of time, age and health mean that we can only push the envelope so far in any given period.

Additionally, the act of working to increase capacity creates demands on a person's spare time and energy – creating a functional reduction in capacity. The body's need for recovery further intensifies this reality. As a result, that person who's pushing the envelope as they train hard for the marathon will, for example, have less spare time. They may be physically and emotionally exhausted and may have less time for friends and family.

Working to increase their long-term capacity can limit their short- to mid-term capacity.

So how do we expand the limits of our capacity? It all starts with giving yourself more margin within your day-to-day life.

Nick Allen hiking

Solution part two: Build margin

Another way to increase our ability for action is by ensuring we don’t exert ourselves to our limits. We can do this by reducing unnecessary internal and external pressures that require our energy. These might include physical exertion, personal and external expectations, our workload, relationship problems, financial obligations, and professional and familial responsibilities. The goal is to increase our margin by decreasing unneeded pressures.

I tend to be a pack-it-full type of person. I often load myself up to maximum capacity, leaving no room within my energy limits. When I allow my energy capacity to reach my limits, it doesn't take much to derail my day: an unexpected phone call, a bad night's sleep, or any other of the myriad of interruptions that are the stuff of life. When I operate at my limits, I don't have the space I need to act resiliently.

Operating with zero margin (loading yourself up to your energy limits) leaves you feeling like you're merely surviving, continually stressed, and exhausted. You may also feel like you never have the time to enjoy your favorite restorative activities. Operating at your limits, you might feel like you don't have space or energy to meaningfully engage with the people who are most important to you. You'll probably feel like you don't have the resources to begin thinking about a positive trajectory.

Alternatively, when your daily activities aren’t hitting your energy limits, you finish a hectic day at work and you get home tired, but not exhausted. Because you have margin, you have the energy and time you need to meaningfully engage with the people who are most important to you. You even have the time to enjoy your favorite restorative activities. You have the space to train for that marathon without compromising any of the above.

So, how do you find the ability to make this happen? Enjoying more energy as a result of reducing your daily exertion is the second half of the answer. You must increase your capacity and increase your margin.

How to bring it all together

Here are some practical ways to grow your ability to act with resilience in the face of challenging situations and the vagaries of life. These steps can help you increase your capacity and decrease your load...

Physical margin

Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Intentionally create space during your day for moments of rest — even if it's only for five minutes. Consider using these micro-breaks for deep breathing exercises to reduce stress and support recovery.

This is also where mitochondrial health is paramount. For me, MitoQ is my mainstay for resilient action. MitoQ supports mitochondrial health and so increases my capacity by improving my mental clarity and aiding recovery. In my experience, MitoQ increases the space between my limits and my load, giving me a larger physical margin.

Emotional margin

When you're facing a difficult or stressful situation, make sure you take time to process what's going on. Consider using guided mindfulness exercises to aid you in this. Apps like Calm and Headspace are great tools. Try practicing daily gratitude and, as your day concludes, identifying three things that went well or for which you are grateful.

Time margin

The best way to create a time margin is by learning to say no. It's hard, I know, but so worth it. Additionally, when scheduling tasks and activities, give yourself more time than you think you'll need. Invariably, the task always takes longer than you think; if it doesn't, you've allowed yourself to rest. Which means you’re already on the increase.

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