Stress is not a threat to avoid but a challenge to embrace - with Dr Paul Wood

Paul Wood reevaluated his life when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. By the time he was released, he'd attained a degree in psychology and philosophy, a master's in psychology and was two years into a PhD in psychology. Today people know him as Dr Paul Wood, who's energy, humour and engaging stories can change people's lives. Dr Wood is running our first Future-Fit Forum in April.

Dr Paul Wood

Dr Paul Wood

Paul, what can we expect from the Future-Fit Forum with you? 

Participants will be challenged and inspired. We'll look at how to cope with stress, and I'll give you some ideas on how to structure your mind to meet everyday pressures. 

How are pressures in our sector affecting us? 

It's not so much the pressures but our lack of understanding of how to cope with them.  

Many false ideas and beliefs exist around what we're supposed to experience in life.  

We don't consistently engineer (excuse the pun) our thoughts and beliefs in a way that'll allow us to optimise our response to stress and pressure. That makes it almost impossible to react to the indicators that tell us we're doing something meaningful with our lives or we've taken on too much. 

Stress and pressure are a natural consequence of the world we live in, but our thoughts and beliefs aren't up to spec for how we want to live. We need to change them so that the structure of our mind is more consistent with the demands of everyday life.  

Participants at the forum will hear how stress is not a threat to avoid but a challenge to embrace. 

Aren't we told to rid our lives of stress rather than embrace it?  

Yes, that's true, but let's use the example of an engineer who's designing a high-rise building. Does the engineer say this building is unlikely to experience any significant stresses, so we won't design the structure to deal with them? Or if we acknowledge the existence of stress, we'll re-engineer the world so that there are no stresses on the building!  

That's not a realistic way of designing a high-rise building as it'll encounter stresses as a natural consequence of its existence. The engineer will make sure the building is designed to cope with its environmental pressures and maintain its integrity. Similarly, we all need to engineer our brain in a way that'll allow us to cope with the pressures of our lifestyle.  

I recently checked out a new Police Station in Canterbury that includes fantastic design features that enable it to deal with the most extreme pressures caused by earthquakes and other significant events. That showed me how a building is designed to deal with reality rather than just saying there won't be any stresses or challenges for this building to withstand. If we bury our heads in the sand about the pressures that the building may need to endure, we'll be devastated in every sense when we find the structure is ill-equipped to cope during a significant event. 

Life is full of stress and challenge, and the goal is not avoiding it but being able to embrace it and recognise that it's a sign you're doing something meaningful. You must develop the internal and external tools to make sure you can flourish through the most trying times.  

At the forum, we'll discuss how hiding from stress and challenge or thinking you're not supposed to experience those pressures is not a winning formula for life.  

How do we develop a greater level of positivity?  

I call it 'realistic optimism' rather than 'positivity'. The problem with positivity is that it can become 'pollyannaish' where you can go too far, and everything will be fine. What we need is realistic optimism. Again, like designing a building, you can make the structure stable and functional, but we have to be realistic about the stresses the building will have. We have to accept the challenges and optimistically and positively address them rather than burying our head in the sand and believing all will be well. 

How do you define resilience?  

It means getting better at making space for the discomfort and knowing how you can put fuel in your mental and emotional tank. It's not about toughness in terms of invulnerability; it's more about how you build in the support systems that enable you to flex, cope and adapt. 

Many people who work in the consulting and engineering industry are 'thinking people'. They're people who pay attention to the stream of data that helps them problem-solve and rationalise. But other areas are less likely to be tapped into. These areas are crucial for our mental fitness, make us resilient, mentally tough and give us the ability to flourish. 

Part of resilience is the development of relationships. You should ask yourself how you can engage more effectively with other people and tap into the stream of data around your emotions in a way that enables us to use them as an effective signal system. These signals are an indicator of where you're at and how to respond. Understanding those signals provides a path forward rather than tuning out of the data stream and staying within your comfort zone. The signs can help you leverage other environmental options to fill your tanks, such as engagement with others, maximising the value of your relationships and other things that might not be your default. 

At the forum I will talk about how to recognise those signals and use them to deal with stress and pressure. 

Next steps  

Register for the Future-Fit Forum with Dr Paul Wood on Wednesday, 7 April 9.30am - 1pm