Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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Between Alarms: Seven muscles of resilience

June 15, 2021
By Arjuna George

Fire fighting is a tough and demanding job, where being physically fit is an important component to serving our communities. However, we often forget about our mind’s health, our stress response, and how we can manage the challenges we face daily. This month’s column is about a program called Prosilience  that develops resilience.

The word ‘resilience’ has been a hot topic these past few years . As first responders, we witness disruption daily, which can create anxiety and uncertainty .

Most people would say resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges, and I agree. But, I also like the proactive approach and consider self-care as the foundation for our body and mind so that we can withstand and recover from disruption. Being a yo-yo bouncing back and forth can be very energy-draining and stressful, but if you are equipped to withstand the storm of change, you will recover stronger.

There are so many golden nuggets in Linda Hoopes’s book, “Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World”. The real gem of this program is the concept of your seven resilience ‘muscles’ that help you manage stress in your life.  These muscles are for learning purposes and are not physiological muscles. Every firefighter possesses all seven muscles; it just depends on their level of strength and use that dictates your overall resilience.  

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The first muscle is positivity. This is a powerful muscle to keep strong, especially in these turbulent times. 

The second muscle is confidence. This “can-do” muscle provides you strength and courage to believe in yourself and take full ownership of the situation. Firefighters being confident in decisions and actions can be the difference between life and death.

The third muscle is prioritizing, and it is key to getting things done. This muscle was my weakest during my assessment and further clarified my chink in my resilience armour.  Priorities focus on what is important, staying on track, and delegating effectively, including establishing boundaries and saying no. 

The fourth muscle is creativity, and that one doesn’t necessarily mean you should start drawing or painting. In terms of being creative, you’re an idea generator. You’re open to new ideas and input with an open mind. You listen, use humour, and respect other points of view. .

The fifth muscle is connection, and it is another strong muscle for building resilience. As we are all experiencing during COVID-19, isolation can be debilitating. Connection means reaching out and having a support network, but it also means asking for help when you need it so you can get things done and reduce the overload.

The sixth muscle is structure, and it is a major established practice in the fire service. The structure muscle includes systems, habits, and processes that allow a decision to be made fast with high accuracy.  As firefighters, we live and breathe checklists, action plans, and pre-incident plans, which allow us to reduce our stress levels by deciding on what to do under pressure.  By building these efficient systems, we can concentrate more time on execution and coordination. Even though the fire service is entrenched in structure, it may not necessarily mean your structure muscle is strong or even being flexed.

The seventh muscle is experimenting, and it is the final muscle that plays a key role in executing solutions. The fire service is risk-based, and we often need to make decisions that are risky and foreign to our day-to-day operations. If you have a strong experimenting muscle, you are able and comfortable to work outside your comfort zone and try a different approach.  

Just like physical muscles, the more you use these seven resilience muscles, the stronger and more balanced they become.  Most people who examine their resilience muscles find out they have one or two dominant muscles and a few they may seldom use. To be super resilient, you need to be able to draw from all the muscles at some point.  

The key is to have well-balanced muscles and not overuse one muscle. Overusing one specific muscle means you are leaning too heavily on that one go-to muscle and atrophying the others, bringing you out of balance. A great place to start flexing your resilience muscles is on small micro problems.  Most large-scale challenges we face are built upon several micro challenges. Once you master handling those, you are ready to manage most of what life may throw at you.  

I recently became a certified practitioner to help share this powerful program with our first responder community.  If you are interested in learning more about resilience and specifically the Prosilience  program, please feel free to connect with me.   

Between alarms, hit the resilience gym and begin to start strengthening your resilience muscles so that you’re fully prepared to handle the constant change and disruption we face daily in emergency services.  


Arjuna George is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue in British Columbia. He has served on the department since 1997. Contact Arjuna at ageorge@saltspringfire.com.


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