Chapter 3 – My 2016 Crucible And Why Psychological Flexibility Matters

I’m writing a book. The working title is: Reinventing Mindset: A rapid, evidence-based guide to manage stress, improve performance and play your infinite game.

And I need your help.

For this book to have the impact I want, I’m releasing each chapter as I write it for feedback.

So please, as I share these, let me know:

What do you love? What do you hate? Is there something missing? Is there something to be removed? Do you have any questions?

Here are the previous chapters:

  1. Start Here
  2. Mindset Lessons From My Toughest Olympic Moment

Thank you in advance! Let’s jump into Chapter 3.

If you were facing a swinging sledgehammer, which would you prefer to be?

A brick wall or a trampoline?

If a sledgehammer hits a brick wall hard enough, what happens?

It cracks.

In contrast, a trampoline absorbs the energy and bounces back.

Absorb, bounce back.

Absorb, bounce back.

And that’s the promise of psychological flexibility: to help us become trampolines rather than brick walls.

The definition is simple.

Psychological flexibility refers to an individual’s ability to cope with, accept, and adjust to difficult situations. (Burton & Bonanno, 2016; Kashdan, Barrios, Forsyth, & Steger, 2006; Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010; Kashdan et al., 2006)

I was first introduced to it in the midst of a 6 month period in 2016 that I’ve named my crucible.

My Crucible

It all came to a head when I found myself in the traffic outside Ikea on the M1 highway, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast here in Australia, crying tears of frustration.

And it wasn’t because I’d butchered yet another flat pack.

In fact, it seemed understandable.

My second daughter had been born with silent reflux and was sleeping terribly.

I’d had a shoulder reconstruction from throwing a ball as hard as I could for 20 years and my rehab progress was slow and painful.

My father-in-law was in hospital with leukaemia.

My own father had died from a brain tumour.

Dad had been fit, healthy. His parents had been 98 and 93 when they died. I’d assumed he was only two thirds of the way there. 6 months after his diagnosis, age 66, he was gone.

At the same time, I knew I had so much to be grateful for. I was enormously privileged by any measure.

But I couldn’t shake the frustration that seemed to consume me.

For someone who’d spent their life setting goals and chasing them, I couldn’t seem to find one that remotely interested me.

I felt seriously stuck.

It triggered deeply uncomfortable questions.

What if I’m two thirds of the way there myself? What am I doing? Why am I doing it?

I asked anyone and everyone for help and advice.

It took me months to realise that no-one else had the answers.

At that time I was introduced to psychological flexibility. It changed the direction of my exploration from outward to inward. Its questions and practices made me to look in the mirror.

I realised that the frustration stemmed from deep dissatisfaction with my work. (At the time I rated work 9 out of 10 in importance and 2 out of 10 in satisfaction.)

Over the coming years, that realisation led to a major shift in my career, to resigning from companies I’d founded, not once but twice – a digital marketing company and a tech company – to coaching and ending up here writing this book.

The practices of psychological flexibility helped me manage the stress of that original period and many more since.

They helped me build an internalised criteria set for decision making that I now carry with me for all situations.

They helped me find a new path and course correct as I inevitably drifted.

The questions I’ll share in this book helped me connect and stay connected to the people I love – as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, colleague – along a windy road that at times felt painful and lonely.

They helped me redefine what success means to me: to be all of who I am in as many moments of as many days as possible.

They helped me to create and play an infinite game.

8 years later, I can look back and realise that this crucible period was the beginning of a major shift.

But could I see it at the time?

No chance. The thought didn’t even occur to me.

And the truth is that while it feels major looking back, it was a series of tiny choices in the everyday moments – some that felt big, others small – that brought me here.

These days, as an executive performance coach and speaker, I get to work with extraordinary people whose trophy cabinets appear far more accomplished than mine: Olympic gold medallists, elite soldiers, leaders and executives in Fortune 500 companies, professionals with decades of experience, pro athletes and wildly successful entrepreneurs.

All of these experiences have shaped my view and crystallised the realisation that behind every trophy cabinet, no matter how decorated, there is a human. With fears and doubts and frustrations. With hopes and dreams and aspirations.

And that every one of us will face sledgehammers and crucibles of our own.

It has taken me 44 years to fully appreciate that.

That’s why I felt compelled to write this book.

To distill everything I’ve learned in 8 years of practicing psychological flexibility for myself and with others across the full spectrum of life in work, health and relationships of all kinds.

And ultimately I want to introduce the science of psychological flexibility in a way that offers the clearest, smallest possible first steps for someone to take through these periods and beyond.

A brief history of Psychological Flexibility

The core framework of psychological flexibility is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). It began development with Professor Steven Hayes in 1982.

Since then, in over a thousand randomised controlled trials worldwide, ACT has been shown to be effective in clinical settings.

Organizations that have stated that ACT is empirically supported include:

  • World Health Organization
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense
  • Society of Clinical Psychology (American Psychological Association/APA Division 12)
  • Australian Psychological Society
  • UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
  • Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)

It’s helped people work with anxiety, depression, substance use, pain and many other circumstances.

The application of ACT in non-clinical settings is well underway too in areas like wellbeing, transition, performance and leadership. For non-clinical practitioners like me, it’s called Acceptance and Commitment Training.

This is where my fascination lies.

ACT Triflex

At the heart of psychological flexibility is a triangle model called the ACT Triflex.

This model teaches us that we need to develop three pillars: Open Up, Be Present and Do What Matters.

Open Up

Open Up is not about opening up to other people (although that may be an action that you choose to take).

Rather, Open Up is learning how to open up to the full range of our internal experiences – thoughts, feelings and sensations – both positive and negative. It’s about being willing to plan for them, to know that they’re coming and to accept them when they do. It’s about recognising them as a part of life rather than trying to control, get rid of or prevent them from happening in the first place.

Be Present

This next pillar is our ability to be present, in the moment. Not necessarily to feel good, but to recognise that even when we have such little control of the world around us and inside us, we still have a choice of what we do and how we want to act.

Do What Matters

This final piece of the triangle is not about intentions. We need to be clear on what is most important – values, purpose, people, context – so we can take committed action in service of that which matters most.


Is psychological flexibility simple? Yes.

Is it easy? No. There are parts that flew right in the face of everything I felt I’d been taught.

But, if you’re willing to do the reps, it’s learnable and trainable. And, as the evidence suggests and my own experience has shown, it works. 100% of the time? No. There’s nothing that guarantees that. But I’ve seen it work in many different settings for many different people.

The remainder of this book is designed to help you:

  • unpack this science.
  • build a personalised, evidence-based toolkit for yourself that you can implement immediately.
  • apply it in difficult conversations, performance moments, parenting, health, with your closest relationships, friends or colleagues and more.
  • manage stress, navigate change, lead yourself and others, perform when it truly matters.

It’s designed to help you play your infinite game and be the person that you want to be in the process.

You don’t need many tools to start.

But, as the saying goes, “we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to the level of our training”.

So before we start unpacking the science and personalising it for you, we need make a commitment together.

We’ll do that in the next chapter by reflecting on something all of us humans have in common.


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