Building Resilience

As part of this year’s conference, New Zealand Shearing Contractors’ Association (NZSCA) chief executive Phil Holden interviewed Farmstrong content expert Hugh Norriss on the theme of ‘Building Resilience’. Here’s what they had to say.

Phil: What’s Farmstrong’s take on wellbeing?

Hugh: Wellbeing means that life is going well for us and has meaning and purpose. We have good social networks, we’re doing things that we enjoy and have all an overall sense of vitality.

What about resilience?

Resilience means that even though we’re facing setbacks from time to time, we’re adaptable and we still feel able to get on top of them. Our natural ability to adapt is one of the reasons human beings have made the progress they have. So, the key to our wellbeing during difficult times or periods of change is to remain flexible rather than rigid in our thinking and adapt.

Wellbeing and resilience are closely connected. If our wellbeing is high, then that’s going to make us more resilient. And being resilient when we’re facing challenges, protects our wellbeing.

Can we increase our wellbeing?

Yes, we can. A good way of thinking about your wellbeing is like a bank account. We’re all born with a certain amount of natural wellbeing, but as we go through life and get knock backs, our wellbeing levels deplete so we need to top them up.

What’s the best way to do that?

It’s a little bit like a piggy bank, the idea is to make small deposits on a regular basis rather than waiting until our wellbeing is so low that we’ve got a crisis on our hands. So, the best approach is to build in some simple wellbeing habits into your working life, on a daily basis.

What sort of habits are we talking about?

First, sort out the basics of wellbeing – exercise, sleep and diet. Then it’s about making sure we have enough social connection, we don’t just get stuck in our own little world. Keeping our minds flexible is also very important. That means learning new things and having an attitude of curiosity towards life.

Another thing that’s come out strongly in research is to have gratitude every day for the little things that are going well in life. If you can think of three good things about your life every day, it just takes the mind away from focusing on the negative all the time.

How do you make these habits stick?

Our call to action at Farmstrong is to ‘find out what works for you and lock it in’. Choose activities and routines that fit your personality and daily time constraints. Then comes the ‘lock it in’ bit – to enjoy the benefits we need to make sure these things become a habit. That’s why we advocate starting off really small. If you go to the Farmstrong website, you’ll see lots of farmers and growers talking about what they’ve done and how they’ve made it easy for themselves.

What’s all this got to do with running a business?

The research shows increased levels of wellbeing are associated with greater productivity, business success, better physical health and better relationships. Better wellbeing also acts as a buffer when you’re facing challenges. In other words, you’ve got some ‘money in the bank’ for a rainy day.

You’ve heard about the pressures our sector’s facing at present with low wool prices, labour shortages and lots of changes underway. How does this affect our wellbeing?

You’re right, the world is becoming more complex and change is happening at a faster and faster rate. That’s true of many industries. What’s happening with these more insidious stressors is that they’re relentless, they’re almost invisible and they’re creeping up on us every day. Our brain is designed as a prediction machine – it’s always trying to predict what our physiological system needs next. It hates complexity. When everything in our life is complex or undergoing change, our brain has a hard time working out what’s going happen next. That’s what negatively impacts our wellbeing.

What can we do about it?

We need to develop a new set of skills to cope with these stressors. That involves being clear on what we want out of life, what our unique contribution is and then putting a ring around what we want to achieve and keeping everything else out of that space as much as possible. In other words, putting boundaries on the stresses and distractions we are facing.

How can we build our resilience as a sector?

We need to start thinking about mental health as a continuum, from minus five to plus five. Zero to minus five is what’s usually talked about when people discuss mental health. Minus one might be feeling like you’re stressed or not coping. Minus two and three might be issues such as depression or anxiety, and minus four and five are the more long-term, debilitating mental illnesses and addictions. That’s where most of the narrative around mental health usually ends and that’s what needs to change.

What the science tells us is that mental health is just like physical health. It can be good or bad. So, we need to start focusing on the positive, the zero to plus five, that’s how to build resilience and that’s where we focus Farmstrong.

So what does zero to plus five look like?

Plus one is doing the basics that I’ve described – moving the body, getting enough sleep, eating well, adopting simple habits such as the ‘Five Ways To Wellbeing’ Plus two and three might involve exploring your mindset so that your thinking becomes more flexible and you can avoid common thinking traps. Plus four and five means getting into the sort of territory where the elite sports people go. Really mastering your inner condition to achieve phenomenal results.

Can you give me an example?

Yes, look at what do elite sports people do when they have a bad performance. They analyse what went wrong and they learn from it. They’re grateful for that bad day because it tells them something, it’s information they wouldn’t otherwise get. They realise that people who really want to learn and grow in sport do not learn and grow by having good days forever. That’s the sort of mindset we’re talking about.

What’s your main message to shearing contractors about keeping themselves and their teams well?

If workplaces focus on zero to plus five every day and build skills there, it’s going to result in all sorts of benefits. The research shows people will be more productive, they’ll enjoy  better business success and when they do strike challenges and setbacks, it will lessen their severity and impact.

If businesses can start being more proactive in this area, we are going to have a much more sustainable and successful approach to improving mental health. Not just as businesses, but as a country.

Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme for farmers and growers. To find out what works for you and ‘lock it in’, visit

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