If there's one person who knows all about staying calm in challenging situations, it's Ollie Ollerton. During his career as a special forces soldier, Ollie was thrust into all manner of dangerous missions, from hostage rescues to counter-terrorism operations.
Nowadays the survival expert spends a lot of his time sharing his hard-earned wisdom with everyday folk like us. As well as starring on Channel 4's reality series SAS: Who Dares Wins, in which Ollie puts recruits through a recreation of the brutal SAS selection process, he teaches people about teamwork, risk, resilience and leadership.
Ollie has also written a book, Break Point (opens in new tab), in which he recounts some of his most difficult experiences as a soldier, along with how he overcame them.
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Most of us will never have to go through what Ollie has, but with stress on the rise (according to healthcare company Forth, in the past decade alone there’s been a 28% increase in the number of hospital admissions for stress), we can learn a lot from him.
T3 landed an interview with Ollie during his latest assignment for Vauxhall. He partnered with the car manufacturer to offer advice on how to ‘Keep calm and carry on’ when being challenged both physically and mentally, in aid of promoting the new Grandland X (opens in new tab), an SUV that ‘Keeps calm. Carries on.’
Here we chat to Ollie about his new book, and ask how military survival techniques could help us mere mortals deal with stress in our everyday lives…
How to stay calm under pressure
What inspired you to write your book, Break Point?
“I’ve had some amazing life experiences that the majority of people will never have to face. I felt that the lessons I learned in those moments needed to be shared, so that I could help people become the best version of themselves.”
What do you hope readers will learn from reading it?
“The power of the mind! That limitations are self-created; that visualisation and positive thoughts can create the destiny we desire and deserve. To embrace mistakes and learn from them. To get the most from life and value every second.”
In your book, you write that a Special Forces mantra is: Breathe. Recalibrate. Deliver. How can this help a person remain calm in a stressful situation?
“It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when different layers of pressure are applied. I use a simple process that’s taught in special forces all over the world, and that I regularly pass on to teams I work with…
“Our minds can only handle between five and nine pieces of information before we become confused and make the wrong decisions or actions. When pressure is applied, cortisol levels in the brain rise, and that figure goes down to one or two. So, when you feel the pressure increasing, it’s important to triage the situation and only focus on one or two things that immediately matter in resolving the situation.
“In support of this, as your breathing becomes more erratic, it’s important to adopt a focused breathing pattern. This will lower cortisol and clear the confusion. Only then will you be able to think with clarity and take action from a clear and direct mindset.”
How do you summon courage to press on in a tough situation, instead of letting fear paralyse you?
“The key is not to overthink the situation by procrastinating. Learn to make a decision in five seconds. Our minds will talk us out of anything we’re not familiar with. Fear is a mental and emotional rehearsal for what you don’t want to happen.”
Learning to survive in stressful situations
You mention 'break points' a lot in your book. What are these?
“A break point is when you decide to step into short-term discomfort for long-term gain. Your purpose must outweigh your current circumstance, so you should always have a goal in play that keeps you pushing beyond the obstacles.
“With any situation, when you feel the negativity rising and telling you to fall back into your comfort zone, push through the discomfort – providing it’s in line with the goal you’re aiming for.”
A positive mental attitude (PMA) is a useful tool to develop when coping with stress. Do you have a daily PMA practice?
“Your morning routine sets you up for the day, as opposed to the day dictating what you do. My routine is: 0500 – wake; 0515 – guided meditation (20 mins); 0600 – gym or run; 0700 – power time in the office. By 0800, I’m focused and have already sent all my emails and caught up with any overdue messages or requests.”
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How do you process challenging situations so that they don’t traumatise you later in life?
“Writing the book was amazing as it helped me to process my whole life and the things I had experienced. You can’t expect to lock anything away – it’s there and will come to the surface at some point so learn to process everything that happens to you as soon as possible. It’s a mini debrief and is most important for mental stability.”
What are the main attributes a person needs to survive in stressful environments?
“The ability to adapt to their environment, and to keep calm and carry on.”
We can’t finish this interview without asking you some survival questions too. So, what are the key things to consider when you’re in a true survival situation?
“This all depends on the situation, but you first have to decide whether it’s a good idea to leave the location. If you plan to stay put, you’re going to need shelter and fire and, last but not least, some food. Making a non-natural marker that can be seen from above is also a must.”
Finally, what are your top five survival gadgets and why?
“I would say a knife, as it’s a survival essential; a compass for navigation; waterproof matches for lighting fires; a tampon for using as a fire-lighting tinder; and a few condoms for water carriage. Survival kit should have the ability to be packed small.
“If I had to choose just one of the above, it would be a knife as it has a multitude of uses, from building a shelter and fires, to catching animals and protecting against anything that wants to eat or kill you.”
Ollie Ollerton’s new book, Break Point, is available to buy now from Amazon (opens in new tab) in hardback, paperback and Kindle format. For information on the Vauxhall Grandland X SUV, visit the official Vauxhall site (opens in new tab).
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