Author Jess Sherman: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient
Practice “I AM” statements daily. This tip I’m passing on from Adele Tevlin, who has helped me develop a healthier, more resilient mindset. She explained that the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between now, before and later. So if you want to grow some aspect of yourself or create some change around you (two things resilient people do masterfully), start and end your day by articulating who you want to become and what you want to accomplish as if you are already that person doing it. Like the flip it tip, this habit can help you jump into things you don’t feel quite ready for yet, so they become fuel for building your resilience.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Sherman. Jess is an international speaker, award winning nutritionist, and family health educator specializing in helping children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorders feel better so they function better. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family and love your life, and creator of The Resilience Roadmap™.
She works with doctors, social workers, teachers and parents to nourish the resilience of children, and she reaches audiences around the world through her book and talks, her virtual community, and her online coaching program. She is also a former teacher and a mother trying her best to raise resilient children. She blogs at www.JessSherman.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I’ve always been interested in the process of becoming who we are.
In University as a theatre major, I was fascinated by how a writer and director could help actors make characters come alive, and ultimately create an experience for an audience. Since I wasn’t drawn to theatre as a career, I transferred this interest into adventure education which was all about creating experiences to expand comfort zones, find new personal boundaries, and develop resilience.
I worked with all kinds in the outdoors — youth at risk, adults, psychiatric patients, corporate groups, private school kids, street kids — and this work eventually took me to teaching, where I tried to do the same kind of experiential education, but with high school kids in the classroom.
Up to this point I was mostly interested in how experience and social context could shape people, but about 5 years into my classroom teaching career that shifted.
I noticed that my students didn’t feel well. Too struggled with behaviour and mood, they were tired, hyper, anxious, had trouble learning and focusing… kids were struggling more than they were thriving and we spent a significant amount of time just trying to help them get through their days.
“How can kids become their best self if they don’t feel well in their bodies?” I wondered.
Too many kids were on metaphorical crutches — medications, accommodations — and I started to wonder about some of the internal forces that shape people.
I decided to take what I thought would be a short sabbatical from teaching to study nutrition with a particular interest in how food and stress affect child development, mood and learning.
When I learned how things like food and nutrients, hormones, chemicals and gut bugs influence how we think, feel, and behave my mind was blown wide open to new possibilities for how we could help kids.
I didn’t go back to teaching. Instead, I started to teach the worried, exhausted and frustrated parents of these struggling kids ways to improve how their kids feel, so they learn and function better. That’s what I wrote my book about, and that’s what I teach today through our programs.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think my circuitous path has been quite interesting. I’ve followed my nose into things that seem so completely disconnected — from directing theatre productions to dog sled racing in the arctic; from working with kids in India to teaching whitewater canoeing on Canadian rivers; from teaching high school English to teaching parents about nutrition.
The lesson for me is that as long as you are able to maintain a general curiosity and interest in what you’re doing, you’re doing the right thing. Skills are transferable; curiosity and enthusiasm are something deeper, and to develop that you just need to keep doing things that feel exciting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It think our methodology is quite unique. We don’t just teach about nutrition and health; we also help families and kids feel more connected.
I remember the family that helped me make this shift from teaching about something to feeling something. It was about 3 years into my clinical practice.
A mom came to me after being told her son had 35 food sensitivities including bread, cheese, yogurt and cucumbers, which were the only foods he would actually eat. She was beyond stressed to learn that his favourite foods may be contributing to his ADHD and anger outbursts, and was terrified of the tension and stress removing them would cause.
So our first meeting was really tense. She did not want to change her son’s diet but that’s what she had come to me for. It’s the first time I think I really recognized how issues around food can really split families apart if you don’t approach it right.
This mom was so stressed, that I suggested we leave the food for now and start by considering other aspects of nourishment first. Her shoulders dropped, so I knew I was on to something.
We started by figuring out how to get consistent with after-school attachment time, and getting him to bed earlier with a consistent sleep routine. We started some foundational nutritional supplements to support focus, memory, neurotransmitters and digestive health. We talked about which foods we could add into the diet and how they could talk about food at the dinner table. We got chemicals out of the house and simplified the schedule so the family could share meals together and he could have time outdoors every day.
Once everyone felt more connected and well rested, and once I had taught the mom a bit more about the effect of food on inflammation in her son’s body, replacing those problematic foods with more nourishing options was a much easier transition.
We do sometimes need to take problematic foods out of a child’s diet so they feel and function better, but we need to do so in a way that keeps relationships intact and without causing more trauma and stress for the family. So I think the way we hold attachment and nourishment at the core of what we do, and consider mental/emotional health and physical health as equals, sets us apart.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There’s a three way tie between my two parents and my husband.
I include my parents because their unwavering support has been critical. I would not have been able to live my life as I have, embrace the experiences I did, and get to where I am now, had they not found that elusive line between offering support and guidance, and trusting me to make my own decisions.
I also couldn’t do what I do without my partner in crime Andy. I know many women feel they tension between their mothering and their career. I’ve felt that too, but Andy has been a true partner in raising our kids. Back when they were babies he and I both made career choices that allowed us some flexibility, so we could be present for each other and our kids while also being able to each pursue what we’re passionate about. It’s been a stressful juggle at times for sure, but I’m not sure I could run my business while also mothering the way I want to mother without that partnership.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think of resilience as our capacity to respond to stress. A resilient person can not only manage stress well, but can also grow stronger because of it.
In terms of characteristics and traits, I think my work with nutrition gives me a bit of a different perspective than most.
A resilient person is typically thought of as someone possessing a certain fortitude they’ve built as they’ve engaged in experiences and made choices. Resilient people are able to fail forward and stay calm in turbulent times; they find opportunity where others crumble. They move through fear and grow from it rather than let it derail or stagnate them.
That all may be true, but in writing my book I found out that developing and maintaining that kind of resilience requires a healthy body.
Our response to stress is a very chemical process involving neurotransmitters, hormones and nutrients. So I think another trait of resilient people is that they know how to use things like food, movement and sleep to improve their capacity to respond to and grow from stress. If they didn’t, they would think less clearly, feel more anxious, be more tired, be less adaptable.
The mental/emotional aspect and the physical aspect of resilience are actually two sides of the same coin and I’m fascinated by how they interact.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
The first person I think of is Oprah. I remember hearing her speak about her early days when she was fired from TV and feeling unsure about her next move. Even at that young age an openness to possibility seemed intuitive to her. She was able to find opportunity in what seemed like failure, which is a trait of resilience that she continued to flush out over and over in her interviews with successful people — the idea that life happens for you, not to you.
I also think of her because as her fame grew, and as the expectations on her grew, I think she quickly noticed the importance of attending to one’s health — in mind, body and spirit. I can only assume (having never met her), that if she hadn’t walked that talk — taking care of her own mind, body and spirit — that she would not have grown into the person she needed to be to be where she is today.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
This has been a really interesting question to reflect on. I grew up with parents who, while they might have thought something I wanted to do was impossible, never told me straight up that it was. I’ve also worked in organizations and under leaders who were consistently open to possibility (as long as they made at least a little sense).
As I think back on it now, I think this developed in me a curiosity and resourcefulness to figure things out and find a new perspective when I saw something wasn’t working. It helped me become solution oriented and think creatively.
I’m sure people have doubted me and my ideas at times as I’ve made some questionable decisions — traveling on my own through Asia was one; building my own home with my husband and quitting my good paying job to start my own business when my children were babies were others. But I don’t think I’ve ever been told straight up that something I wanted to do was impossible.
I guess I’ve managed to surround myself with people who tell me the exact opposite — that anything is possible as long as you’re willing and able to become the person you need to be to make it happen.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
When I was pregnant with my third child I had a bit of a breakdown.
I remember vividly — it was August and I was sitting on the porch of our beautiful homestead. We had built this log home ourselves, mostly from reclaimed materials. It was powered by the sun and heated with wood we chopped. It was what Andy and I had dreamed up the day we first met.
My two kids — aged 2 and 4 at the time — were playing in our vegetable garden and I was on the phone, bawling to my good friend who lived too far away.
From the outside, we were living an idyllic and romantic homesteading life. But on the inside I was crumbling. I felt isolated and lonely and the self sufficient way we were living just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I needed community.
I consider it a setback because it was a hard turning point. We were moving steadily in one direction and then realized what we actually needed was somewhere else. We made the excruciating decision to leave our dream because it wasn’t our dream anymore — and we started again in a completely new environment.
The experience was a blunt wake-up call to how important community is to our wellbeing as humans. This idea of breaking out of loneliness and isolation has become a central part of how I do the work I do with parents. I know how scary and unsettling it feels to want something that seems out of reach, but I also know how powerful it is to make a decision to change something that’s not working and try something different.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I think the time I traveled to Asia on my own when I was 24 helped. I had been in school for 19 straight years and felt an undeniable urge to explore and experience some of the places I had read about in books and papers. I think I also craved a bit of instability and adventure.
I remember sitting with my two girlfriends, Becky and Catherine, in a restaurant in New Delhi. We were laughing about how unbelievable it was that we had come to be there together. Five months earlier we had planned this moment from our Montreal apartment. I would be 2 months into my travels and they would be just starting. I would pick them up at the New Delhi airport and we would head to the mountains of Nepal together.
And there we were. Sipping sweet milky chai while the chaos of the market vendors whirled around us.
I felt on top of the world at that moment. Like I had overcome each hurdle one step at a time. I had navigated the train system. I had survived the buses. I had found my way from the South to the North. I had gotten terribly sick and had gotten better. I had fought off strange men and figured out how to take a rickshaw ride without getting charged double. I had found the airport and I had a place for us to stay.
I felt resilient, strong, adaptable and courageous. Like anything was possible.
Now that I’m a parent I can imagine how nervous my parents must have been sending their daughter off on her own like that. But it was an experience I was able to build on. It taught me I could do hard things and figure stuff out. It taught me to trust my intuition and stay alert. If I could figure it out through Asia, I could figure it out anywhere. That stuck with me.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Resilience is like a muscle — we’re born with a certain reserve and a capacity to build more, but our choices around how we live, eat and think determine how it develops.
So I don’t have steps, I have habits — and I’ve chosen tips to build physical resilience as well as mental resilience because, in the end, they are one in the same.
1.Get good sleep. So much is happening while we sleep, and when we don’t get enough our resilience starts to erode — memory starts to fail, we get edgy, foggy, can’t make decisions. Even our physical resilience — our appetite, weight, skin, immune system and heart health start to change when we don’t get enough sleep. Try to keep your sleep/wake cycles as closely aligned with the sun cycle as you can. And put away those pesky electronics at least hour or even two before bed. You need your sleep for your body and mind to function well!
2. Flip it. Shout out here goes to a woman named Jen Gottlieb who explained to me how this works. I actually have it on a sticky note taped to my office wall to remind me. The brain does a strange thing when you try to do something new or scary — it thinks of all the reasons why it’s not a good idea, is going to be bad, shouldn’t happen, you should put it off. One thing resilient people do well is fail forwards — they try new things because they know that whatever happens, there will be a learning opportunity in it. “Flipping it” is a reminder to flip that negative self talk and see the positive potential in scary things so you don’t let fear stand in your way. You do them anyway, so you can grow from them.
3. Hydrate. Sounds simple, and it is. Our body is mostly water and our brains are especially thirsty. I struggle with this one, to be honest, but I feel noticeably more mentally sharp, energetic, optimistic, open to possibility and decisive when I’m well hydrated.
4. Practice “I AM” statements daily. This tip I’m passing on from Adele Tevlin, who has helped me develop a healthier, more resilient mindset. She explained that the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between now, before and later. So if you want to grow some aspect of yourself or create some change around you (two things resilient people do masterfully), start and end your day by articulating who you want to become and what you want to accomplish as if you are already that person doing it. Like the flip it tip, this habit can help you jump into things you don’t feel quite ready for yet, so they become fuel for building your resilience.
5. Eat the right diet. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet, but what I can tell you about your diet is this — real, whole food from the earth fuels both your mental and your physical resilience. So, if you (or your kids) feel anxious, depressed, foggy, stressed, are getting lethargic, quick to anger, tired, sick a lot, or can’t focus or make decisions, if you (or your kids) don’t feel as resilient as you want to feel, get some functional tests done to find out if your cells are getting the fuel they need to function.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It would be a movement to change how we help kids when they start struggling with mood, behavior and learning.
Over the past 50 years we have seen a 400% increase in chronic illness among children, including mental illness with anxiety, depression and suicide climbing steadily. Between 2018–2019 we saw a doubling of ADHD making it the most prevalent childhood psychiatric disorder and putting kids at greater risk for dropout, mental health disorders, substance abuse, involvement in the justice system, accidents and injuries, and even early death.
What we’re doing to support kids isn’t working and our supports are cracking under the pressure.
The movement I want to fuel is already simmering — it’s to recognize that the body, brain and environment are connected and that to improve health in one we need to consider the others.
It’s a movement to end the fear, guilt, helplessness and shame that surface when parents start to see their kids struggle with mood, behavior and learning, and instead connect families with functional tests so they can relieve the underlying stressors in their child’s body and improve their stress tolerance (aka raise resilience).
I agree when you said, Resilience is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. This is why I do the work that I do — so each child’s resilience can fully blossom from the inside-out and from the outside-in and they can grow from, instead of be debilitated by, stress.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I’d love to sit down with Brené Brown. I think she and I would have an exciting conversation about connection, courage, being seen, and about the lived experiences of families and kids and how to create safe and brave spaces so kids are set up for a bright, bold future.
I always appreciate her insights.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!