Question time with David Buttifant

Question time with David Buttifant

Dr David Buttifant may seem a familiar face; a former Australian rules footballer turned sports scientist, David has made it his mission to help others build resilience, drive performance, and practical methods to manage stress. He’s worked with the North Melbourne Football Club, as Head of Conditioning at Collingwood Football Club, and the Australian Olympic athletes in preparation for the 2000 Olympic Games.

David’s approach can be adapted to elite sportspeople, organisations seeking to maximise their collective strengths, and individuals struggling in the face of stress and adversity. We had the opportunity to chat with David about resilience, motivation, and mindfulness.

You’ve held quite a number of job titles over the years; if you had to define your profession in one word, what would that be?

That’s actually a really tough question. You’ve made me think now! I suppose it would have to be ‘Enabler’; my goal is to enable people to fulfil their dreams. So many people have the drive to be successful and I’m just helping to facilitate that by seeking to understand what someone wants to achieve, understand their motivational processes, and point them in the direction they need to go in order to achieve those dreams.

Is that process the same for everyone you work with?

Ultimately, yes. You do need to know the person, the right stimulus, that will evoke change for them. And it’s important to help them find the right solutions, so they become more solutions-focused themselves. Nobody is going to make the change for you. The process of growth and change is never easy; I often talk about the path of least resistance. This is what keeps us in a cycle, repeating the same actions and situations in life; we so often go with what we know, what’s ‘easy’, even if ‘easy’ isn’t necessarily the best or most healthy or effective way.

When talking to someone about achieving their goals, I usually ask them ‘Are you prepared to feel discomfort?’ Because with any change, you’re going to have work for it. But if you continue to practise these positive steps over time, you’ll be able to achieve.

How can we stop ourselves from becoming overwhelmed, particularly during the moment when it’s quite difficult to catch those recurring thoughts and behavioural patterns?

You definitely need to feel those emotions; repressing them can compound maladaptive coping behaviours (undesirable habits). These develop because when we’re in pain, we want to desensitise ourselves. So we drink alcohol, smoke, self-soothe with food etc. It’s important to feel your emotions but also determine ‘Is this the right time to act on these feelings?’ Say you’re at work; you’re absolutely entitled to whatever you feel, but it’s probably not very productive to give in to being overwhelmed by them. So try to get a handle on the moment and set it aside to feel or examine later. One tip to letting go in the moment is to think of the worst-case scenario. Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things?

What’s your best advice for managing stress in the moment?

It’s a good idea to formulate some habits to really focus on what can help you cope. There are often things we do that help us function well. You know those days when you wake up and you just feel really good? Try and identify what contributed to this feeling of feeling good. Was it having a good sleep? A great exercise session? And once you’ve identified this, it’s important to identify what you’ll commit to make that change. It does require effort and discipline, which is why you need to determine what does it really mean to you and what you really want to achieve.

In your own words, how would you define meditation and mindfulness?

Intentional non-judgemental time. We’re exposed to so much noise and clutter, and it’s exhausting. We need to unwind and disconnect, and being present in the moment can still that cacophony of noise and just allow you to be.

Is there hope for those of us who put off meditating or mindfulness because we’re so busy? So many of us balance commitments, like work, family, study, sports etc. that we come home, we just want to tune out and watch some reality TV, and committing to meditation is the last thing on our minds.

It’s interesting because if you think anything about it, watching TV can almost be like a form of mindfulness if it stems the flow of thoughts and clears your mind of some of the clutter. But mindfulness has so many emotional and physical benefits, it really is worth trying. Even if you start with 1 minute a day. I’m not saying it’s easy; it may not even be enjoyable at the time. But it’s worth concentrating on how you feel afterwards. We don’t always want to go to the gym but once we do, we feel better. Meditation and eating well are the same. They give you the energy to be a good version of you; to give to others, you need to look after yourself first.

Let’s talk about motivation. How can we maintain a good momentum when we’re working towards a big goal?

Focus on what you’re doing and the task at hand. One step at a time. When we take our eyes off the task, we think of the future and that’s how the feeling of being overwhelmed can take over. It prompts the fight or flight response, changes our physiology and inhibits our momentum.

Motivation and achieving come down to the three Fs: Fear (a little bit) can be a great motivator, and you can use that for energy. Flow, which is a combination of focus and concentration, and that’s followed by Fun. When we’re having fun, our dopamine levels increase which leads to feeling good.

What’s your best advice for building resilience?

Building resilience really requires you to be honest with yourself, about your own abilities and any roadblocks you may be encountering. A self-assessment can help you reflect and build up a good profile on where you’re currently sitting physically, socially, and emotionally. Identifying your strengths is invaluable; when times are tough, you can go to your strengths because they validate who you are. Don’t focus on any perceived limitations; focus on your strengths, and use those to elevate your actions. That’s your point of difference.

What are the key things you’ve love people to be aware of when it comes to developing healthy coping mechanisms and living their best life?

Find what works for you and fills your reserves; you can’t pour from an empty jug. Whether it’s sufficient sleep, exercise, drinking more water, spending time alone to recharge; you need to identify what you need to function at your best.

Never underestimate the positive impact you can have on others; as one person who can touch a life, you’ve had an impact. There are always opportunities around us to make a positive impact. If we can think like that, we can live with compassion the world will be a better place.

When you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety or low mood, you may have negative, unhelpful thoughts; you don’t have to believe those thoughts. Challenge them. Ask ‘Is that really helpful?’ Thoughts inform your emotions. Emotions inform behaviour. It’s a process, but try to separate the triggering thought from the corresponding emotion. Remember that your thoughts aren’t always accurate, or helpful.

Learning to let go takes time but look at each event as a learning opportunity. Be gentle with yourself.

It’s also important to remember that chatting to a professional when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be really helpful; having that objective person to speak with can sometimes relieve any pressure or hesitation you may feel talking with a friend or family member.

Resilience resources

Lifeline: 13 11 14 is a confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile.

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636. Call any time of the day or night – select from the voice menu or simply hold on the line to talk with a trained mental health professional.

Resilience Builders: Resilience Builders is an Australian company that designs, develops and facilitates resilience-building programs. Their programs cater for teenagers, schools, community groups, athletes, teams and corporates. Visit for more information.