How to boost Resilience in the workplace

Person wondering how to boost resilience

What is resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from setbacks and difficulties. Resilience is about being able to deal with challenges that threaten to overwhelm and keep on persevering.

What is the benefit of Boosting resilience at work?

The benefit of improving the resilience of your staff is greater productivity and greater engagement.

In the workplace setbacks happen all the time – shipments arrive late, equipment breaks down, clients change their minds, weeks are spent preparing unsuccessful proposals. Nothing is as easy as it should be. When progress is slow then enthusiasm drops and progress slows still further in a death spiral of motivation.

Employees with good resilience can persevere through these bad times and keep the effort up until the goal is reached. 

What makes for an effective resilience speaker or trainer?

Results. You want the speaker to impart actionable techniques that lead to results.

Breaking it down:

  • The method needs to be memorable
  • Your staff have to try the method
  • The method has got to work.

The huge advantage that I have as a resilience speaker is that I have a wealth of adventure anecdotes that will have your staff on the edge of their seat, paying close attention. The techniques that I share come from Martin Seligman the father of Positive Psychology, and battle-tested against two of the toughest physical challenges in the world.

Here is how to boost resilience of your team

Something bad has just happened. A favourite client has just called to say they weren’t impressed with your last tender and they are moving their business. An employee has just quit. You forgot to pay your GST on time and now there’s an expensive penalty. You’ve been passed over for a promotion.

Is it your fault? Well at least some of it. You’re feeling rubbish, and there’s more than a hint of despair in the thoughts going through your head. ‘This always happens to me’, or ‘Not again!’, or ‘How can I have been so stupid?’, even ‘I don’t have what it takes’, ‘This will never get any better’.

In this resource we’re going to be looking at a technique, I call it the ‘3 P’s method’ for dealing with setbacks faster – by interrupting the pattern of thoughts driving you down and getting a new, equally valid perspective on what has just happened.

Then, as a bonus, we’ll look at four other ways to break yourself free from the negative patterns of thinking that’s stopping you from bouncing back as fast as you might.

What happens when you have a setback

When you have a setback, whenever somethings goes wrong, particularly something you’ve had a hand in, there’s a process you are going to go through.

The Setback Recovery Process

You start off in your happy place then you get knocked down into the depths of despair with the sharks of self-loathing and then you ‘reflect’, you ‘reframe’ you ‘reconsider’, and slowly, slowly you float back up to the top until you feel something like normal again.

Now you know that, depending on what put you down there, you can go down very deep, and spend a lot of time with the sharks before you do finally float back up to the top.

What if there was another way to deal with setbacks?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could speed things up a bit, not go down quite so deep, get through it a lot faster, and possibly even stick it to the shark on the way through?

There is a way. There is a catch though. You have to be prepared to consciously change your emotions. Does that sound odd? It certainly did for me. I remember very clearly the time that someone told me that I was ‘responsible for’ my emotions. I thought they were a crackpot and told them so. How could it be true? If you insult me I feel bad. If I screw up, I feel bad. On the other hand if I win lotto I feel good. I don’t get to choose. It’s just not possible. More than that – even if I could change the way that I feel I shouldn’t. Who wants to turn themselves into a giggling serial killer?

I was wrong. Absolutely horribly, catastrophically wrong. Being able to change the way I feel about an event, by changing the story that I tell myself about what it means, has vastly improved the quality of my emotions. And aren’t the quality of our emotions the quality of our life?

I’m going to get into the technique for how to change your emotions but let me just say here, you’re already doing it. Let’s say that it’s late afternoon and you’re trying to get something finished by the end of the day. Then someone interrupts you and you feel intensely annoyed … but you also know that feeling of frustration may have something to do with the four long flat whites that you chugged after lunch – and so you count to 10.

Or you have some terrible customer service experience and you furiously pound out a blistering email – but you don’t send it because you know that you probably won’t feel the same way the next day.

The next day, sure enough, you don’t feel the same and you carefully delete the draft. What has changed? Any of the facts of the case? Aren’t you just as entitled to be angry? Or has nothing changed but the way you feel? So which way was ‘right’? Last night or now?

The three setback questions

Whenever something goes wrong, you tell yourself a story to give meaning to what has happened, and that story determines how you feel. There’s always more than one story. So change the story and you change the way you feel.

My point is that it’s ok to question and challenge the white knuckle death grip you have on the unique rightness of the particular interpretation of events. And to realise that there is nearly always another, more helpful interpretation/emotion, that you are just as entitled to feel.

The three setback questionsHere’s how to do it with setbacks. Because when something goes wrong, particularly something you’ve had a hand in – there’s only THREE questions that you ask that determine how bad you feel.

  1. Who’s to blame?
  2. How long will it last?
  3. How big a deal is it?

And for each of these 3 questions the answer tends to lie on an axis from ‘It was all me!’, to ‘I was just a part of it’. From ‘This will last forever’ to ‘This too shall pass.’ From ‘ everything has gone wrong!’, to ‘It is just this one little thing that has gone wrong. The rest of my life is fine.’

Let’s test it out. Think of something that has gone wrong recently and then tell yourself, ‘It’s all my fault, it’s always going to be this way, and it’s a huge deal’. I guarantee that you will feel worse and if you ARE feeling bad about something right now, then you’re almost certainly thinking ONE or more of those things, “I’m to blame, my situation is totally screwed up  permanently.”

Here is the clever bit. Without changing any of the facts, you can very often choose an interpretation that is equally as true, but that is more to the right-hand side. Because very often you were just a part of it, this too shall pass and you still have a great family, you still have great work colleagues, you still have your health and all your skills and capabilities and you still live in a great country.

So next time something goes wrong try asking yourself three different questions.


If it’s not you then don’t have to worry as much – but if it was you – great, you can change what you did next time.


Now, you don’t want to fall into the trap of asking yourself ‘Is this a big deal?’ because the answer in the moment is clearly ‘Yes!’

The question is, based on your experience of life, will you still be feeling this way, with this intensity in a year’s time? Probably not right? Because you know you’ve been through some huge speed bumps that absolutely rocked your world at the time that have long since receded into the rear view mirror.

Now, you might be thinking that this time it’s different. Well, if that’s what you think consider this:

In the long run it’s very likely your happiness will return to average

Studies show this – after an event – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a good thing or a bad thing – happiness takes a hit (either up or down), and then it returns to normal.

Let’s take the example of something good happening.

Lotto winners happiness fade

Can you imagine for a moment that you’ve not just won Lotto, you’re the only winner of a big Powerball round. So you’re getting tens of millions. How are you going to enjoy this money? Got an image in your head?

Studies show that after you’ve won lotto for a while your happiness increases, until you’ve done all the overseas trips, bought the big house and your life is just ablaze with fireworks, champagne and parties.

And that’s the moment (or something like it) that you think about when you think about winning lotto. You mentally freeze frame that peak.

But in studies of actual lotto winners, they found that the levels of reported happiness eventually returns to pre Lotto normal!

The same is true for adverse events as well.

paralysed fade to normalLet’s say, god forbid, that you’ve had a car crash and become paraplegic. Over the first few weeks as you come to grips with what has happened life loses its charm as you’d expect.

But then here’s the extraordinary bit. Eventually the happiness of even paralysed people returns to normal.

What I’m saying is that when we think about what an event means, we freeze frame either a good image or a bad image in our heads and feel accordingly.

Movie makers know this – and it’s worth watching what they do because they make money by how well they can change the way we feel.

Movies often end with the theme music soaring, everybody happy, the emotions at their peak and…..Freeze frame! Then slow fade out to black, roll credits and you waft out of the cinema on a high.

Movies finishing on freeze frameWe know life doesn’t work like that, if they’re riding off into the sunset now … it means they will be setting up camp in the dark, with a sore arse.

That romantic couple might be snogging in the rain now, but tomorrow they’ve got colds, and next week they’ll be sorting the recycling and arguing about who does the washing up.

On average life returns to average.

Are you doing the same with the image in your head about how bad things are, or are going to get? Are you stopping at the WORST possible moment? If so, don’t stop there, keep playing the movie out. What happens then? What happens then?

Can you be absolutely sure that what has just happened is a bad thing?

Can I suggest that you won’t actually know how this shakes out for a while, perhaps quite a while?

You’ve had this happen before. You’ve had a good employee quit – only to replace them with someone even more capable.

You’ve broken up with someone – only to meet your future partner.

You’ve been made redundant – only to get a better job.

Is what is happening now a huge setback or is it the time that things started to take off for you? Or is it just too early to say?

Onto the third of our big questions.


How much of the rest of your life is unaffected by what has just happened? Do you still have great kids, a great partner, great work colleagues, great business connections, great mates?

Let me put it another way.

If you are having a setback right now how would you rate your situation at the moment out of 10, with 0 being shit awful and 10 being ‘awesome’? 0 is bad, 10 is excellent.

Got a number? Ok. Good. Now why didn’t you choose a lower number? No really. Why didn’t you choose a lower number?

Is it because some things in your life are still great?


Next time you find yourself sliding down into depths of despair try asking yourself these three questions to give yourself some breathing room.

  1. How much did I personally control the outcome?
  2. Will it still be as big a deal in 12 months time? (Or do I get another go at it?)
  3. How much of the REST of my life is unaffected?
The 3 Setback solutions

But wait there’s more.

Now that you understand that you can use questions to interrupt your pattern of thinking. Here are four more weapons-grade questions to add to your arsenal.

4 more setback questions


That’s right. No just true. Helpful. As we’ve seen, just being ‘true’ isn’t enough. You want your explanation to be true AND helpful.

In the build-up to the  trans-Atlantic rowing race I was up against the winners from the previous race, who were back to win again and break the world record if they could.  I didn’t even know how to row. So they had all the experience and that was a fact.

So what should I do? Should I tell myself that experience counts for everything and feel despair? OR that their experience made them predictable and I could innovate around them? Was innovation going to trump experience? I had no idea, but it was just as plausible and a far more helpful thing to think.

If you’re the youngest person in the room do you lack experience and insight – or do you bring a new perspective and fresh energy? If you’re the oldest person are you irrelevant – or do you bring wisdom?

It’s not enough for you to justify the way that you feel because it’s ‘true’. I’m sure it is true. But there are lots of ‘true’ things to focus on. Can you interpret the situation in a more helpful way!


Strong negative emotions are often there to get us to take action – to make sure something doesn’t happen again. Once you’ve acknowledged that, and put a plan in place (writing it down often helps!) then the emotion tends to fade away because it’s served it’s purpose.


This is a lovely bit of mental jiujitsu that forces you to get an external perspective on your interpretation.

So I’ve come back to the house after going for a run with my four year old boy in the stroller and I’m knocking on the front door because I’ve left my key inside and it’s pouring with rain. But my wife isn’t letting us in and as I’m getting colder and wetter I’m getting more and more frustrated. So I turn to my boy and say, “The reason that we are stuck outside is because your mother doesn’t love you.”

Of course I didn’t!!! But even the thought of me doing it was enough to snap me out of my ridiculous mood.

Next time you’re acting up, turn to your imaginary child, or the newest person in your office or some person you’re the role model to, and say to them, “I hope you saw that, when you have a minor setback the proper approach is to properly blow your cool, act like a freaking maniac and destroy relationships. Take a proper wind-up and throw that toy. Self-control is for wimps.”


I am NOT saying that every cloud has a silver lining. Some situations genuinely suck. The reason why you’re asking this question is because it interrupts the pattern of thinking that is causing the emotion.

A couple of years ago I was in Las Vegas for a conference and lost a bunch of money in the casino. When I say I lost a bunch of money, I actually lost the plastic bag of cash, the bag they give you when you go to the bank to get your US currency. And when I say I ‘lost’ it. I really did lose it out of my pocket somewhere as I crossed the casino floor to the lifts.

I was furious with how stupid, and careless I had been. I was appalled at my nincompoopery. I was beyond apoplectic with rage. I was Vesuvius incarnate.

Rage emotionAll that money lost and nothing to show for it! There was so much pressure in my head I thought that nuclear fusion would start.

I had just enough presence of mind to realise that I give talks about dealing with exactly this situation and actually went through the same list of questions you’re going through now – nothing slowed me down … until I got to this one ‘What good can come of this?’

First answer was ‘Nothing’, but I grudgingly persevered and … I was very surprised to find quite a few things. Yep, that’s right. Good things about losing money.

The first was that I really made the day of the security guards on the casino floor.  When I asked them if anyone had handed in a bag of money they thought that was the funniest thing they had heard in a long while.

So those are the 5 questions. The next time that you are beating yourself up. Ask:

  • Do I have the situation in perspective?
  • Is this explanation helpful?
  • What does my brain want me to learn?
  • Would I teach this explanation to someone else?
  • What good might come from this!!
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