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Putting the ‘3 Ps’ of resilience to good use

02:46pm September 14 2021

Professor Martin Seligman speaks of resilient people as those who don’t identify challenges as being personal, permanent or pervasive. (Getty)

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. 

Maybe you’ve even said it to one of your children or a peer at work. But while it may seem trite advice, especially at the time you receive it, at its heart, it speaks the truth. It speaks the truth because it speaks to resilience, and resilient people do tend to endure tough circumstances more effectively than those who have less capacity to cope with the challenges they encounter.

So, what makes resilient people resilient? 

Professor Martin Seligman speaks of resilient people as those who don’t identify the challenges they face as being either personal, permanent or pervasive of all areas of their lives. 

What does this mean? 

Well, for a start, if you take something personally it means you tend to attribute any difficulties you encounter to yourself rather than circumstances. 

While this can be a good quality when it comes to being accountable for your own behaviour, at times, such as when you are locked down in a pandemic, it is not as relevant. It’s not relevant because in some cases you are a victim of circumstance rather than the creator of circumstance, and you need to discern the difference. 

Secondly, there is permanence. 

I’ve always liked the adage that nothing is permanent, neither success nor failure. Resilient people understand that this to, whatever your ‘this’ is, shall pass. It doesn’t mean that you should sit on your hands until it does pass, rather, that you should persist while adjusting your expectations and strategies to ensure that you are ready to act when circumstances change, as they will.

Pervasiveness is the last of Seligman’s Ps, and resilient people know that the difficulties in one area of their lives are not necessarily reflective of all areas of their life. 

So, if something hasn’t worked for you at the office, it doesn’t mean that things aren’t humming for you at home, and you shouldn’t let one area overwhelm the other.

In most of our lifetimes, we have never experienced the degree of uncertainty that we are currently experiencing, so resilience has never been more important than it is now. 

Simple pleasures and freedoms that we have taken for granted have been taken from us, so we feel unsettled and unnerved. The temptation for many may be to ignore the circumstances and hope they go away. Others may run from them. 

For greatest effect, we must face into them and control what we can control. 

I believe an important step towards becoming resilient, by Seligman’s definition, is to address the challenges we face by connecting across three concentric circles of your life. 

First, you must connect with yourself. 

Work on your fitness, your mindset and a skillset. Set some goals on each level. It may start with a walk for your fitness, some specific reading for your mind and learning to improve a skillset. On the learning front, it’s a great time for online education. 

I have completed a few courses on Coursera, which offers free online courses from some of the most famous institutions around the world. You will be guaranteed to find something of interest. 

Secondly, connect with the small teams of your life. 

It could be with your family, a small group of friends or your immediate team. This may be physically impossible now but write a letter to someone or call someone you haven’t spoken to in years. It can make a difference. 

Thirdly, connect to the bigger communities of your life. 

It could be your church, your sporting club or your wider organisation. The more you stay connected now, the easier you will find it to pick up from where you left off when we are back to normal. 

Finally, understand that each of us go through periods where we are more or less resilient. 

So don’t get down about it and look out for your colleagues and customers and ask them how they are going. 

Sometimes, simply letting them know that they’re not alone in these challenging times can make all the difference. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Westpac Group.

John Eales, AM, debuted for the Wallabies in 1991 and captained the side from 1996 until the end of his test career in 2001. John was the founder of the Mettle Group – a consultancy which was acquired by Chandler Macleod in 2007, and sits on the boards of Flight Centre Travel Group, Fuji Xerox-DMS, Magellan Financial Group. He has been an occasional lecturer at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney and is the author of “Learning from Legends – Sport” and “Learning from Legends – Business”. John is also a keynote speaker, delivering invaluable messages on leadership, teamwork and culture within an organisation.

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