“How do you keep trying to reach your goals in life, when there are so many obstacles?” The question came from a member of the Metropolitan Police Department of a large South African Metropolitan Municipality.

“You need to be resilient!” I replied. “Resilience is the ability to cope with setbacks, disappointments, unwanted change and even trauma. But more than that, it’s the human capacity we all have to incorporate the good and bad things that happen to us into our lives, and make sense of them.”

“With resilience we sometimes even become better not bitter; stronger not weaker. Fortunately it’s not some special magic that only a few people have, as it’s a human capacity that is available to all of us. You need resilience to overcome obstacles in life in order to achieve your goals.”

My brief at the Metropolitan Police Department was to strengthen the coping ability of the Officers by training them in the tools of resilience. I was delighted with the outcome by the end of the workshops. The overall delegate rating of the experience was 9.5 out of 10. In addition, asked if they could immediately apply the resilience tools at work and home, 100% responded in the affirmative.

Contrast this happy outcome with what happened recently when I was asked to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a “stress management workshop”. It stated that the workshop should cover:

  • the causes of stress
  • the dangers of stress on the body
  • different personalities reaction to stress
  • recognising stress triggers
  • how to de-stress

The RFP worried me and so I called up the contact person. I explained that “stress management” workshops have evolved over time. The first approach had a medical basis, and typically involved blood tests and then explanations of the role of cholesterol; hypertension; diabetes; diet; bodyweight, exercise and so on. This narrow approach did little to change behaviour and levels of stress.

A second generation “stress management” approach evolved, which helps people to identify the causes and impact of stress, very similar to the RFP. This approach is based on the idea that if people know about risky habits and how serious their situation is, they will change their behaviour. Seems logical, right?

Wrong! It turns out that even if people are warned by their doctor that not changing their behaviour may result in death, most people don’t change (Kegan, R. & Lahey, L. L. 2009).

This also explains why there is such poor success with media adverts and roadside billboards exhorting us to “Don’t drink and drive!” “or Buckle-up!” or “Be faithful to one partner and use a condom!”

Fortunately, I explained to the RPF contact person, there is a way to help people cope with stress. It focuses on “building resilience” rather than “stress management.” The content and learning method is completely different. This design is rooted in Positive Psychology (click here) and Appreciative Inquiry (click here).

Effective resilience training helps people identify what they are doing well at the present to cope and recover from tough times. They learn from their own experiences and those of colleagues, as well as being presented with resilience tools and techniques. The outcome of building resilience is an encouraging track record of creating behaviour change. (click here)

By the time I ended the call to the RFP contact person, I was convinced that I had made a compelling argument to change the focus of the workshop from “stress management” to “building resilience.”

Today I received an e-mail notifying me of the outcome of their decision. In a nutshell, I was unsuccessful as my proposal did not comply with the terms of the RFP for a “stress management” workshop.

I then used a resilience reframing tool to make sense of this rejection. When faced by a disappointment or upset, find some positive, or an opportunity, or identify what can be learnt. Applying this to myself, I concluded that I would not have delivered the stress management workshop they wanted, and thus I had just dodged a bullet. With relief, I replied sincerely to the email that I wished them luck and hoped they achieved their workshop objectives.

What works for you in reframing your disappointments and building your resilience?


Reference: Kegan, R. & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.