Summary of Resilience 2011-2014

Summary of Resilience 2011-2014

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

What our Resilience Data is telling us

Below is a high level summary of what we believe you as our clients should know and might be able to use to support your people and build Resilience into your organisation.

1. Changes over Time: Motivated but Burned

The good news: since 2011 more people score highly on “my job is highly motivating at present” This tells us that your people are capable and engaged in the challenges you set them. However, this has come at a cost.

Scores for the following questions have decreased:

− All aspects of my life are aligned with my highest values (spirit)
− My mind is clear and focused (mind)
− My communication is clear and positive (mind)
− I stick to a healthy nutritious diet (body)
− I enjoy an unbroken, deep sleep of at least 7 hours (body)

And scores for “I worry about the future” (withdrawn) have increased.

The message is clear, people are more engaged in their work and programmes to help drive engagement are working. However, the associated message is that your colleagues are not managing and growing their resilience levels in step with their work effort. While they are working hard and are engaged, there is likely a measurable cost to body, heart, mind and spirit.

The question for you is how sustainable is this work style and engagement before these factors undermine your efforts?

2. Foundations of Individual Resilience

We looked at the range of resilience ratios – a measure of assets to liabilities in our resilience model. High resilience ratios indicate high levels of resilience. The following factors drive higher ratios:

− My mind is clear and focused (mind)
− I make decisions with confidence and clarity (mind)
− I am contented, joyous and fulfilled (spirit)
− I recover quickly from sustained stress (stress mastery)
− I enjoy vibrant good health and high energy (body)

Interestingly (and unfortunately) the first on the list in indicating higher resilience – clear and focused mind – is also one of the key declining scores over time. The data also shows us that Energise Body factors (exercise, sleep, nutrition and daily discipline) most strongly drive increasing resilience ratios. Spirit in Action and Train Mind also drive high ratios. If you recall your resilience training, these causal factors will not be a surprise. The message seems to be that more engagement at work does not lead to more discipline in maintenance of personal factors which lead to Energise Body.

3. Resilience Sinkholes

We also looked at the low resilience ratios and found that the following factors correlate strongly with lower ratios:

− I feel sad and dejected (depressed)
− My self confidence is low (depressed)
− I am frustrated, irritable and impatient (distress)
− I am tired and fatigued by the end of the day (withdrawn)
− I worry about the future (withdrawn)

Very clearly these are all factors from the death spiral concept of how resilience fails. It also shows us that depression is the polar opposite of resilience. With data suggesting that one in five people will suffer depression, clearly we need to face this courageously.

Practically, these results show in no uncertain terms the critical importance of training your people for bounce and building a culture that responds creatively to setbacks.

4. Resilience Training

Works When analysing pre and post training diagnostics the data tells us that Resilience Training works (phew!). All assets categories show positive change lead by Spirit in Action and Energise Body. The following liability categories show good improvement: depression, distress, vulnerable and withdrawn. There is less change in confused and disengaged.

The liability factors that improve most after training:

− My mind is really active at night (distress)
− I work late to complete things (vulnerable)
− I worry about the future (withdrawn)
− I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep (depressed)
− I feel stress in my stomach, chest, skin or shoulders (distress) − My self confidence is low (depressed)
− I am tired and fatigued by the end of the day (vulnerable)
− It takes a while for me to calm down after conflict (master stress)
− I consume more sugar, fast food or alcohol when stressed (vulnerable)

Training in Bounce and Stress Mastery modules are primary factors in helping people bounce back from adversity and focus on more important issues.

The asset factors that improve most after training:

− My work is calm, organised and easily manageable (master stress)
− I stick to a healthy nutritious diet (energise body)
− I am well tuned to signs and feelings of stress (master stress)
− I enjoy an unbroken, deep sleep of at least 7 hours (energise body)
− I take at least 10 minutes to relax each day (master stress)
− I have an annual health assessment (energise body)
− I exercise at least five days a week (energise body)

Clearly, our Stress mastery and Engerise Body modules have the most impact on individual questionnaire scores.

5. Global Patterns

While there are no major differences across the continents and countries, we did discover that:

a) Females have higher scores in liabilities than males – mostly in confused, distress and depressed. Males and females are similar in assets.
b) There is an increase in asset scores with age. All asset categories except engage emotions show significant increases with age.

Perhaps that is a good note to end on. If resilience scores increase with age it is clearly learnable. Why not get started early and reap the benefits.


  • Resilience Institute Training effectively improves 16 factors of resilience
  • Body and mind are key factors for high levels of resilience
  • Depression is a real risk to resilience
  • Resilience can be learned and is increasingly critical to productivity

If you would like one of our consultants to meet with you to explore these findings in more depth please let us know. In particular we are working to deepen our own understanding of the following key areas to reinforce resilience training in pragmatic and targeted ways:

  • Can organisations that have improved engagement scores for their employees leverage similar techniques and programs to improve the resilience of their employees, enabling them to cope with heightened engagement and implications for work pace and hours?
  • Is there an achievable balance that can help organisations both manage and measure the balance between engagement and resilience for sustainable performance improvement – at an individual and organisation level?
  • Are there tools and techniques to empower individuals to maintain and grow their resilience capabilities, and can these be made available in a costeffective and attractive way? We are working on examples from overseas and the recent acceleration in the “Measure Me” sphere to explore the practical and meaningful opportunities.

We will be using this data to enable a more strategic engagement with clients who really want to explore what sustainable high performance might look like.

What our Resilience Data is telling us… View and Download PDF

The Open Heart

The Open Heart

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

The integrating theme of Resilience is connection. Without connection, determination and courage cannot bring joy or a better world. We live in a connected world and we are better for it. The intersection of neurobiology, meditative practice and health is showing us the power and plasticity of empathy and compassion. With the festive season being a celebration of connection, this Resilience Insight invokes an open heart. The evidence for this is compelling and the personal benefits dramatic. Everyone wins – even business.

Open Heart in Context

As an individual your potential is vast. Humans can exist at very enlightened levels but we can also frequently drop into the suffering of the death spiral. Our Resilience Diagnostic model helps us map this range of human functioning. Resilience engages the knowledge, attitudes and skills of altitude.

An open heart takes us all upwards.

Four perspectives guide us to build Resilience: insight (self awareness), mastery (self efficacy), empathy (social awareness), and influence (meaningful impact). Open heart addresses all four – first, in the domain of self and second in the world of others.

Defining the language

What do we mean when talking about empathy and compassion? Empathy is the ability to read and attune accurately – an awareness function. Compassion is being active with purpose. Compassion is a motivated desire to relieve suffering and secure positive outcomes – peace, wellbeing, happiness and success. It has also been called altruism – the impulse to help others even at a cost to yourself.

In the case of self, the goal is to be attuned to self with acceptance and kindness. This is a direct counter to our tendency to be self-critical. Self-compassion, a term now widely used, means that we are motivated to relieve our suffering and seek joy.

With regard to others, empathy is the ability to read another person. We take their view. It is awareness but not necessarily action. Compassion is a prosocial skill of influence – the desire and ability to relieve suffering and enrich the lives of others.

On Empathy

Empathy is the ability to access a set of neurobiological circuits that allow us to focus on others, interpret physical, emotional and cognitive cues, and appreciate the point of view of others. This is a complex, multifaceted process involving disparate parts of the brain. The goal is to collect and process enough accurate information to feel with or empathise with the other. We can empathise with both joy and suffering.

Frans de Waal describes this as an empathy portal. For some the empathy portal is wide open. Others seem tuned out. If tired, distressed or self-absorbed, we may not be able to switch our attention to others. This is normal. Autism is a failure of the empathy circuits – portal closed. Men close the portal easier than women. Oxytocin, known as the birth and nursing hormone, increases prosocial behaviour. Delivered to the brain as an intranasal spray, oxytocin increases generosity, feelings of trust, eye contact, facial expression reading, and empathic concern.

Oxytocin also counters the distress reaction – and helps men empathise more like women.

Empathy goes too far when it becomes sympathy. When we open to the suffering of others research shows that it is deeply distressing to both brain and physiology. We suffer with the other person reducing our ability to take skilful action. We take short cuts to relieve our own suffering which does not help –or may even harm – others.

We can all learn how to train the empathy portal. This is the calm, focus and connect process we encourage at The Resilience Institute. There is evidence that intranasal oxytocin my help those with autism, low empathy and social anxiety. Positive emotion facilitates an open portal.


Calming allows us to cool the distress response and activate the vagal brake (parasympathetic tone). It prepares us to attend to others and protects us from the sympathy trap. Refresh between meetings, breathe out and soften your face.

Focusing is the deliberate switching of attention to the other person. We will notice cues in face, posture, tone of voice and breathing and let the other person know we are dialled in. Remove distractions, face others and direct your gaze respectfully.

Connecting is the maintenance of a two-way biological dialogue called resonance – a flow of expressions, movements, pulse, and breath synchrony. This is the connection we all long for. Nod, smile, affirm, stay focused and maintain your calm.

For some of us family hugs, regular massage and other forms of close physical contact that stimulate oxytocin activity will open the empathy portal.

In summary, empathy is learning, understanding and connecting. it has upside when used with skill and is a burnout risk if it collapses into sympathy.

Towards Compassion

Compassion, or love in action, is motivation to help in skilled and constructive ways. Sympathy is active but is neither skilled nor constructive. The neural circuits of compassion are very different to empathy. Tania Singer’s research shows that empathy alone can deplete us and cause negative emotion. However, when we activate compassion we feel resourceful and happy. The brain responds in a more healthy and effective way. As a consequence we help with greater skill.

The fascinating outcome of multiple studies is that a lifetime of compassion delivers what Davidson calls Olympic athletes of the mind. The brains of monks in the studies are remarkably more effective and efficient than most of us. Attention, flexibility, emotion regulation and just outright happiness are “off the charts.”

Singer and others show that novices can activate the early stages of this high-performing brain within a few weeks of practice. Subjectively they claim remarkably higher levels of wellbeing and happiness. Objectively they show improved immune function, reduced inflammation, improved health indicators, higher vagal tone, and improved cognition.

Interestingly you don’t actually have to do anything for others to feel the benefits. The research is based on people lying in a scanner and generating a desire to liberate suffering and bring joy.


Loving kindness meditation means generating compassionate feelings and intentions for self, close family, friends, and then to all sentient beings. From the perspective of measurable benefit to the brain, it trumps other forms of meditation.

Random acts of kindness are practical actions. Studies show us that we can “be good by doing good”. Leave the cave and help people. Resolve to spend a few minutes a day doing good – pick up litter, offer to help and say nice things.

Work for the benefit of others by crafting a career that makes a positive difference. It challenges our anxiety to be economically viable yet the personal benefits are huge. Conscious capitalism is committed to both good work and profit. The growth of the not for profit work is another option.

Even if we can’t influence our business, we can always strive to work with kindness.

Love Rocks Most religions have strong underpinnings of love. Doctrines of hate, violence and disrespect of self and others are fortunately rare.

However we get there, there is no doubt that kindness and actions of care are good for us and for others. The payback makes for a good business case:

  1. We do less damage to those we interact with and depend upon
  2. We do less damage to our bodies, emotions and mind
  3. We can savour the joy of being able to make a difference to others
  4. We can enjoy the subjective benefits of kindness to self
  5. We will become healthier and can make others healthier
  6. We feel calmer and happier and do the same for others
  7. Our minds work better and we can resolve complex challenges
  8. Leadership, teamwork and customer service are enabled.

Invoking love in your life

We are naturally anxious, defensive, judgemental and selfish. Invoking an open heart requires a clear understanding of the territory and the goal.

  • Empathy that enables learning and connecting is good.
  • Sympathy – too much empathy – can cause distress and is unhelpful.
  • Compassion is a desire to bring peace, love and joy to others and it works
  • Skilful actions that relieve suffering and build joy in self and others are good

Calm Presence (master stress)

Whether we achieve this through meditation, biofeedback, breathing or optimal hormones the first practice goal is a stable, attentive mind.

Self-Compassion (energise body)

The foundation is a gentle and accepting view of self. When attuned to our feelings, we open the door to impulse control and emotional positivity. We enable constructive self-care, sensible lifestyles and wellbeing rather than short-term gratification.

Loving Kindness (engage emotion)

When we accept and care for ourselves, we extend love with generosity rather than as a trade for favours. A helpful practice is to silently say “peace, love and joy to you” each time you pass someone in the daily press of life. love and joy to you” each time you pass someone in the daily press of life.

Skilful Action (train mind)

This is the call of humanity, our embedded altruism and the advice of science. Whether it’s a generous smile, tenderness to family, random acts of kindness, or heroic leadership is up to you. The call is to get started immediately.

Gratitude and Awe (spirit in action)

We are all part of a living planet. A closed heart will continue to destroy habitats, eliminate species and threaten human life. Taking moments to appreciate the elements of our natural world with gratitude and awe for the magnificent miracle of life on earth is the enabler of a noble path for our species.


de Waal F. (2009) On Empathy.
Singer T. & Bolz, M. (2013) Compassion. Bridging Practice and Science.
Davidson, R. & Singer, T. (2012) Emotional Life of Your Brain
Tough, P. (2013) How Children Succeed

An open heart takes us all upwards…   View and Download PDF

Strategic Resilience

Strategic Resilience

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

“Existence … is a creative advance into novelty.” Alfred North Whitehead, 1929.

Since our ancestor Lucy started the hominin line 3.2 million years ago, humanity has become a pulsing 7.2 billion population of creative forces. Today, Lucy would be over whelmed . Organisations at the front edge of creativity, endlessly redefine our perceptions, behaviours and lives. In this Resilience Insight, we look at why Resilience is so fundamental to all organisations and lay out a framework for organisations to engage with Resilience at a strategic level.

Evolution: The Human Resilience Frontier

How would Lucy make sense of a BASE jumper? Flying to a safe, distant landing from cliffs and buildings is an extraordinary achievement. So is an iPhone 6 and a billion websites. Lucy could not do any of this. She had neither the vision nor the capabilities. The base jumper pushes the limit of possibility. He or she is a skilled athlete with advanced technology. In our mapping of the human resilience frontier, achievement is on the vertical axis and capability is on the horizontal axis.

Organisations face external, competitive and technological disruption. The board of any organisation needs to know that the capabilities of the organisation are ready to respond effectively and successfully. Strategic Resilience aspires to secure four factors:

  1. Evidence: is work calm, energised, engaged, focused and meaningful
  2. Capability: human capital bench-strength of knowledge, attitudes and skills
  3. Leadership: model and embed the behaviours defining resilient culture
  4. Agility: fast, skilful response to adversity, uncertainty or opportunity

Aspiring organisations stretch the vertical axis to achieve their potential. They apply vision, adversity, creativity, trial and error, and sometimes luck. To succeed through time and turbulence, we must develop capability. We do this with learning, development, skills and experience. The human Resilience frontier gives us freedom to choose how and when we match capability to achievement.

Evolution is Occam’s Razor, deciding the outcome:

  1. Match the situation with capability and thrive
  2. Reach beyond capability, overstrain biology and fail
  3. Underachieve capability and be replaced by others To thrive we must understand and master the Human Resilience Frontier.

Challenge 1: Understand the Risk in Human Factors

Risk assessment defines four zones. We want people in the top right – capable and achieving. Those in the bottom left are compromised – limited capability, for many reasons, means that they cannot achieve their potential. In the top left we have those who are achieving but operate beyond their capability causing distress, increasing risk and shifting to bottom left. In the bottom right we have people who have capability but limited scope or engagement. They are likely to leave and distract.

Consider a world-class sports team. The goal is to be the best in the world. Selection insures a base level of capability and resilience. The rest is relentless training, monitoring and fine-tuning to nudge players up the Frontier toward top right. A player in the top left is overloaded and performance fails under pressure. The player in the bottom right is not adequately engaged to stretch their capabilities into new and demanding learning. The coach works to the Resilience Frontier – right and up.

Get Evidence: Map your Human Factors

A Resilience Diagnostic maps your people to this framework. This secure, 10 minute online self assessment gives an individual a map of their resilience. The organisation is able to map teams, divisions and the whole organisation. This is the evidence of where people are on the Resilience Frontier. It defines who is stretched beyond capability and who is disengaged. The results of the Resilience Diagnostic enable you to think and act wisely.

Challenge 2: Human Capital Strategy

Leaders must define where on the Resilience Frontier their people need to function. This is defined first by the strategic objectives of the firm (vertical axis). What do we need from the four factors (evidence, capability, leadership and agility) in order to achieve objectives? Good coaches are crystal clear on this. The analysis phase helps the leader understand each of the factors. For example:

  1. Evidence comes from your diagnostics and “after action reviews”
  2. Capability is defined by training and critical event management
  3. Leadership requires interviews and 360-degree competency assessment
  4. Agility is defined by testing capability in simulated and real scenarios

Through this process leadership learns where people are distributed, defines the training and support required, cultivates leadership that models and embeds, and can assure the board that the organisation is capable of achieving strategic goals and mastering risk. This is the Antifragile organisation. You prevail in disruption.

Challenge 3: Raise Capability

Targeted capability is the goal of Resilience Training. Once you know where your people are you can deploy the appropriate training and support. Investing in calming skills, physical vitality, emotional intelligence and mind training helps your people build the skills that underpin achievement.

Those in bottom left focus on bounce back skills, those in top left develop self-mastery and those clustered in top right become your core influencers and leaders. Ultimately bounce, courage, creativity and connection are foundations of organisational success. If your people can do this, your organisation can thrive.

However, latent capability is wasted if not reinforced, tested and challenged. As we invest in capability, it is critical to bring it into practiced skill. Organisations can be guilty of “ticking the training box” and leaving the learning to decay. Word-class operators learn and practice repeatedly over long periods of time to secure mastery. Leaders must engage in training initiatives and follow up with reinforcement, embedding and training drills to lift capability to the Resilience Frontier.

Challenge 4: Stretch Capable People

Capability begs for meaningful achievement. The next step is to design work that engages and stretches the capabilities of your people. When you get this right, your people move up and right. They achieve excellence. While they achieve, the match of capability to achievement brings engagement, satisfaction and experience of resilience in action.

The leader as coach must remain vigilant. Relentless curiosity, nudging, challenging, reassuring, rebuilding, and creative influence is the work of resilient leadership. Ideally, this matching process can become part of a high performance team. Elite teams are relentlessly curious about possibility, capability, skill stretch, state management and aggressive goals. They create an cycle of develop – test – develop.

This is the first pillar of our strategic model for sustainable high performance. It is personal. Resilient people connect into a resilient culture and secure achievement or human impact.

Challenge 5: Team Discipline and Resilient Culture

Successful organisations are good at disciplined action when it comes to budgets, supply chains, and service. We are less adept at bringing resilience explicitly into the team (interpersonal) environment. Elite teams in combat or sport can teach us how this works effectively. If we want to reach our potential as organisations we have to be fierce in embedding resilience into the way our teams work.

Resilience must be fully integrated in the living behaviours of your team. Do you see your team working with bounce, courage, creativity and connection? Teams must learn which behaviours are in and which are out. Hold high standards of interpersonal collaboration. Physical, emotional and cognitive discipline becomes part of culture and social impact.

To truly crack the second pillar of our strategic model a long-term partnership is required with excellent measurement and a co-creative process over years rather than months. It is not a brutal bootcamp but rather a tough love approach that demands engagement and excellence. People love to be part of high performing teams.

Challenge 6: Enlightened Leadership

Strategic Resilience needs leaders ready and skilful in facilitating the process. If the leader is not engaged or does not ‘walk the talk’ the journey stops. The perspective of Eric Anders’ 10,000 hours to world class or Jack Welsh’s 10 years to Embed Candour, helps us remember that building and sustaining world class results takes determined, tenacious and skilful leadership. It is not a weekend wonder!

This third pillar of our strategic model must be a priority of the CEO and needs board support. The cultivation of deep insight within your leaders that enables influence to operate at physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual levels takes time and skilled training. It will ultimately lead to profit and will manifest also as a great brand, sustainable impact and community upliftment. This is Conscious Capitalism.

Challenge 7: Agility and Training for Resilience in Disruption

Imagine a natural disaster disrupting the foundations of your business. How would your people respond? How would leaders, teams and the organisation respond? We live in a time when many are confronted by human or natural violence. With experience in the Australian bushfires, Christchurch earthquake and essential services, we have seen the catastrophic immediate impact of disasters. Perhaps more alarming we also now understand how common post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression and illness can be. The costs and suffering are huge. Recovery is tough.

We know from the frontline that soldiers, police, fire fighters, and athletes can learn how to be resilient in the face of serious adversity. We have had success in teaching people and teams how to bounce back from adversity. We believe that organisations must begin to plan and deliver preventive training.

If people understand and rehearse what might happen in extreme situations, they become far better at mounting a resilient response. Here capability leads to achievement in adversity. What research is showing us is that when trained in resilience the long-term consequences such as PTSD are far less likely. While 30% of soldiers returning from the Middle East have PTSD, it is almost unheard of in Navy Seals. The Seals specifically train to cope with torture, multiple bullet wounds and drowning.

Business today is tough, competitive, fluid and uncertain. Could we be more proactive in helping people prepare for the inevitable, unpredictable shocks?

This growing element of our work should be extended more widely. We can show people how adversity can affect them negatively and train them to prepare a more resilient response. First, they become “antifragile”. Second, they learn how to be skilful and effective in situations that would normally disable. We can learn to master crises and limit the long-term trauma to individuals, families, organisations and communities.

Resilience is very good for people. Strategic resilience is critical for organisational success.


Taleb, N N. (2012) Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Mackey, J & Sisodia, R. (2014) Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business

Organisations face external, competitive and technological disruption… View and Download PDF

Slow Down

Slow Down

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

Life is in hyper-drive. Our default is to go faster, do more and strive higher. Evidence shows we have passed the point of diminishing returns. We have lost our minds – and maybe our bodies – to overload and confusion. The solution is to SLOW DOWN. The payback is great – higher productivity, creativity, health, happiness and sanity. In this Resilience Insight we lay down the evidence, a pathway and practical suggestions to benefit from chilling out.

The delusion of busyness

For those of us striving to succeed, life is dense with information, deadlines, and activity is intense. Results from our Resilience Diagnostics on thousands of people have shown that the five top risks to Resilience are:

  1. Days full of activity and deadlines
  2. Multi-tasking
  3. Exercising less than 5 days a week
  4. Disturbed sleep
  5. Tiredness and fatigue at the end of the day Is this how we get the best from ourselves?

Let’s start with the Harvard Business Review June 2014 (p23) where Leslie Perlow shows how structured time off delivers profound productivity gains.

The research showed that people with structured time off were:

  • 74% more likely to stay at their current workplace
  • 55% more satisfied with their life balance
  • 38% faster at compiling reports
  • 25% more engaged at work
  • 31% more collegial in the workplace

At Boston Consulting Group thousands of teams across 77 offices have implemented structured time off. Has your business considered this?

The simple fact is that most of us are too stretched to be effective and we think that we have to try harder to make it better. This is insanity.

Space, time, quiet, physiological calm and a quiet mind open the door to success.

The Physiology of overload

“Are you busy?” This ubiquitous greeting triggers anxiety: “If I am not busy something is wrong.” Heart rate increases, breathing accelerates and adrenaline surges. “Really busy” is the only safe answer. Safe you are not! Busyness – or the anxiety that you are not busy enough – opens the door to the Resilience death spiral. This causes higher thinking centres of the brain to overload, attention to fragment, self doubt to take control, emotion to switch to negative, and performance to decline.

Imagine it is 4pm and you have a heap of e-mails to deal with. At 6pm you are still grinding away at “productive” work. Is it really productive? Evidence shows that your decision-making is only 15% effective when overworked and overloaded. Data tells us that the nations that work the longest hours, are less productive. What is going on?

Thanks to sport and combat, with the benefit of biological monitoring and blunt objective measures such as wins, losses or complex acrobatic manoeuvres, the story is clear. Calm intensity is the only way to secure sustainable performance. As we push to our peak, complex performance is compromised. It cannot last.

This curve shows us five zones of performance to a challenge. On the left we are in Condition White (relaxed) – low challenge and well resourced. As the challenge increases and we hold our state of resourcefulness we enter Condition Yellow (Flow). Here we achieve outstanding results. Our focus is calm and intense. All of our physical, emotional and cognitive faculties are available. Rejuvenation can happen real-time.

As we stretch towards Condition Red (peak) we start to unravel. Condition Red is fine for brief bursts of maximal effort but it cannot be sustained. Fine motor skills, emotional awareness and rapid processing fade. Errors increase. Persistence rapidly leads to Condition Grey or strain. Rejuvenation from Condition Grey requires deep rest.

In Condition Black (distress) performance collapses. Gross motor skills, judgement and execution of simple tasks are seriously impaired. This can be a freeze reaction where we simply cannot respond to environmental demands. Prolonged recovery and even rehabilitation may be necessary to enable bounce back from Condition Black.

The soldier or elite athlete is trained to recognise and master each of these states but most of all to know how to get back to Condition Yellow. Paradoxically, many of us living less demanding lives, find ourselves feeling maxed out, distressed and burned out. Few have the insight or mastery to manage and control the situation. Below we outline some tools to achieve Condition Yellow.

Biology of Performance

What Perlow, Boston Consulting Group, Sweden (proposing a six hour workday) and elite teams everywhere are doing is to create effective time in relaxation to fully rejuvenate. Biological rejuvenation allows productivity, collaboration and increased creativity. This is step one. We need rest time, sleep, recreation time and a relaxation practice.

Step two is to stretch performance without leaving Condition Yellow. This is much more difficult. Our goal is to reach sustainable optimal performance – the state in which we can achieve the extraordinary. Flow is a great model. Years of research have shown how to achieve performance through calm intensity. To do this we must be able to match our skills precisely to the performance demand.

Focus on three elements:

  1. The vertical axis of challenge needs to be clearly understood and stretched. This is situation awareness. Deep knowledge of the actual situation requires practice. We have to get into situations of challenge and meaning.
  2. The horizontal axis points us towards the precise skills (talent, techniques, drills and creativity) that will be needed to meet the challenge. These skills must be practiced in progressively more challenging situations.
  3. The enablers captured in our resilience spiral help us to craft the precise physical, emotional and cognitive states that allow skill to perfectly execute to the stages of the challenge.

Take the example of a golf swing. The challenge is to drive the ball onto the green. To do this we must understand the course, wind, humidity and lie of the land. Experts visualise a picture of the situation unfolding. To do this requires engagement of the planning areas of the prefrontal cortex. Visualisation creates situational awareness. Second, experts must rehearse the specifics of each element of the stroke. This is skill development. Third, experts must enable the skill into the situation by mastering the resilience elements:

– Physiological calm
– Relaxed and energised body
– Positive feelings of enjoyment and absorption
– Calm and enabled mind – deactivate prefrontal cortex planning
– Liberation into the flow state – this is where the magic can happen.

The more demanding the shot, the more relaxed and absorbed the golfer must be. Tension, physical tightness, negative emotion, overthinking and slipping out of Flow destroys the potential in the shot.

So, to apply this to our daily lives requires mastery of calm intensity as the doorway into Flow. We have covered this in previous Resilience Insights. Let’s recap:

  1. Take the necessary time to relax and recover – microbreaks and deep rest
  2. Get really good at diaphragmatic breath
  3. Apply vagal braking in times of challenge
  4. Keep the body relaxed and upright
  5. Cultivate positive emotion
  6. Keep the mind really focused and quiet

In our working lives this might include the following daily disciplines:

  1. Securing a deep, structured sleep habit
  2. Preparing for the day with exercise and a good breakfast
  3. Taking 10 to 30 minutes for relaxation practice
  4. Chunking up your day – different tasks, movement and breaks
  5. Shorten your working day – perhaps aim for six hours
  6. Every hour take a minute for relaxation and breathing
  7. Select at least two activities for deep Flow
  8. Start a conversation with your team on structured time off
  9. Test the idea of driving productivity from calm intensity

The calm intense version of you is far better than the busy driven version. Next time someone asks if you are busy, reply: “Busy? No, I’m relaxed and in Flow.”

Our default is to go faster, do more and strive higher…  View and Download PDF

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

The Reptilian and Limbic systems have a focus on survival. The Amygdala (limbic) sifts experience for negative stimuli and prepares us to deal with threats. As a result we are often locked and loaded in the reactive mode as opposed to the responsive mode.

Threat Reactivity

We have two options in a dangerous world:

    • Think there is a tiger – there is not one – get anxious
    • Think there is no tiger – there is one – get eaten

Those biased to option 1 survived as our ancestors. Bias for 2 was ‘deselected’. Hence we have a tendency towards ‘Paper Tiger Paranoia’ where we:

  1. Overestimate threat
  2. Underestimate opportunities
  3. Underestimate inner and outer resources
  4. Update our appraisal of situations with information that confirms our bias and ignore/ devalue/don’t notice information that doesn’t
  5. Avoid ‘cost’ and ‘play small’

This Negativity Bias sets the brain up to be Velcro for negative experience and Teflon for positive experience.

We focus longer on things that trigger the reactive mode – more communication between the Limbic system and Cortex burns this into long-term memory.

Positive is plain vanilla for memory – makes it to short-term memory but doesn’t as easily make it into long-term memory.

Hanson’s Responsive mode of being:

Avoid: (Calm = Reptilian)
Approach: (Contented = Limbic)
Affiliate: (Caring = prefrontal cortex)

Versus the Reactive mode of being:

Avoid: feel threatened or harmed
Approach: miss important goals
Affiliate: feel isolated , disconnected , unseen, unappreciated, unloved

Mindfulness skills allow us to focus our attention, emotion and memory on the positive. Hanson used two phases:

‘Neurons that fire together wire together’ to describe how stimulation causes the brain to develop new cells (neurogenesis) and new connections (synaptogenesis).

‘The brain takes the shape of what it rests upon’ to describe how what we attend to shapes brain structure. Good experiences, thoughts and memories enable a virtuous loop. This is similar to the positivity ratio of Barbara Fredrickson.

Turning on the ‘Cooling System’

Core modules of our Resilience Training include calming, focusing and generating constructive emotion or coherence. This enables effective thought and behaviour in complex and risky situations.

Hanson describes a heating system that activates, and a ‘cooling system’ that restores homeostasis. The heating system is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), which in turn is associated with sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation – including amygdala hijacks.

This system over-rides our Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC) mindfulness, pushing our attention, emotion, thought and memory in a negative direction. We call this the Death Spiral.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) has a downward influence on the structures below it. It is closely connected to the PFC part of which focuses on problem solving and decision-making. It is also the source of empathy and our connections to others. The ACC is able to turn on the cooling system and allows action aligned with our values and intentions. This system is also connected with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Hanson reinforces the value of our focus on diaphragmatic breathing, Heart Rate Variability (EmWave/HeartMath), and mindfulness meditation.

Taking in the Good

Because the brain is Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive – the positive must be made to stick! (think about privileging the positive – introducing a personal affirmation of the positive).

We can use the mind in a conscious way to wire the positive in – to burn it into long-term memory. This implicit memory influences our behaviour without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. Hanson encourages us to engage with positive experiences actively to weave them into the brain.

Discerning Mindfulness

There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

  • Small pleasures of ordinary life; the satisfaction of attaining goals or recognising little accomplishments; feeling grateful, contented, and fulfilled.
  • Being included, valued, liked, respected, loved by others; the good feelings that come from being kind, fair, generous; feeling loving
  • Things are alright; nothing is wrong; there is no threat; feeling safe and strong; the peace and relief of forgiveness
  • Recognising your positive character traits; spiritual or existential realisations

Steps for allowing the Positive to ‘burn in’

  1. Turn positive facts into experiences
  2. Savour the positive experience, sustain it for 20 seconds, feel it in your body and emotions, and intensify it
  3. Sense and intend that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply in emotional memory.

Unfortunately, our brain has an evolutionary ‘tilt towards the negative’…  View and Download PDF

Sleep Salvation

Sleep Salvation

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

Could it be that sleep is the most important factor in our resilience? When we look at wellbeing, exercise and nutrition tend to get most attention. Steadily growing evidence finds sleep to be a key factor in preventable disease, distress, wellbeing, emotional competence and cognition. We review life through the lens of sleep as the lead factor in individual and social resilience.

Sleep is in the spotlight

In May 2014, BBC’s Day of the Body Clock reported Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey scientists saying that we have become “supremely arrogant” in ignoring the importance of sleep. Studies are well reported in the media. The current expert text is 1766 pages. Sleep is a key action point for resilience.

Given the pandemic of diet books and the angst over physical exercise it is curious that sleep has received little attention. In fact, it has been a blind spot in our society. Culprits include:

  1. The dominant paradigm of productivity is that “sleep = lazy”
  2. The evening is a frenzy of alcohol, food, music, light and entertainments.
  3. The online world surrounds us with stimulation from multiple devices 24/7.
  4. Sleep deficit, unlike fat or sloth is neither visible nor explicitly experienced.

As an exercise, let’s assume that optimal sleep might be the first, rather than the last, step in being a better person and creating a better society. Experts encourage approximately 30 minutes of exercise, 1.5 hours of eating and 10 minutes of relaxation, a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Sleep experts tell us that we need 7 to 8 hours of well-structured sleep per night. Any less and the impact is quickly measurable. In terms of time, sleep is three times more important than the rest of your wellbeing program.

Finding the right view

If we take just a sampling of sleep research and map it against our Resilience model we see that it is a key input to all levels.

In short, when compared to the many things we might do to improve our health, lives and society, sleep is low hanging fruit. We can abuse nutrition and exercise far more than we can afford to abuse sleep. Short-term sleep disruption has immediate effects on our daily performance. Long-term disruption can be fatal.

There are only three scientific concepts to understand: S, C and U or “SCU”.

S – Sleep demand

Normal humans need somewhere between 6 and 8 hours sleep per night. Experts estimate that most are sleeping an hour less than we need and some sleep too much. Health and performance risk is clearly measurable when we sleep less than 6 hours on a regular basis. Health risk increases when we sleep more than 8 hours. Inadequate sleep disrupts human function at many levels.

As in all of nature we are distributed on a normal curve. A few get by with less than 6 hours or more than 8. Most of us must secure a regular 7 to 8 hours per night. We can absorb some sleep deficit with minimum risk but the debt must be repaid ASAP. Organise this into your life. If not you put yourself, your loved ones and your work at risk. No bravado. S is also for Simple!

Sleep in America poll, 2008 showed:

  • Working adults need 7 hours and 18 minutes to function best
  • 44% sleep less than 7 hours and 16% sleep less than 6 hours
  • Cumulative sleep loss per week is a full night lost for most adults

Analysis of 12 months of our data at The Resilience Institute showed the following matches to sleep issues:

  • Not exercising most days of the week
  • Multitasking and high activity days
  • Boredom, worry and overactive mind
  • Difficulty with impulse control

C – Clocks rule biology

Equally important to your resilience (health and performance) is to sleep through the right period of the day. A handful of genes determine each person’s biological clock. The clock genes run our biological rhythms – when you fall asleep, the phases of sleep, hormone production and release, immune regulation, digestion, repair, emotion, cognition and wisdom. The clock genes align with the daylight hours of your location. They adapt slowly to time zone change (our ancestors did not fly) hence jet lag.

Beginning with studies on shift-work and aircrew, we know that frequent disruption of your clock genes leads to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Even sleeping in a couple of hours through a weekend or a holiday causes massive biological disruption. Growth hormone, testosterone, melatonin, thyroid hormones, glucose, insulin, and appetite hormones desynchronise and those that don’t (cortisol) spike at the wrong time. C also stands for complex.

In short, when we disturb the timing of sleep we create profound and lasting effects. Starting with the trivial – hunger, craving, libido loss, weakness, memory loss, anxiety, infertility and illness – these progress to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Is that late night and sleep in really worth it?

Stop for a moment and consider how many people – young and old – are going to bed too late and stimulated by screens, pressure and noise. We have an epidemic of “bedtime curtailment”. Put another way most of us are permanently jet lagged. Imagine the impact on productivity, learning, relationships, substance abuse, road accidents and violence.

Even two nights of going to bed late can increase ghrelin (greedy) by 28% and reduce leptin (loaded) by 18%. With a 70% disruption of appetite, you eat more the next day, crave sugar, and lose your ability to regulate sugar. Over 40 long-term studies show that short sleep is associated with weight gain and diabetes.

No country has been able to crack the obesity and diabetes pandemic with exercise or diet. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place. Studies suggest that if we followed our clocks, we would reverse obesity, metabolic disease and diabetes. We must go to bed early and wake up early. Nature designed us thus. Sorting C will help us and our children desire the exercise and nutrition we need.

No compromise. Your clock rules your resilience.

U – Ultradian Architecture

We sleep in 90-110 minute cycles governed by the ultradian cycle. The first two cycles (10pm to 2am) are predominantly deep (slow wave) sleep and the next three are REM (dreaming sleep). When sleep deprived we repay deep sleep debt first suggesting that the hormonal, brain, immune and rest functions are primary. REM sleep is associated with memory and perhaps emotion regulation.

Both S and C are keys to U. We need enough (S) of the right sleep (U) at the right time (C). Those who go to bed late miss out on deep sleep and get too much REM sleep. When stimulated by blue light (screens) in the evening we deplete deep sleep and disrupt architecture (C).

Missing blue light in the morning causes the clock to shift west disrupting daytime function and the next night’s sleep (C).

Sleep architecture (U) requires that we bring all these systems together. The two critical points are wake time and sleep time. We flip into wakefulness and flop into deep sleep through a precisely timed combination of factors.

Enough sleep of the right type at the right times, raised growth hormone, testosterone, cortisol, temperature increase, and the blue light of dawn all combine to flip us into an alert and functional state.

Exposure to daylight, work and exercise (adenosine increase), melatonin increase, temperature decrease, and fatigue all combine to flop us into deep sleep. If we check messages, worry about tomorrow, watch TV in bed, turn lights on at night, we break the flop mechanism.

Anxiety, worry, depression, obstructed breathing and medication can all disturb the ultradian architecture, hormonal function and resilience.

Sleep slows Ageing

Studies show that change in sleep quality disrupts brain and hormones in a way that may drive ageing. Deep sleep, growth hormone and testosterone in men and women drop steadily from peak levels in young adulthood. Deep sleep is the time when we produce growth hormone and a good sleep time of 7.5 hours drives a clinically meaningful increase in testosterone.

REM sleep, waking and evening cortisol are maintained until midlife and then change rapidly. This combination of reduced REM, disturbed nights and raised cortisol at night combine to impair cognition, memory and metabolism.

Consider warming about 30 minutes before bedtime with a hot bath or warm clothing and then allowing the body to cool just as we head to sleep. This combination appears to combine with melatonin release to deepen and lengthen sleep. Many older adults now take 1 – 3 mg of melatonin before bed. Sleep is the first step in anti-ageing medicine. Optimise your sleep as early as possible but this research encourages a special effort in middle age. Sleep may be a revolutionary approach to resilient ageing – no drugs required.

Sleep in society

We are “arrogant” in neglecting sleep. Human sleep evolved over millions of years and is embedded in our genes. We are scripted to run to strict rhythms (SCU) paced by natural light cycles. When we disrupt SCU biology collapses. Yet we furiously pursue lives that flagrantly abuse our sleep biology. Think of all those stuck behind screens late into the night. A recent study showed 69% of adults check their messages before going to sleep. What about our children?

Consider shift work. How about the mass of drunken revelry that continues into the early morning – surrounded by adverts, fast food, stimulants and bright lights? We know that weekend sleep ins are strongly correlated with the peak of road accidents, suicides, heart attacks and strokes on Monday morning.

A wise society would take action immediately. This may well be more effective than smoking, nutrition and exercise interventions. Leaders pay attention.

Personal action

Prioritise your sleep. Aim for 7.5 hours with adequate cool down time and a strict wake-up time. Explore the optimal clock rhythm for your genes and location. Larks tend to need to be in bed before 10 while owls may be better at 11pm. Avoid all screens and technology for two hours before sleep. The science is unanimous on this. A cool, dark and quiet bedroom is helpful.

Use power naps to maintain afternoon productivity and go to bed 90 minutes early to repay sleep debt at least once per week. Exercise between 4 and 8 hours before bed increases the speed of falling asleep and deepens the structure (U). Eat smaller evening meals. Perhaps try the routine of warming the body about 30 minutes before bed and then encouraging cooling. A cool shower, cool room, feet and hands outside duvet, and no electric blankets might help.

Travel causes profound SCU disruption. Smart management of time zone change is complex and needs expert, individual fine-tuning. Some ideas:

  • Excessive travel will disrupt your biology – plan and prepare
  • Travel westwards if possible as the Clock (C) shifts this way
  • Adjustment to the new zone is slow – give yourself time
  • If your clock advances (NY to LA or London to NY) sleep early, get up early and exercise
  • If your clock retreats (LA to NY NY to London) avoid bright blue light in morning
  • Melatonin (1-3mg) before bed helps you adjust to the new cycle
  • If working or competing plan your travel very carefully
  • Avoid sleeping pills, alcohol and excessive food.

Responsible parenting

Sleep disruption in young people causes me more angst than any other resilience factor. The average family is in a sleep crisis – S, C, and U. The impact is global and tragic – anxiety, conflict, hormone disruption, metabolic disorders (obesity, high blood pressure), learning and memory failure, reduced impulse control, and reduced social skills. How many behavioural, lifestyle, schooling, relationship and health issues could we solve by guiding your children towards smart sleep? I suspect most of us know but are too cowardly to act.

The solutions as above are available and obvious. Parents and families must take on this challenge. In many homes this is the single most powerful act of love. Parents must step up to this challenge. Device and online addiction is a reality. Almost every teenager is glued to screens, messaging and various entertainments far too late. They will react emotionally to curtailment. Tough love is required.

Key steps include: make sure young people get exercise during the day, remove all devices from children two hours before bedtime, never allow screens in the bedroom, have a consistent family wake up time, and help young people learn how to calm down and prepare for a good night’s sleep.

A call for leadership The hypothesis is that sleep disturbance has become a lead factor in our lives:

  • Health: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hormone function and immunity
  • Productivity : social skills , empathy, concentration, memory and creativity
  • Society: health care costs, accidents, violence, and antisocial behaviour

Research is steadily accumulating, followed by leading opinions that is proving the hypothesis. It is time to act. The action must start with leadership. Ideally, this begins with politicians and public sector leaders taking a firm, public stance and funding the necessary communication and action groups to drive change.

In business, leaders and human capital experts must factor sleep monitoring, education and promotion into their organisations. All educational institutions must understand sleep issues in their student population and set about established good habits from an early age. It is a foundation of education outcomes.

For a complementary view, The Centre for Creative Leadership has produced a White Paper on Sleep Well, Lead Well.

For further information we have made one of our educational sessions on sleep available on our website.

In conclusion, start with yourself and enjoy the benefits that rapidly accrue. Be curious about the sleep habits of those you love. Introduce them to the material and simple practices of improving sleep – S, C and U.

Improving the way we sleep will have profound impacts on our lives, our families, our society and our businesses. All that is required is common sense, a little planning and some firm self-discipline.

Sleep well!


Kryger et al (2010), Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine

Scientists say we have become “supremely arrogant” in ignoring the importance of sleep… View and Download PDF