Rise, Phoenix, Rise

Rise, Phoenix, Rise

Easter celebrates rebirth, creativity and renewal. A man dies. A religion is born. This Easter weekend is a pivot for creative change.

A virus is causing suffering and death. Yet, compared with the WHO top seven (heart disease, cancer, injury, lungs, stroke, Alzheimers and Diabetes), Covid-19 is insignificant.

Our response, driven out of fear, has put the world on hold. While there have been 18,000 deaths in the US, there have been 16 million unemployed. Many countries are already in recession. Uncertainty is rife. Jobs, businesses and lifestyles will disappear.

Nature leads the way

Skies are clear. India can see the Himalayas. Water runs clean. Swans, dolphins and fish return to recovering waterways. Birds, including Tui, below, sing prolifically in our trees. Streets are quiet and safe. Auckland harbour glistens in perfection. Yesterday, a massive stingray. Today, a couple of diving kingfishers. Tomorrow, the dolphins or Orca may return.

Tamaki Drive (above) which runs along Auckland’s waterfront, usually a snarl of cars, motorbikes and buses, has transformed into a tranquil, family exercise venue. Families, couples and individuals from ‘our bubble’ wander all day.

Imagine a future where on weekends, cars are banned. Humans, birds and sea-life get to recover and enjoy some peace. Great opportunity. Who will step up to the creative work?

Easter. Phoenix rising. Shiva gives way to Brahma. Spring comes. The cycle of life.

We are in the crucible of transformation. As the old gives way, it is time for creativity.

Start with yourself

Can you feel a sense of relaxation? Perhaps a new rhythm in your day? Important reconnections at home? Maybe you feel the need for change? Are you asking what really matters? My top five creative focus points:

  1. Breathe slowly and smoothly; 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out
  2. Sleep long, regular and deep; connect your fitbit
  3. Get out in nature every day; walk, bike or if locked down, do yoga
  4. Counter grief with appreciation, anger with kindness, and fear with courage
  5. Be brutal with your thoughts; stay firmly in the present moment

Resilience is so much more than coping and bounce. It is growth, connection and flow.

Start with your breath, attention and presence. Inside-Out is available for less than a cup of coffee. Or start your Resilience Journey with an interactive dynamic Resilience App with assessments, recommendations, online courses, meditation guides, tracking and a chatbot coach.

Recreate your career

My wife has built her own website to launch a digital platform for her finance training. After years of procrastination, it is done. Traditional, workshop training – as well as school, retail, university and services – have already gone virtual and digital. Design, plan, digitalise and communicate your new offer.

Innovation is essential. You may have lost your job or your business. What are you doing right now to recreate a meaningful work and revenue stream? You have time. Use it well. Many gaps will open up. There will be a surge in demand. There is no time to waste. Execute.

If you are looking for a different way of working, isn’t this the perfect time to let go the past and recreate your future? Complete an online course, write, paint, photograph, network and explore what others are doing in your area of passion.

Realign your team

If you are still part of a team, make sure you connect regularly. Support each other to maintain optimal wellbeing and motivation. Brainstorm opportunities. Talk to your clients and see what they need. Come up with novel, timely and effective solutions.

Many businesses – travel, hospitality, airlines – have cratered. You may have lost many people. Get those who are still engaged together to re-imagine the business. Set up those skunkworks to break things down, mix it up and formulate new business solutions.

Perhaps this is the opportunity to refresh your board, leadership or teams. Who are the young, skilled and motivated people who can help your business thrive into this new world?

Community action

If you like the clean skies, waterways and resurging nature, what might you do to highlight some of the benefits and see if we can build them into the future. We are trapping the scourge of possums wrecking our trees and birdlife. What about getting together to have a “no cars Sunday” in your local parks? How about protecting certain areas from noise, drunken revelry and light at night?

The solution to our environmental tragedy is on full display. As we have seen over the past years, most people – especially the young – deeply care about our environment. We are running a stunning experiment in restraint. Nature is already celebrating. If you are a social entrepreneur and want a better future for life on earth, now is the time to organise, devise solutions, and get ready to counter the surge in consumption.

Please don’t let this creative window pass you by. The world seldom offers up such disruptive, rich and tantalising opportunities for deep change. Grasp it with resolve.

Be a better person. Forge better family connections. Recreate your life and work. Connect with those who share your passions and commitment. Make a better world.

Happy Easter😁

Rethinking Mental Health in the Workplace

Rethinking Mental Health in the Workplace

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.

Work-related mental health conditions are overtaking physical safety as a critical risk in the workplace.

The World Health Organisation says anxiety and depression increased globally by 50% between 1990 and 2013 (Lancet, 2016). In May 2018, the American Psychiatric Association announced another 5% increase.

Leaders are scrambling to address the issue but it is so complex that many choose to turn a blind eye. They feel incapable of creating change.

The starting point is to be clear on definitions. When the term “mental health” is used, it is often thought of as a person’s level of depression or anxiety and their ability to bounce back from these conditions.

Mental health definitions

Clear definitions can help us address and solve the challenge:

Mental health = calm, alert, focused, agile, decisive.

Mental distress = distressed, anxious, depressed, hostile, withdrawn or delusional.

Resilience = a learned ability to recognise risk, bounce skilfully, and secure robust physical, emotional and mental well-being.

Diagnosis Mental Emotional Physical
Depression Confusion
Sleep Disturbance
Digestion Issues
Anxiety Worry
Distress Symptoms
Hostility Tunnel Vision
Immune Compromise
High Blood Pressure

Resilience interventions deliver a 30% reduction in “mental distress” symptoms

At the Resilience Institute, we measure the impact of our resilience interventions using the Resilience Diagnostic assessment. Our latest global report reveals that training interventions deliver an average 30% reduction in symptoms of depression (with results up to 82%) and a 32% average reduction in anxiety symptoms (with the highest result of an 86% reduction).

With antidepressants having a 3% impact, and sleep 6%, it is clear that people need an integral and practical solution to their mental distress.

Factor-level results from a sample of over 3000 participants include:

Results, as published in the Global Resilience Report 2018

Enabling leaders to have more effective conversations about mental health

Our program, Mental Fitness, has been developed to help leaders understand mental health, have effective conversations and improve productivity.

Core components of the program:

  1. Understand the impact of mental health at work
  2. Taking care of themselves
  3. Have effective conversations about mental health
  4. Creating resilience in their teams

Available both as face-to-face workshops, webinars and video training delivered via the Resilience App, the content includes:

  • Defining mental illness
  • Symptoms and Signs
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Effective conversations
  • The leader’s role and boundaries
  • Securing support
  • Crisis management
  • From Distress to Flow

Mental Fitness introduction

Dr Sven introduces the Leader’s Guide to Mental Fitness program.

Goal Keeper: success made simple

Goal Keeper: success made simple


Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.

Nature as Goal Keeper

Through evolution, survival kept us honest. If you did not get up early and seek food, you starved. If you did not pay attention you became food. When you did not take care of others in need, you suffered alone. The hustle and bustle of living kept us lean, fit, alert and connected through the day. At night, we collapsed into deep slumber undisturbed by screens, beeps, lights and sirens.

Sounds perfectly beastly. But at least I would be thin, fit, loved and rested. Nature was our Goal keeper.

Today, glued to screens and carefully dispensed dopamine surges, we spend far more time in a virtual world rather than in the real world. We have traded nature, conversation, movement and nurture for gluttony, independence, sloth and loneliness. Rather than padding through the bush with our friends, we type, prod, swipe and click the day away. We can outsource the shopping, children, parents, pets, cleaning….

Sounds wonderful. But I am fat, lazy, lonely and exhausted.

Nature was our goalkeeper for the most of the 70,000 years of homo sapiens’ ascendency. Most certainly for the species before us. Play by the basic rules of nature and humans have flourished. We became fit, strong, connected, smarter and agile becoming the dominant species of our time.


Busyness as Goal Keeper

Since 1500 the game has changed dramatically (please read Sapiens, 2015 by Noah Yuval Harari). Humans are far more numerous (14 x), prosperous (240 x) and energy consuming (115 x). We have conquered and exploited the planet. But we are not happier, nor healthier.

We are fat, lazy, exhausted, alienated, anxious and depressed. We are devolving into slaves to dopamine hits. Consumption is our Goalkeeper.


Secret of Success

So how do those thriving and riding the wave of modernity succeed? They have learned to build a daily discipline. They wake early, stretch, exercise, eat well, meditate, connect and seek flow. Like our ancestors they are thin, fit, loved and rested. Most are very wealthy as well.

They have learned to create movement towards fulfilling, long term goals. Many use coaches. Some use their trackers. The principal is Nudge (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). Little steps every day lead to transformation. Today, we have to learn how to be our own GoalKeeper.

Our Christmas gift to you is complimentary access to our new Goal Keeper. Available on the app stores, Goal Keeper lets you quickly and effortlessly set, track and monitor the daily disciplines that will move you to your goals. Set one simple goal or define a program for the next six weeks and Goalkeeper will help you create momentum.

Goal Keeper makes this easy:

  1. Download the app
  2. Review the quick intro video
  3. Select the goals that will make you feel fulfilled
  4. Choose when you want to be reminded
  5. Track your progress and understand the connections

Download and register HERE:

Mental Health: a leader’s guide

Mental Health: a leader’s guide


Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.

Early thoughts on a new test of leadership

Read our updated Mental Health Leadership article here.

Find out more about our mental health training programme options and toolkit.

The pressure is on for leaders to understand and manage the mental health risk. This complex topic will test our leadership skills. Three forces of change are driving this pressure and they are accelerating:

  1. Mental health problems are becoming much more common
  2. Health and Safety legislation clearly articulates a duty of care for mental health
  3. The way we work today is disrupting our wellbeing – physical, emotional and mental

Disaster mitigation and physical safety presents a direct, tangible threat we can engage – identify, prevent and minimise. Objective, measurable and simple. We are making progress.

Mental health leadership is obscure, subjective and messy to engage – uncomfortable, complex and threatening. The prevalence of mental health issues is rising fast and we have barely started. Some leaders may question their own sanity.

In the past, we could say that “he or she has a screw loose” and dismiss the problem to a specialist. This is no longer acceptable nor viable. Leaders will have to get their heads around the topic and work out how to manage the consequences skilfully.

Increasing Rates of Mental Illness

With alarmist reports in popular press and solid science to support it, we have to accept an increasing number of challenging behaviours, diagnoses, treatments and management issues as a consequence of what is called mental illness. In particular, leaders must understand the range of presentations:

  1. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders (or adult attention deficit)
  2. Social anxiety disorders including Autism Spectrum Diagnoses
  3. Anxiety disorders including “stress”
  4. Hostility disorders including impulsive outbursts of anger and destruction
  5. Depressive and mood disorders
  6. Alcohol and other substance abuse
  7. Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorders, Bipolar (mania) Disorders and Narcissism

Basic Medical Overview

Incidence is the probability of a disease. Prevalence, more helpful, is a measure of the condition at a point in time. It is measured as the number of people with depression out of the population. At present, just over 300 million people suffer from both depression and anxiety (World Health Organisation, Depression and other Common Mental Health Disorders, 2017). This is a rate of 4.4% for depression and 3.6% for anxiety. Both are more common amongst females. Depression increases with age while anxiety reduces with age.

Remember that these numbers are based on strict criteria and diagnosis. When experts discuss anxiety, figures closer to 20% are quoted (Anxious, Joseph Le Doux, 2015) and depression figures are closer to 10%, with only half being treated. Chronic stress at work is closer to 80% (American Institute of Stress, 2017 https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/), with significant regional and country differences.

A Framework to Understand Mental Suffering

Over the 20 years of our work we assess resilience through both the prevalence of healthy functioning and unhealthy functioning. We believe this is a very helpful way for leaders to understand how people cope under pressure.

We group resilience failure under four main headings:

1. Pressure Disorders

Pressure disorders are primarily cognitive. They start with overload and confusion which can result in cognitive failure – disengaged, attention disorders and distraction.

Leaders must consider:

  • Excessive workload or complexity
  • Long hours, shiftwork and travel
  • Poor sleep, nutrition, illness and pain
  • Morally challenging leadership behaviour
  • Excessive demand, performance anxiety through to bullying

2. Emotional Distress

Emotional reactions follow failure to achieve or to connect effectively with others. In withdrawal, we feel isolated and retreat. In vulnerable we lose the power of positive emotion to motivate and fall prey to negative emotions of sadness, anger and fear.

Leaders must consider:

  • Been seen to fail or feeling as if we have upset others
  • Limited support and love at home
  • Social anxiety through to Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Peer group pressure

3. Mental Distress

Mental distress starts with what we call distress (chronic stress). This is most often identified with physical symptoms such as tension, respiratory, cardiac, abdominal or skin disorders. People feel overwhelmed by pressure and experience anxiety and worry. This may progress into mild depressive symptoms dominated by sadness.

Leaders musts consider:

  • Distress symptoms – body, sleep, weight
  • Emotional outbursts – tears, panic, anger
  • Hyperventilation – sighing, breath-holding, mouth breathing
  • Health issues may be present
  • People may present as “not coping”

Under pressure impulse control disorders, often associated with anger or hostility, are much more common.

4. Psychiatric Diagnoses

Depression, diagnosed as unremitting sadness, loss of confidence, confusion, appetite and sleep disturbance for two weeks is the most common. Suicide takes 800,000 lives per year and depression has a massive cost to productivity.

Leaders must consider:

  • Sadness, low self-worth, guilt, hopelessness and tears
  • Confusion, poor memory, decision-fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance – early waking and oversleeping
  • Appetite and digestive disorders
  • Irritability, anhedonia (loss of joy), agitation

Alcohol and substance abuse is also common and can present in many ways. Schizophrenia affects roughly 1%, as does bipolar disorder. These can manifest as psychotic episodes. Borderline personality disorder, narcissism and antisocial disorders.

Supporting Bounce

Leaders have a duty of care to notice when resilience fails amongst their reports. Noticing these signs and considering what one can do appropriately to stimulate bounce is very effective.

For example: at Confused simplify priorities and give people a clear goal. At Disengaged understand how to establish rhythms, breaks and rejuvenation disciplines. At Withdrawn, reach out to a person and be sincerely interested. However, a leader’s job is not to be a psychiatrist.

While a better understanding and skilful bounce reinforcement is effective, it is important to know where skilled help can be found. That may be through human resources, EAP, coaches, psychologists or medical specialists. Our experience is that many leaders do not follow up. When someone is referred to expert help it is important to know that the event actually happened, how it is followed up and preferably some measures on how things have improved.

Powerful Conversations

When one of your team is struggling with a mental health issue it can be unsettling. Be brave and meet with confidence. You are an important aspect of recovery.

Some suggestions:

  • Be clear about time, location and agenda – give people time to prepare
  • Be really clear about the boundaries of your role, business needs, and the time lines for recovery
  • Listen carefully and question skilfully
  • Affirm emotional needs explicitly.


  • Appreciation (thank you for meeting, your work is appreciated)
  • Affiliation (you are a key part of our team, we want to work with you)
  • Status (your job and contributions is highly valued and important)
  • Role (we know you have worked hard and enjoyed your role)
  • Autonomy (ultimately the decision is yours)

Compassion Fatigue

We are seeing increasing distress amongst leaders who, while dealing with demanding roles, are taking perhaps too much of a supportive role with team members who may be suffering. The world of work is tough. Leaders must remain strong and resilient themselves. If we become too involved in the suffering of others we may suffer what is now termed empathic distress. The leader takes on the suffering of the team member. This will render you ineffective as a leader and will compromise both effective empathy and skilful support.

As we deal with more distress in the workplace, leaders need to step up to and take much better care of their own physical, emotional and cognitive resilience. Implementing a daily routine to support and sustain resilience is essential.

Read our updated Mental Health Leadership article here.

Find out more about our mental health training programme options and toolkit.

Further resources:

View Dr Sven Hansen‘s profile and follow his updates on Linkedin.

Women Suffering at Work

Women Suffering at Work

Resilience Delivers Part Two

Read Part 1 here.

Forget the Glass Ceiling: Fix Resilience

Are women more resilient than men or are women suffering?  We see evidence of resilience in longevity, pregnancy, and capacity to change societal outcomes through education. Yet, our data, drawn from organisational life, shows women suffering at work. They are struggling with resilience issues much more than men.

We explore the differences, reflect on causes, and recommend action.

1. The Data Demonstrates

Based on Version 3.0 questions (even sample size), we see:

  • Male resilience ratios (2.31:1) are higher than female ratios (2.11:1)
  • Post training ratios improve more in men (0.61) than women (0.49)
  • Females have high liability scores – more distressed, withdrawn and vulnerable
  • Pre-training resilient women: correlated with vitality, sleep and nutrition
  • Pre-training resilient men: correlated with flow, situation agility and nutrition
  • Post training, female distress and depression scores improve markedly
  • Post training, female wellbeing and train mind scores improve markedly
  • Post-training resilient women: correlated with relaxation and focus
  • Post-training resilient men: correlated with focus, decisiveness and assertiveness

At a factor level, there are marked differences between male and female answers:

Liability factors by gender

Asset factors by gender

The lower resilience scores (and suffering) are driven by distress symptoms (headaches, gut, skin, muscles), self doubt and indecisiveness. Women also score lower on the key factors that underpin resiliency (bounce, fitness, impulse control and tactical calm).

On the positive side women are more engaged and positive, eat better and as expected score better on EQ factors (positivity, connection, empathy, insight).

When looking at age bands, younger and older women secure better ratio improvements (dominating men). Between 31 and 50 women secure less gains relative to men.

2. How Might we Explain this?

Whilst a sensitive subject, a relative deficit in female resilience must be understood and addressed.

Perhaps we can lay the blame squarely on men? First, they have little insight and second, they make the workplace hard for women. This explanation is naïve and unhelpful.

We could explain these differences by saying that women are prone to self doubt. Thus, women experience more anxiety and distress symptoms. Consequently, they fail to express themselves with adequate confidence and impact. Anxiety undermines action.

Yet, the tables above show that women believe they express EQ better, eat better, stay positive and are more engaged (less anhedonia, self absorption, attention loss and boredom). Actions counter anxiety.

We have examples of organisations where women have significantly higher resilience scores than the men. In these cases, the overall resilience ratio is generally higher (>2.25:1). Perhaps some organisational cultures support women better and let them thrive.

Woman speaking in group situation at work

3. Our Recommendations

First, please reflect on this data and ask the question: “Are our women suffering?” The key themes above have been consistent since 2011 over 26,099 assessments. If your women need resilience, you have a duty of care to pay attention and take action.

Second, begin the conversation and please measure the resilience of your people. If you know what is going on you can act with intelligence and precision. Support bounce, wellbeing and resilience and watch your productivity improve.

Third, consider whether safety, health and resilience training should be gender specific. Knowing the resilience factor scores of your male and female population can inform, direct and target your training.

Finally, resilience in women is strongly correlated with vitality, relaxation, sleep quality, nutrition and focus. We must support our women to secure these factors. However, it appears that women must address the distress and depression categories first. When they do, the improvement is marked. What women need is different to what men need!

Perhaps resilience will shatter that glass ceiling?

The Art and Science of Expertise

The Art and Science of Expertise

Written by 

The methodology for how to be your best is becoming a systematic science and art. With a number of new and complimentary themes, this article explores what we know and how to apply it. What are the main themes? How do we make this personally meaningful?

Expert performance can involve four distinct sets of players. The first is the individual. The second is the team. The third is teams with computers. The fourth is entire organisations be they military, commercial, sports or humanity.

Here are some key themes and the key references for those want to go deeper:

The Science of Flow

Over the past decades humans have made massive gains in performance. We see this in sport, extreme adventure, science, music, chess, military, and business. The gains come from applying this science of expertise. Csikszentmihaly[1] popularised the Flow concept three decades ago and Steven Kotler[2] has taken this to a new level. Now Anders Ericsson[3] has taken another step with deliberate practice.

At first, Flow simply described the state of optimal performance. Today, we are systematically mapping the experience. We now know exactly what has to occur in our physiology, emotions and mind to enable flow. It is indeed a magical state of super-performance liberated from doubt and fuelled by extraordinary changes in the chemical brain and consciousness. In Flow we can do the seemingly impossible – and it feels fantastic!

McKinsey argues that an executive in flow does five days work in one. The All Blacks and Navy Seals have institutionalised flow as a way of being.

At the core, flow emerges when we tackle a serious but meaningful challenge with a set of finely honed skills (expertise). The experience is so intense, thinking, feeling and bodily processes temporarily cease. This allows maximum resources for rapid, accurate perception, evaluation and decision-making.

The Science of Expertise

The systematic development of the necessary skills to enter flow consistently is new territory. This is where high performance sports coaching, military strategy and Anders Ericsson have lots to teach us. Deliberate practice trumps genes and “natural talent’ every time. Experts agree that Mozart, Einstein, Picasso and others shone not because of some magical talent but because they practiced deliberately over long periods of time.

Expert performances are increasing because we understand the process of skill development. It takes time – in the order of 7,500 hours. It must start early in life. It requires expert coaching and data-driven feedback. Ericsson’s recipe includes deliberate, purposeful practice over long periods of time, specific training objectives, quick feedback with expert coaching, razor focus, practicing outside of one’s comfort zone, and alignment of motivators.

Ericsson and Duhigg[4] both agree that developing the right mental maps (or representations) is critical. This is worth a moment to process. In the demanding and fluid conditions of expert performance, the pictures of one’s options must present immediately. In other words whether it is chess, concert performance, battle, sport or business, experts have mapped these mental maps into their long-term memory.

There is no time to ponder the question: “what should I do now?” You have to know that exact situation from memory – through deliberate practice – and all of the possible options available. This is the meaning of what we call situation awareness. Because you have practiced the situation so many times, you can feel the right option intuitively. Working memory (thinking) is just too slow and too expensive. Top Gun, the Navy Fighter initiative, did this by drilling pilots in specific dogfight situations followed by detailed debriefs. Again and again they learned how specific situations unfold and how to respond intuitively. This transformed the Navy’s performance in Vietnam and has become the template for US military campaigns.

The applications of this idea are huge from parenting and education through to business and the professions. The more we practice for novel situations and enrich long term memory with different options, the better we will become. These mental maps must include physical, emotional and cognitive elements.

The Science of High Performing Teams

Geoff Colvin[5] and Charles Duhigg converge on a definite shift in research on what drives team performance. The message is crisp. Intelligence, expertise and style are not correlated with team performance. Empathy or social awareness is categorically the best predictor of who will contribute to team performance. Both MIT and Google have contributed to this work showing that it is the teams that interact face-to-face with high emotional sensitivity that deliver the goods.

Further they suggest that short burst communication, evenly distributed around the team characterise a high performing team. Imagine what happens when the deliberate practice of empathy is combined with the tools to work in this way. Then what when we apply team flow to deliberate practice and after-action reviews.

The final frontier is where excellent teams interface with excellent technology. Already teams of chess players collaborate with computers to be the best chess “players” in the world. It is time to ask yourself how you might work with emergent technology to expand and develop your career.

Resilience in Body, Heart and Mind

Expert performance must rest on a foundation of Resilience. The entire range of expert performance is no longer the domain of intellect. The possibility of flow depends upon our will to cultivate resilience in a systematic way. Be fit enough to keep the brain plastic, sleep long enough to activate empathy and social intelligence, and learn how to create meaning and passion on a daily basis.

We know that children who learn to develop their impulse control, empathy and physical wellbeing are far more likely to excel. As Anders Ericsson pleads, we are becoming Homo Exercens – the practicing human. Start early, support everyone and back yourself.


[1] Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Good Business, 2003

[2] Steven Kotler, Rise of Superman, 2014

[3] Anders Ericsson, Peak, 2016

[4] Charles Duhigg, Smarter, Faster, Better, 2016

[5] Geoff Colvin, Humans are Underrated, 2015