Psychologist Martin Seligman has identified three P’s that can stunt our recovery from loss and undercut our resilience as human beings. These P’s sometimes come into play when we experience trauma or loss. Grief opens the door to these soul-sapping P’s. But these P’s also threaten leaders who experience failure or setback.
Personalization — the belief that we are wholly and solely to blame for a failure or setback (“It’s all my fault; it wouldn’t have happened if I had been more attentive, more present, more intuitive, more something”).
Pervasiveness — the belief that a particular failure will affect all areas of our lives and ruin everything (“This ruins everything; my relationships, my reputation, my family, my finances”).
Permanence — the belief that a failure or setback will last forever (“I’ll never recover; I’ll feel this way till the day I die”).
In her compelling book on facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy Sheryl Sandberg (Option B, p.16) notes that “Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t affect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them everywhere forever.”
Many leaders find their effectiveness thwarted and their joy diminished because these P’s have assumed gargantuan proportions or have set up residence in their thinking.
Of course, leaders do take responsibility for their failures. They should. But a failure, loss, or set-back usually also involves complex factors beyond our ability to fully manage or control. Similarly, major bungles will indeed cast wider ripples of impact. But we usually have choices about how far those ripples flow. Finally, the words “never” and “forever” reflect a defeated spirit (at least for the moment) but not the reality of life. Second chances abound.
Have these P’s been knocking on your door?
Sometimes it’s our very fear of the P’s that might stifle our innovation and creativity; fear of the P’s that quenches our courage and diminishes our vision.
Personalization. Pervasiveness. Permanence.
When we yield to these fiends that whisper threats to our souls, we retreat from life itself. If you are grappling with grief, don’t hold hands with these three P’s. If you are facing failure, look these three P’s in the eye and move them from center-stage. They are not good friends.
Resilience is the great hallmark of faith. We recover and we endure — with joy — because we know that the loss of the moment is neither fully our fault, inescapably universal, nor ultimately perpetual. The grace of Christ sustains us, heals us, restores us, and renews us.