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Developing Personal Resilience

Updated: Mar 30


1- springing back; rebounding.

2- returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched.

3- recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant.


Abe Pollin was the owner of the Washington Capitals during my first four years in the NHL. He and his management team had selected me early in the first round of the 1978 NHL entry draft, and made me team captain in my second season with the Caps. A few years ago I spoke with Abe in a phone call that, unbeknownst to me, happened to coincide with an important event in his life. He was to speak to 800 people that evening, while accepting the Entrepreneur of the Year Award at a posh hotel in Washington, D.C.

Abe told me the story that he intended to share with his audience that night. As a 16-year-old in high school, he had been a pretty good athlete. He wanted to try out for the high school basketball team, but at the last minute he “chickened out” because he was afraid of being cut! That whole season he watched every game from the stands, knowing that he could have been there.

Abe told me he decided at that moment that he would never again let the fear of failure prevent him from trying anything. “I promised myself that I would never sit on the sidelines watching other people go ahead and do what I could have been doing.”

“In my life, Ryan,” he added, “51 percent of the time things have turned out all right, but I have failed at the other 49 percent, and some of those failures have really stung.”

At the time, he had just sold his portion of the Washington Capitals and a portion of the Washington Wizards for 85 million dollars! The point that Abe Pollin and I talked about on the phone that day was simply this: you miss 100 percent of the shots that you do not take.

Imagine Abe Pollin as a 16-year-old, just before he was about to try out for the high school basketball team. He allowed his mind to rehearse his not making the team! He made the suggestion to his subconscious mind that “maybe you shouldn’t be doing this. You may get cut, so why bother trying?” This has happened to everyone at some point. Most of the time we implode! We allow the mental rehearsal of the possibility of failure to overpower our ambition to accomplish a goal in an area in which we are likely to succeed.


1- We can choose to have a pity party with rehearsal scripts like: "How can this be happening to me?" or "Why do I always fail?"

2- We can allow difficult times to teach us new lessons, to shift our thinking, and to play new scripts. We can choose to practice differently.

People choosing to practice differently catch themselves when their minds begin to rehearse failure. They refocus their thinking to rehearse the solutions, actions or attitudes that will bring about their desired outcomes. People who are continually working toward increased resilience recognize negativity when it arises, rehearse successful outcomes, and then step up and take action. In the world of professional sport, we practice pretty much every day. NHL GMs care deeply about hiring the right coach for their teams because the coaching staff influences what players practice, and what players practice the most determines the way players will play! Practicing wrong equals playing wrong, and playing wrong leads to increased losses.

During difficult times, what is your mind rehearsing?

What does the coach of your mind have you practising?

What is our structure to increase resilience?

Both professional sport and businesses run systems and structures to maximize their team success. Why then, wouldn't we? In psychology this is called Implementation Intention. "IF this happens... THEN I will do..." If-Then scenarios are not implemented in the present when stuff happens, rather they are developed and pre-planned as a way to handle certain situations, should they arise. IF this happens... THEN I will...

In professional sport, we call the ultimate IF-THEN, our structure. When our opponent does this, we will do that. At our Centre for High Performance, we have built a simple structure to guide your internal resources in order to increase resilience. We call our IF---THEN Resilience Development tool the 3Rs, which stands for

Recover; Regroup; Re-attack.

1- Recover the puck, Recover our Thinking.

In hockey when we have lost possession of the puck, the key team focus is to recover the puck. In our personal cognition, IF our thinking gets highjacked by negativity, THEN we want to recover our thinking. Send me a note and we will discuss the "triggers" that we are using to recover our thinking

2- Regroup the puck, Regroup our Thinking.

Once we have possession of the puck, in a nano-second we assess the situation and decide on our best option. In hockey we see D-to-D or D-to Winger pass options, or skate with the puck options. In our world of thinking, we regroup with a nano-second scan of our current situation and a powerful brainstorm of future-positive solutions.

3- Re-Attack

Take next action. When our resilience is low, we allow our cognition to become highjacked and our actions, paralyzed. Instead, choose to Recover, Regroup, and Re-Attack. Read your current situation, recognize your best options, and move towards them. People with high resilient levels practice this 3Rs process and rebound quickly.

Choose Resilience

Resilience begins when we decide to take a different point of view in the face of a challenge. Instead of reacting with negativity: "I guess I'm a failure again," we need to stop making it personal and start focusing on the process (the structure) to make it better. I vividly remember the sign my Vancouver Canucks coach, Pat Quinn displayed in his coach’s room: “A failed project is not a failed person!” The onus is on us to refuse to allow difficulty to falsely lure us into thinking that we are the problem.

Choosing not to personalize problems is pivotal. This is not always easy because of the patterns of habitual thought that we may have previously developed. The shift from focusing on the problem and making it personal, to focusing on the solution and building a process to take next action, is the guts of increasing resilience.

Is it only me?

You may have heard the story of Richard Branson before, retold here by Mark Thompson:

"Virgin Enterprises entrepreneur Richard Branson has an obsession for simple and often outrageous ideas that have given his marketing the power to cut through the clutter of competition. 'The good thing about being dyslexic is I need everything simplified for me,' he says. 'By simplifying everything and making things clear to me, I can then make it clear to other people.'

For Branson, however, the biggest challenge has always been math. 'If I were good at it,' he laughs, 'I probably never would have started an airline.' He's used that line for years, but he's only half-joking. 'We run the biggest group of private companies in the UK and up until last year, I couldn't work out the difference between net and gross,' Branson claims. His board knew it, so instead of saying, 'That's our gross,' they would say, 'That's good news, Richard,' or 'That's bad news, Richard.' Bizarre things like that.'

A board member finally gave him a simple image that is now a rather famous lesson in finance that he has been sharing in his speeches for years: 'He said, 'Look, think of a big ocean and you are catching fish ... what's left inside the net is 'net' and what you are left with at the end of the year, and everything else, is gross,' Branson says. 'Wonderful. Now (even) I know that a net has holes in it.' "

Building resilience is never a one-and-done. Strong muscles need attention, focus and workouts to sustain their growth. Paying attention to increasing resilience helps us weather our current storms and pays off big time in battling the future storms that are on their way!

When we view life through the frame of increasing resilience, our personal bounce-backs are much quicker, and like Abe Pollin experienced, our cognitive highjacks are fewer.

I have two FREE opportunities to help your Performance-Resilience growth - Click on both and receive huge benefits from our Training GIFTS!

Saturday - 4pm EST/1pm PST

March 1 at noon pacific -

Would you like me to coach or train you and your team in 2021? Contact me!

Or speak at your virtual leadership, sales, safety conferences in 2021? Contact me!

Or train your teams during virtual "lunch-and-learns" in 2021? Contact me!

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