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[Coaching Tip] How to Stand Back Up after Tragedy Knocks You Down


You’d probably agree that it’s easier to achieve levels of peak performance when life is going great and things are running smoothly. When working with your clients, it’s also easy to see the momentum when they are able to focus and be dedicated to their goals.


But what about when tragedy strikes? We’ve all seen and heard a story where a football player scores that winning touchdown just days after losing a parent, or watched a singer perform their greatest performance just after losing a nephew.


Yet for others, we may have seen or even experienced when tragedy has someone completely curled up into a ball, helpless, heartbroken and ‘peak performance’ has seemingly disappeared from our vocabulary.


What’s the difference between these two scenarios? The perspective. Though we all feel the same pain from tragedy whether death, divorce, etc. the difference between those that are able to stand back up after being knocked down is our perspective of the tragedy and the meaning we give it – specifically how we process the 3 P’s.


According to Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is widely considered the founding father of positive psychology, he has determined that one’s ability to handle setbacks and tragedy in life is greatly determined by 3 P’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.


Personalization: When we blame ourselves or put ourselves at fault for the hardship and fail to consider other external factors. When we can accept outside factors that may have led to a tragedy, we’re able to reduce the blame and criticism we put on ourselves and thus reduce self-suffering. One thing to remember here is “Not everything that happens to us, happens because of us” as noted from the book Option B.


Pervasiveness: When we think a bad situation applies to every area of our lives rather than focusing on only one area. When someone believes this is a devastation across all areas of their life, it makes it significantly harder to move on. What’s important to remember is that other parts of life can still be very rewarding, enjoyable and feeling guilty about that will only set us back farther and longer.


Permanence: When we think this tragedy is permanent. That we will never be able to move on. Once we realize setbacks are only temporary we will be able to improve our ability to accept and adapt to the future. Here it’s important to honor your feelings and emotions, but know that with time they will change and they will improve. Know that eventually, you will feel less sad.


While there are many great tools in helping overcome setbacks and increasing performance, undoubtedly we can learn a lot by Seligman’s 3 P’s to help us take the first step in getting back up after you’ve been knocked down.


Here’s a great exercise to practice around the 3 P’s so you, or your client, can move on again:

1 – What’s a bad situation or experience that’s happened in your life?

2 – Write out ways you think this bad experience is:

  1. Personal
  2. Permanent
  3. Pervasive

3 – Now change your perspective. Write out even more ways that this situation is:

  1. Impersonal – List reasons why this is not because of you.
  2. Impermanent – List why this will not last forever or ever get better.
  3. Specific – List why this only affects one part of your life.


To your success,


Jairek Robbins