Resilience Spiral

Hover over the spiral to view definitions

The resilience diagnostic and developmental framework

Our spiral seeks to describe the richness of states and stages we experience throughout our lives. It offers a map to understand and master ourselves first.  Second, it helps us understand and influence others.

The lower half describes the progressive failure of resilience. This is what the philosophers call suffering, or dukkha. As you slide down the spiral, you lose altitude. Mind, then emotion, and then body fail progressively. To be on the lower rungs is a sorry situation. Seeing this will encourage you upwards.

The top half shows how to gain biological altitude in a proposed order of progression. The right-hand side descriptions map the experience of an individual at each level. The left-hand side describes the organisation or group experience. Life energy expands, and choices and freedom increase. You learn to fly high. It is a good state to be in and we naturally want more of it.

Remember, life is always a mixed experience. Even in flow, we have to deal with difficulty. In the worst adversity there is always hope and gratitude.

Master Stress

This is the ability to recognise threats to our resilience, to bounce quickly, and to regain a calm, engaged state: coherence. Building on Bounce, we wake up to ourselves and build the base for growth and success.

We can all be much better at this. The discombobulation of an ever accelerating and uncertain society, has captured most of us in a degree of vulnerability, distress and despair.  There are so many ways to escape this suffering. To be calm, alert, engaged and present is a huge plus.

Energise Body

Here we build energy, strength and flexibility. The body is complex and self-regulating. It follows laws of physics, chemistry and biology but the body changes and develops with the right training. We can achieve quick, powerful gains in resilience. Left to run riot on bad habits, in time it will self-destruct. We ignore it at our peril.

The body is our organ of perception, using the five senses of taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell. It is the canvas of emotion and a context for thought. The body communicates and receives the richness of social interaction. The global healthcare crisis is a failure at this level. We can take responsibility for practices that extend and enhance a healthy, productive life. Simple steps = rapid movement up.

Engage Emotion

This level embraces the awareness, regulation and alignment of our emotions with what we seek to achieve. Emotion (EQ, emotional quotient, or emotional intelligence) is an old idea reawakened. Emotion was neglected for most of the 20th century. It has been a surprising revelation that the gushy, ‘soft’ world of emotion is, in fact, a crucial determinant of our ability to thrive and perform.

Emotion is central to alertness, attention, creativity, decision-making and execution. As poets know and science now demonstrates, the heart leads. When the links between emotion and the executive brain are destroyed, a person drifts into chaos, unable to make effective decisions about personal wellbeing, activities or relationships.

Emotion is the most neglected aspect of our being causing most suffering. We have been designed not to be aware of emotion, so this is a particularly challenging component. However, the payback from small wins is huge.

Train Mind

Mind embraces the world of thoughts, attention, attitude and decision. It cannot be separated from emotion. We work with both emotion and mind in bounce, courage, connection and creativity.

The higher functions of mind, intellect and creativity can operate only through the older and more primitive structures of the brain. Even the purest thought is brought into being with the assistance of animal instinct and a complex emotional milieu. Small shifts in physical and emotional state can cause wild fluctuations in the performance of mind.

Proving to be surprisingly plastic, the brain gives us enormous scope for self-improvement. The cognitive decline of ageing can be slowed. Many functions within the brain can be improved throughout life.

Spirit in Action

Spirit embrace meaning and joy through practices to craft awareness, presence and resonance into life. We recognise times when it all comes together and we achieve peak experiences. This may be in nature, on stage, in sport, at work, on canvas or in contemplation. These are the times that body, heart and mind work together to achieve, relate or experience in extraordinary ways.

In these times we are able to measure positive changes in blood pressure, pulse, immunity and hormones. The emotions felt are positive and the mind is measured as calm, focused, synchronised and full of happy chemicals.

Antonio Damasio uses the metaphor of the actress about to step through the curtains into the light of her first gala performance. It is in these moments that we feel the full alignment of self: our preparation and the challenge emerge as spiritual. We can participate in life with the lights of consciousness ablaze to show the way. These flow states have been extensively studied. From inside-out, body, heart, mind and spirit align and engage. It is a good altitude to set your sights on.

Practical Application of the Model

Simplifying the model down to the basics allows us to explore it from four clear perspectives: insight, mastery, empathy and influence. Each perspective is an opportunity for specific and lifelong practice. These are the keys to a good life, successful work and leadership, a good marriage and good parenting.

Let’s understand the basics of each lens.


Insight, which is also referred to as self-awareness, self-knowledge or mindsight, is the ability to look inwards and sense ourselves in action. This can be both in the moment and over time. The question to ask of ourselves is, “Where am I on the spiral?” As we will learn, we can all improve our ability to sense our breathing, heart rate, posture, energy levels, emotions, thoughts and consciousness.


Mastery, or self-regulation, is the ability to know what to do to improve your position and how to do it. The question to ask is, “What do I need to do to calm myself?” You can replace ‘calm’ with ‘energise’, ‘engage emotion’, ‘train my mind’. Then we need to work on speed of mastery.


Empathy, or social awareness, is the ability to tune in to those around us. The question is, “How does this look or feel to her/him/them?” Frans de Waal describes the empathy portal as a neural system that we can open or close. Closely related is situational awareness, which is the ability to sense and understand the context within which action happens — human, technical and kinetic. Experts in every field become accomplished at this.


Influence, social skill or leadership is the ability to interact in a way that helps others be happier, healthier and successful. The question to ask is, “How do we behave in a way that he/she feels respected, cared for and enabled?”

Simple to understand. Devilishly difficult to master on a consistent basis. The earlier we start, the more skilful we become. It is never too late. Each lens requires effort, energy and skill. To be resilient over time we have to build our fitness for resilience. For example:

At first we have no idea that we have slumped in the chair during a meeting. As the body slumps, we feel tired and despondent. This sends a ‘closed’ signal to others. We do not appear engaged and it is tough to influence constructively. Leadership development at this level requires that we devote energy to a series of steps. Energy is limited so we might work in small steps. Ideally, we would have insight switched on and would notice our posture slump. Immediately we would correct our posture, lengthening the spine and opening the shoulders. This takes physical/muscular effort, but we will immediately feel better. From the open posture it is easier to attend fully to others — and they notice this immediately. In fact, within minutes testosterone increases and cortisol reduces. You are more energised, focused, confident and relaxed. Your impact on others is positive.

Building Resilience

Just as an athlete must build the basics of flexibility, strength, endurance, balance and speed, so we need to build the capacity to hold the lenses and skills of insight, mastery, empathy and influence.

We see people with huge energy and passion and contrast them with those who wither from novelty. We have all had times when life is firing on all cylinders. We bound out of bed, engage in daily tasks with enthusiasm, tackle difficult issues, enjoy wonderful connections with others and generally have a superbly good time. At these times creativity, decision-making and execution come easily.

What next?

The book Inside-Out, the online Your Resilience Journey and our workplace resilience programs will help you learn what works, train you in the practices of resilience and encourage you to develop your own daily routines. Enjoy the adventure of clambering up the resilience spiral and finding the confidence and the energy that is waiting for you at higher altitudes.