Simple Steps to Developing Resilience


Have you ever flown off the handle, and said or done something that you’ve later regretted? Reflecting afterwards on what exactly went wrong, you may struggle to explain how you could have let yourself act so recklessly. The answer is simple: the wrong aspect of your brain was allowed to assume control of the situation.

So how can you avoid letting your emotions get the better of you? Training yourself to have better impulse control is a key part of Resilience, and many pupils and staff have learnt how to do this thanks to a simple strategy called the Puppy, Adult and Computer Model. You can use this technique to identify which of the three different parts of your brain is in control at any given time, and what difference it makes to your mental health, general wellbeing, and success in life.

Let’s start with the Computer part of the model. Have you ever suddenly found yourself arriving at school barely aware of the journey you took to get there? That’s an example of the Computer operating on autopilot and carrying out the thousands of everyday actions memorized and programmed into the subconscious. Problems arise when your Computer has been programmed to respond with choices and actions which diminish your Resilience, rather than increase it. The good news is that you can re-programme your Computer, if you are willing to reflect on your habits and make the necessary changes.

The Puppy part of the Model represents the primal survival instincts which have been hard-wired into our brain from the times when we were cave dwellers. Think about how a puppy behaves when it feels threatened; it goes into “defence mode” – growling, barking, and even biting. Its overriding purpose is survival: it will do anything it can for its own protection, regardless of the consequences to those around. It acts principally on instinct rather than logic. Humans, too, still have this primal instinct for survival – fight or flight – and it tends to kick in automatically when we perceive ourselves to be under threat. Therefore, you are most likely to go into Puppy Mode when you are feeling stressed, angry or frustrated. You may even have “programmed” your Computer with the habit of always reacting badly in certain situations.

The third part of the Model is the Adult, and it is the only one of the three capable of thinking through things objectively and making rational decisions. When a stressful situation arises, instead of allowing the Puppy mode to take control with a knee-jerk reaction, the Adult can identify the need to stay in control of their emotions and react more appropriately. For example, if someone starts shouting at you, the Puppy could choose the gut-instinct response of shouting back at them, which only worsens the situation. Instead, the Adult would recognize the danger of being controlled by the Puppy, and choose an alternative, rational response, such as talking in a calm voice to defuse the situation or simply reminding themselves not to fall into the usual trap of letting their own anger get the better of them.

Another example could be feeling scared and worried about having to speak in public. The Puppy will take the easy option of avoidance, for example claiming they have a sore throat and can’t do it. The Adult, having perhaps been tempted into the Puppy’s knee-jerk reaction, will then realise that it is much better to confront the issue and move outside of their comfort zone. Thinking more rationally, they will focus on identifying ways of overcoming the difficulty (e.g.reminding themselves that they have done it before with some success or that they have people who can help them to prepare).

Once you start using the Model it will become easier to identify exactly when you are at risk of falling into Puppy mode and move instead into Adult mode. Even better, once you manage to stay in Adult mode regularly , this in turn becomes a habit that is programmed into your “Computer” so that it then becomes your natural subconscious reaction to difficult and challenging situations.

All puppies need to be trained so that they turn into well-behaved dogs. Similarly, humans need to train their brain not to move instinctively into Puppy Mode but to stay firmly in Adult mode. Making decisions which will result in better long-term outcomes rather than choosing the easy, reactive option is a key characteristic of Resilient people.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Model, you can access a 10 minute video-based module (plus optional exercises and support materials in the Student’s Manual) via the fully-funded DANCOP Beaumont Resilience Programme (until 31st July 2021)

Please contact for further details.