Create a failure plan — When facing difficult times most of us just want to find the easiest and fastest way to overcome it. So our mind gets to work finding solutions. But what’s even more important to think about are the additional setbacks that we could face along the way. What if it doesn’t all go to plan? What if the solutions don’t work?
A failure plan is a strategy that I use with my clients whenever they are faced with big challenges or want to go after an “impossible” goal.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terez Rijkenberg.
Terez Rijkenberg is a life and executive coach, MBA graduate, author and keynote speaker, who blends innovation, productivity and mindset strategies to give busy professionals simple ways to have less stress and more success. Terez has a unique ability to make everything practical, to take abstract concepts and turn them into tools that empower people to take action. But Terez believes that it’s her intentional approach to balance work with time for reading, exercising in her home gym, relaxing in a bubble bath every night, arranging vegetable constellations for her son, and her unrelenting positivity and passion, that make clients from all over the world want to work with her.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Ever since I was little, I believed I would one day be the CEO of a large successful company. When you’re raised in a single-parent household, eating bread and canned sweetcorn, you either accept your circumstances or resolve to change them. For me, it was the latter, and ambition grew with every opening of a tin can.
When I left school — without the opportunity for paid university tuition — I braved my way into building my career with the hopes of a smooth ascent on the corporate escalator.
Apart from the expected ups and downs — I found myself making great strides in my career and was leading large teams of people from very early on.
And then things changed. I had a baby. My values, goals, and priorities all changed within a matter of minutes. But I struggled to accept the identity shift from high-ambition executive to dry-shampooed mom.
Granted the circumstances weren’t all in my favour at the time. With my new role as a parent, I was also trying to complete my MBA while navigating through 4-years of post-partum depression.
I realized after much therapy and self-coaching that so many people need a lot more help during these tough transitions in life. People need to be speaking more about these identity shifts.
And so, I became a life and executive coach to help others regain their confidence in themselves no matter the changing circumstances.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early in my career a mentor shared an adage with me: “the map is not the territory”. A leadership lesson to encourage me to think things through.
At the time, I was working as an events and public relations executive. A few months later, I lead the event marketing set-up of a televised multi-day mountain biking race in Inanda Valley, South Africa. The area is fantastic for mountain biking professionals, but rather tricky for events specialists!
We worked for months planning and creating the marketing materials. We sent Press releases. We invited celebrities. And our design team created innovative signs; race markers and huge steel-frame “start” and “finish” banners.
To make things interesting, we had budget constraints. But my team and I were not afraid to “get our hands dirty” (literally). We decided that we could be the ones to erect the frame-constructed start and finish banners.
The start for Day 1 of the race went off perfectly, everyone remarked on the fun branding and marketing materials.
We readied ourselves for the finish — which was planned for a flat area of land across the dam. And so, we loaded all the equipment in boats and set off for the other side.
But when we got there — we noticed a 200m walk on a steep incline to get to the designated finish point. Our little team, made up mostly of women, had to hike with those heavy steel frames up the slippery inclined path.
Furthermore, the leading cyclists, were already past the halfway point. We were now in a race to finish setting up the finish!
And luckily we did, with only minutes to spare.
But I will now never forget the lesson: that the map is not the territory. Even thorough planning can be derailed if you aren’t willing to see the actual landscape.
Here are some of my suggestions to apply this principle:
- Walk around and speak to people in your business.
- Visit your stores.
- Speak to your customers.
- Always show up in person to the challenging situation that needs to be solved.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My business is currently a one-person organisation. But that doesn’t slow down my opportunities for growth. I outsource everything! And will continue doing so until the needs of my business or clients change.
I love that I can empower and support other small business owners in this simple way.
I believe that knowing how to outsource and work with external suppliers is a skill that helps me to stand out. I can scale or retract as needed, faster than similar organisations can do it.
Plus, this also allows me to work only 5 hours a day and enjoy time with my family. This is how I consistently maintain a work-life balance, allowing me to show up in the best possible way for my clients, my family and myself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My husband. I used to look to him for belief in me.
I’ve since realised that it’s my own self-belief that will ultimately get me through anything. But his belief and support in me, especially when I was going through post-partum depression was the turning point that got me to where I am now.
His belief helped me to see the glimmer of evidence that there was something that I could believe in about myself.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I define resilience as your ability to get through any challenging situation. Underpinning resilience is self-belief. Some of us may have never (or will never) come across extremely challenging circumstances. But we can still build our resilience by building our belief in ourselves. Self-belief is the belief that if we are faced with any tough situation, we can find our way through, no matter what.
By building the skill of self-belief you will naturally build your resilience.
And when relying on your self-belief you have no need for any external tools or resources that will help you through. It’s just your self-belief that you can withstand the worst situations and still be ok through to the other side.
Some of the traits of resilient people — all stem from self:
Your belief in your abilities and capability to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.
The positive opinion you have about yourself and your abilities, decisions, and judgement.
The awareness to objectively experience and assess your own thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
Your ability to intercept your impulses, emotions, and behaviours.
Your ability to do or achieve your goals without relying on external factors.
Add to this the trait of empathy and understanding of others around you and you have a powerful blend of what I call “power skills”.
When experiencing tough situations, one of the default reactions that we all experience is to blame. We want to shift the blame away to other people or to the circumstance we face. This is a completely normal reaction that our brains use to keep us safe.
But in doing so we give all responsibility away. And as such we give all our power away. This is why we sometimes feel so out of control.
In the world, there are ONLY three things we can control: Our thoughts; our feelings and our actions.
And it’s when we can focus on just those three things that we feel 100% empowered to move forward through the challenging situation.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is the emotion we generate when we are faced with tough situations. The most important aspect to note about courage is that it is only ever present when we are also experiencing fear. Courage is the emotion we generate not to push our fear away, but to embrace it and move forward anyway.
Resilience is similar to courage in that both are necessary to help us through difficult situations.
To understand the difference between the two I would like to introduce you to a coaching model that I use in my practice. It is based on cognitive behavioural psychology. This is the model:
- Circumstances can trigger thoughts.
- Thoughts generate feelings.
- Feelings drive our actions.
- And actions create our results.
With this model in mind we can say that any tough situation we are dealing with is a circumstance. We don’t always have control over those circumstances, but what we can control are our thoughts about them. When we can realize that we can choose our thoughts, we also then realise that we can generate any feeling we want. And from there we can drive the actions we want to take and the results we produce in our lives.
Hence, when we are faced with a tough situation we are able to generate any emotion like courage, determination, resolve, just by choosing a thought that will make us feel that way.
Courage is a feeling/emotion that we need to keep moving forward. Resilience, on the other hand, is the whole process. Resilience begins first by becoming aware of the challenging situation. Then we must accept it for what is (as opposed to resisting or avoiding it). And then to intentionally choose thoughts that will generate feelings and thereby actions that will allow us to move forward.
When we are able to choose thoughts that will help us move forward in spite of what we are going through, then we are resilient.
Resilient people are just those that are able to accept their circumstances and choose empowering thoughts that help them to have the courage to keep moving forward.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Nelson Mandela. This quote from Mandela will always stick with me: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Mandela showed us, not just with his words but with his actions, that he chose to manage his mind about what happened to him.
He could have blamed many people for his circumstances — and would have been completely justified in doing so. But he chose to instead forgive and believe in the goodness of people. In doing so — he was able to bring the most remarkable shift to a country that needed it. And he became an icon for peace around the world.
But more importantly, he lived the rest of his life in happiness and joy. He removed the prison of his personal suffering merely by changing his perspective — by changing his thoughts.
Whenever we are faced with turbulent situations, we can blame and point fingers. We can even criticize ourselves for our part in the adversity. Mandela shows us that by leaving negativity behind, and choosing empowering thoughts instead, we can create lasting resilience.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
A few years ago, my husband and I started an MBA. We decided to do it together.
Some friends and colleagues cautioned us and called the MBA a “divorce-degree”. But we would light-heartedly return their negativity with: “those that study together, stay together”!
And then I fell pregnant.
And as first-time-parents-to-be, we were quite naïve. We thought things would be great — we would just study every time the baby slept. Parents reading this will know that this is an incredibly short-sighted viewpoint.
What we didn’t realize was that our whole lives would change. Our routines, our sleep patterns, our relationship and our life priorities. On top of these extreme life shifts, I also battled through post-partum depression.
Again, some of our friends and family suggested we quit the MBA and just focused on becoming a family (in hindsight this was not a bad suggestion). But we decided to go for it anyway.
There were 3 key steps that allowed us to achieve our goal:
- We decided not to change the goal, but rather the timeline. Instead of completing the MBA within 2 years we would complete it within 4 years.
- We divided our work down into smaller manageable goals with shorter achievable deadlines.
- We harnessed our resources and support by studying in the evenings and on weekends when grandparents could babysit.
To be honest it was still tough. But we were both so proud of ourselves and of each other when we finished with a Distinction pass.
And now whenever I go after any goal that presents some challenges to achieving it, I don’t quit, I just shift the timeline and create a more manageable plan of action.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of the toughest challenges I have had to face was going through post-partum depression. This time in my life was layered with new struggles I had to overcome, such as:
- Trauma of a difficult birth
- Lack of sleep with a new baby
- Self-doubt of myself as a parent
- Confusion about how to manage my business with the expectations of being a mom
- Challenges with breast-feeding
- Challenges with a colicky baby
- Resistance to being diagnosed with PPD and accepting medication and help
- Disappointment in myself for not being able to manage
- Loss of identity as a career-driven woman
The toughest part was dealing with friends and family who all assumed that this should be the most joyful time of my life.
I quickly realized that we, as a society, don’t speak enough about parenthood and its challenges. There are unwritten rules about sharing the realities of what might happen with expectant parents.
It took me 4 years to feel like myself again. I found comfort by listening to The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo every day. The principles she speaks about allowed me to gain back my own internal motivation and was the turning point for me.
There are many other types of solutions available to help people through difficult situations. Money, medication and external support are some examples. All feasible options based on an individual’s needs. However, I believe true resilience is built when we can also tap into our personal power. This happens when we take full responsibility for our thoughts and emotions, and when we learn to manage our minds intentionally.
This insight is the reason why I later decided to become a Life Coach so that I could help people overcome their own life challenges and shifts.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
There are two ways to tell a story. The first is to share the viewpoint of the victim. The second is to share the viewpoint of the victor.
In my many years of adulthood, what I have found to be true, is that when I share my history with the perspective of the victor, I am empowered. The opposite is true when sharing my story as a victim and the only one who suffers from it is me.
I have chosen to rewrite all my past stories as that of the hero.
My parents were divorced when I was only a year old. This inspired me to have a strong relationship with my husband before we decided to have kids.
As a 6-year-old I was sent to boarding school. This experience is why I am extremely independent and resourceful today.
The boarding school served us triangle jam sandwiches every day for lunch. This cultivated a deep desire to find ways to do things differently and always be remarkable. And, it’s also why you’ll often find me creating star cucumbers, galaxy popcorn and planet pumpkin fritters for my son.
I have a number of stories of my life growing up that have added to my resilience. But the resilience is only achieved by the way I now share the story. I choose to always be the hero, to always find the lesson, and use it to motivate me to go all-in with my goals and dreams.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Choose empowering beliefs
I felt like I had found the secret to the universe when I discovered that I could choose my thoughts. Like so many people I had spent some thirty plus years believing every thought that popped into my head like it was a fact. “I am not good enough”. “I am not worthy”. “I am never going to be successful”.
But, those are just thoughts. And thoughts are optional. There are no facts or laws written that states that we need to believe them. In fact, if we look closely at some of the thoughts we think, we can also find ways that the opposing thought is true too. “I am good enough”. “I am worthy”. “I am already successful.”
And if we can choose any thought and find evidence of why it might be true, then why not always choose the thought that will empower and motivate us?
Managing our minds is a skill that we can all learn and get better at. And all it involves is becoming aware of the thoughts that pop into your head, and then intentionally deciding what you choose to think.
This is especially necessary when we are experiencing turbulent times. What are the thoughts that you choose to think that will keep you moving forward?
2) Connect with your feelings
The second secret of the universe (in my opinion) is that the worst thing that can happen to us is just a feeling.
Imagine you were to do a Ted Talk to hundreds of people. And maybe at the end, the audience ends up booing you off the stage. That’s a worst case scenario and most likely won’t happen. But the worst thing about even that scenario is possibly the shame or embarrassment that you feel.
That’s it. That’s the worst thing. A feeling. Just a feeling in the body — like a hollow sensation in your tummy or a lump in your throat.
Very often we try and run away from the feelings and emotions we have by putting on a brave face, by toughening up. Or by seeking other forms of pleasure to help us forget the intensity of what we’re feeling (like too much Netflix, food or alcohol).
And yet this resistance to the reality of what you are feeling creates tension and anxiety. And compounds the negative feeling you are experiencing.
But, if you allow yourself to feel shame, embarrassment and disappointment it allows you to move through the pain, faster.
We can learn to connect with our feelings merely by identifying them in the moment. And then, we can remind ourselves that feelings are just the worst thing we can experience about the situation.
The goal is also not to fix how we are feeling but rather to be willing to feel any feeling comfortable in the knowledge that we can handle it.
3) Create quick wins
When experiencing tough situations most of us stop. We stop going after goals. We stop looking after ourselves. We stop selling ourselves. We stop our normal routines. This is a normal reaction from our brain as it wants to keep us safe and so we retract and instead try and retain our energy.
But this response from our brains is a primitive reflex hardwired from a time when our lives would have been in danger from predators.
For most challenging situations nowadays we aren’t experiencing an immediate threat to our lives.
But the ability for us to keep moving is important for us to get through the tough times. Stopping our progress and momentum is one of the reasons why we get stuck.
The solution is to create quick wins. Find ways to keep going. If you’ve lost your job then update your CV as quickly as possible. If you’ve lost a big client, then reach out to new prospective clients. If you experience the uncertainty of another pandemic, then maintain your health prioritising exercise every day.
Find simple ways to achieve something small that will generate a quick positive result for you and then scale those that work.
The ability for us to move quickly is not just important for results, but also to provide self-motivation. Taking control of your actions to create a quick win will propel you forward.
4) Act without ALL of the information
Uncertainty and lack of information is another excuse we all use to stop moving forward in challenging times. But what’s important is to act without all of the information.
Waiting too long to take action or to make a decision heightens our fear response and adds to the problem we face.
But action actually allows us to get more information. We get feedback from the results of the action we take.
One of my clients had discovered that he didn’t want to work in the industry he was currently in. But, because his whole career was centred on working in this one niche area, he also wasn’t sure of where he could go next. He was stuck and didn’t know what do.
Together we created a simple action plan for him to send his CV to jobs in multiple industries that he was interested in. He was then able to make a better informed decision based on the interviews he received. But his initial action was based on the information that he did know. And, because of it he was able to move forward quickly and from that was able to find his ideal job.
Take action with what you know and be willing to change and adjust as you go along. You can easily change your decisions as new information arises.
What always helps is knowing your vision for your future. What do you want in your life 5–10 years from now. Lead yourself and take action with this future purpose in mind. The clearer your vision, values and purpose the easier your decisions will be.
5) Create a failure plan
When facing difficult times most of us just want to find the easiest and fastest way to overcome it. So our mind gets to work finding solutions. But what’s even more important to think about are the additional setbacks that we could face along the way. What if it doesn’t all go to plan? What if the solutions don’t work?
A failure plan is a strategy that I use with my clients whenever they are faced with big challenges or want to go after an “impossible” goal.
A failure plan forces us to think about the worst possible outcomes and setbacks that can potentially happen. And then we can create strategies for what we would do if they ever happened.
This is a necessary step especially when faced with turbulent times because we are dealing with a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. Dealing with new uncertain situations increases the likelihood of more “failures” during this time.
By deliberately working through the failure list and strategies, we can realise that there really is nothing to fear. The failure plan gives us a solution for every eventuality.
Plus, when you’ve created a failure plan, you know exactly what to do when a setback arises. You have decided ahead of time without the need for overthinking and emotions to get in the way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to see “mind management” as more of a core strategic tool used in the world. I think most of us steer clear of mindset work because its considered “soft” and difficult to measure.
However, it forms a core part of the training of sports people for a reason. Deliberate practicing of a motivational mindset gives exceptional athletes an edge that no level of physical training can provide.
Imagine if positive mindset was taught in schools where self-doubt and lack of confidence starts to creep in?
Imagine if businesses measured the mindset of their employees daily and offered immediate support to help them build their internal soft skills as much as they invest in the hard skills?
Imagine if training your brain was viewed as important for your health as signing up for the gym?
Imagine if everyone had their own personal life coach to objectively look at their mind and then make intentional choices about what to think, feel and do?
Imagine if everyone in the world was able to recognize that our thoughts can be our prison or our freedom, like Nelson Mandela?
Imagine if we all took 100% responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and action?
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Elon Musk! I feel an affinity to him, not just because he is a fellow South African, but also because he is not afraid to have a bold vision for the future.
Elon Musk is a modern-day legend showing us that one man’s vision can advance our evolution as a species exponentially. A vision for the future is really just a set of thoughts and ideas. But it’s the catalyst for everything that he has created.
He shows us that anyone can have and realise a better future if they choose to think about what’s possible and then choose to believe in it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Or sign up for a free mini-strategy session on my website: www.terezrijkenberg.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for the honour!
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente helps cancer survivors overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Food Network, WW, Bloomberg, Amazon, and Facebook. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.