No, I am not referring to the 3 Ps of what is allowed to be flushed down your toilet (Just in case you don’t know, it is pee, poop and toilet paper. Although I am sure the toilet, sewage system, infrastructure and environment would see this as working towards building and maintaining a resilient sewage system

What I AM referring to is Martin’ Seligman’s positive psychology framework for resilience: The 3 P’s model.

There are many ways to cultivate positivity, optimism and thus build resiliency.  I’d like to point that asking about this area of development and believing that there is a way to do so, IS a positive and optimistic mindset, so before reading, take time to acknowledge that you already have some of that in you😊

In this article, I want to introduce the 3 P’s framework and explore how to use the 3 Ps as a go-to approach to help you cope through a difficult situation.

Although my focus will be on how to use the 3P’s to get through a difficult situation, learning and practicing this approach can help you build and refill your levels of resiliency by cultivating a more optimistic outlook and embracing a positive mindset.

Before I start, a quick word on negative thinking and thought patterns:

3 P’ing your situation does not mean to ignore the negative or to sweep things under the carpet. We NEED negative thoughts and emotions to prompt action. Many of them lead to and positive and/or needed action.If we were in a constant state of positivity, we may get so comfortable that we may neglect areas of danger, growth and opportunity that may be necessary for survival

Negative thoughts and beliefs can be beneficial for numerous reasons, including personal development, growth, and really, for our survival. If used constructively and in a healthy way, they can be what motivates us to be our best😊

It’s just that negative thinking  can often create a narrative that is worse than the actual situation, especially when thoughts get distorted. This can make any already challenging situation seem like an endless trap that affects your whole life – now, forever and everywhere.

We don’t want to  sit in them for too long!

So yes, we need a balance and to be able decipher when the negative thinking is conducive to our survival, and when it’s just a nasty, dark spiral to the bottom.

What are the 3 Ps in Positive Psychology and How Do They Affect How I Approach a Difficult Situation?

The 3 Ps represent 3 reactions (based on beliefs and negative thoughts) that we tend to have towards adverse experiences. By addressing and challenging them, it can help you create an alternate, more resilient way to respond to your situation. A way that helps you learn to better manage and cope with difficult situations.

In a nutshell, the 3 Ps are:

Permanence: The belief that whatever is going on is forever.

Pervasiveness: If one area in your life is not going well, this spreads to all other areas, so all other areas are also not going well and will be affected

Personalization: It’s all your fault What is happening is a result of your actions, behaviour, maybe even who you are

So. If you are in a difficult situation and you think and believe that:

Well, geez. No wonder you feel you are in a hole.

Put that together and it makes for a dark time!

These beliefs and ways of thinking can also lead to learned helplessness a term referring to giving up hope, feeling you have no control over the situation and therefore do nothing about it, sometimes even when there are options.

Although you don’t want to Brightside yourself, you also don’t want to think yourself into a hole either. Or at least if you are in a hole, to feel that you have options, hope and the capacity to adapt and/or hopefully get out of there.

When you 3-P your situation however, you bring awareness to these beliefs and flip them around!

Yes, these same 3 P’s that can lead to helplessness can also form the basis on which you build resiliency and adapt and cope with difficult times!

Just some of the ways the 3 P model can help you is:

The 3-P approach is also portable (you can carry it with you wherever you go) and easy to use as it comes in 3.

For more on Martin Seligman and his work in positive psychology, you can start here.

 Here is a quick fictional situation to demonstrate the 3 P’s:

A couple (Ben and Morgan) have been dating for 3 years and plan to move in together next month. 2 weeks before the move, Morgan tells Ben she is in love with someone else and is breaking off their relationship.

There is grief, loss. Big transition. Ben has not only lost his partner, but his entire housing situation has changed with multiple secondary losses i.e  the loss of what he thought would be (that he through they would have kids and grow old together), loss of security, housing, financial loss, loss of intimacy etc.

After a year of counselling, Ben decided to set up life coaching for additional support in moving forward,  feeling his thought patterns are what are now preventing him from moving forwar.

Ben shares the following thoughts:

“Is this it? Am I going to feel this way and be alone forever?” (Permanence)

“I have nothing going for me. My whole life sucks” (Pervasiveness)

“I know she left me because I was not there for her emotionally. I wasn’t a good partner.” (Personalization)

Now let’s take this and flip the 3 P’s:

After some sessions, Ben discovers that:

Now Let’s Look at How to 3 P YOUR Situation

*Note: The 3 P’s may not all be applicable to your situation, sometimes just 1 P will help, other times using all 3 together can help.

To get started here is a preliminary exercise:

Think of one situation at this moment that is creating discomfort and/or stress in your life.

I have extra if you need some ideas.

If there are several, choose one for now.

This will be the one you can refer to when I demonstrate the 3 P’s and apply it to your situation.

You can also use the situation I provided above about Ben

Got one? Let’s go!

Permanence: The (more resilient) belief (really, fact) that nothing is forever. There will be an end.

Have you ever had those moments or experience when you felt, “Oh, I wish this could last forever!”? Perhaps it was watching a great movie, attending concert, feeling the rush of completing a 10 km run, watching your kid graduate.

Then you realize that these moments come to an end.

This is because of impermanence.

No really, this is positive!

If things don’t last forever, and the good times don’t last forever, than so holds true for the not so good times!

No situation is forever. No emotion is forever-even though it can feel this way.

The situation may not go away or change, but your reaction and thinking can.

It’s important to validate, acknowledge and feel and release your feelings but when you catch yourself in the depths of despair that what is happening will never end, try leaning into impermanence. Even little bits at a time, to give you relief from the ‘this is forever” sinkhole.

This is where statements or mantas such as ‘This too shall Pass”, come from.

Even if the situation you find yourself in is lifelong and terminal, the moments of distress are not forever.

It can help to think back to a previous challenging time that may be now over, or altered, as proof that what is going on now will also eventually change, alter and maybe not be an issue at some point in the future.

Pervasiveness: Just because one or more areas in your life may be challenging, does not mean every single part of your life sucks (although your thinking may lead you to such a conclusion).

This concept allows you to see that just because one or two areas in your life are not going well, it does not mean that every area in your life is in the **itter. If you are prone to catastrophizing, you may find yourself in this thinking trap.

Wherever you are in your situation, pause those thoughts and swap “what is wrong?”, with “what is going well?”

If you can’t come up with anything, keep at it for a little longer and maybe ask someone else who knows you to point something out.

Try to find that answer within yourself…and lean into a part of your life that IS going well.

One tool that can help is using the Wheel of Life, which breaks down domains of life that exist for you/are relevant to you. When you are feeling calm and regulated, you can then rate each area (out of 10), which allows you for time and space to reflect and assess each area. You may notice some domains have higher ratings than others.

Here is an online interactive wheel of life

I once talked to someone who had recently lost their job, taking a big toll on them financially, emotionally, mentally and affecting the relationship with their partner.

After allowing for time and space to work through some challenging thoughts and emotional distress we leaned into pervasiveness. The individual realized that they had lost 20lbs over the last year (a goal for them) completely stopped drinking 8 months ago and had made several friendships through their recreational soccer team.

This individual was experiencing challenges in domains of finance, profession/career, romantic relationships, and turbulence in emotional and mental well-being, however on the “physical health”,  “social”, and “friendships” domains, along with some aspects of emotional and mental health, things are looking good!

By drawing attention to these areas that are gong well, it can allow you to continue to nurture them, feeling a sense of control, accomplishment, more positive emotions, giving you a greater ability to adapt and cope with the other areas that are not going so well.

Personalization: Not everything unfortunate and challenging happens because of you and your actions.

Yeh! How relieving is that?! It’s not your fault!

Yes, there are external factors at play too.

Although having an internal locus of control helps you focus on self-responsibility, personal agency and what you can do within your circle of control, acknowledging that there are things outside of your control (external locus of control), like other people’s thoughts, reactions and behaviours) can help.

Take the following examples:

You know that friend that never texted you back? Do you remember going over multiple narratives to explain this, often concluding that it was because you didn’t do “x” or because you told them “x”. You beat yourself up about it mentally for weeks only to receive a text 3 weeks later that they had their phone stolen and it took them sometime to work thought that, losing all contacts.

Or maybe that job you did 3 interviews for and then never heard back. You spent days going over and replaying your interviews, and then even questioning your qualifications and self-worth only to find out from an email 2 weeks later that they had to go with an internal candidate, but you were the next one in line?

If these sound familiar…. you might be prone to personalization

How to use this P? Here are some tips:

“Not everything that happens around you is because of you. You simply don’t have that power over people and events in this world”

Look, there are times when it is personal and if this is the case, own it, share it, talk about and make it right.

People who tend to not take things personally or at least not as deeply often have less cognitive distortions, or “thinking errors” (personalization is one of them) and therefore less self-negative talk and more positive emotions, which makes a positive mindset more accessible and comfortable

I’d like to add a 4th P here: Practice

By making a conscious, deliberate and intentional daily habit of catching yourself in negative thought spirals and then challenging them, you are training your brain into a new way of thinking. By practicing the 3 P’s you can slowly learn and train yourself to think more positively, build your resiliency over time with the hopes that eventually, the positive thinking mechanisms will start to be your automatic thinking rather than the automatic negative thoughts that have been taking charge.

Activity Questions for Thought:

Now I invite you to think back to your personal situation I asked you to use for this exercise. If you changed/thought of a new one that’s fin, just use that😊. You can again always use Ben’s (the fictional situation provided)

Reflect on the 3 P’s.

  1. How does the way you currently view your situation relate to the 3 P’s?
  2. Is there one of the 3 P’s that you found to be the most relevant for you? Which one and why?
  3. How might you use the 3 P’s, or one of them, to help you through your current challenge? What might you change about how you see/interpret your situation?

In conclusion.

(Yes, Permanence applies to this too. There is an end to this article!)

No matter what situation you find yourself in, I hope the key take away here is that:

It is not forever (permanence)

It is not a representation of everything else in your life (pervasiveness)

You are likely not the cause (personalization)


Whether you use all 3 at the same time, use them for a current situation or use them as part of a daily practice I hope you to give you a better understanding of them!

So next time you find yourself in a downward negative spiral, 3-p your situation!