How to Get out of the Downward Death Spiral of Doom

Note:  Last week I blogged for Engage at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit (you can see all posts here).  Maybe my favorite speaker at the Summit was Henry Cloud.


Throughout the year I have the privilege of facilitating some of the online courses through LIFT (Leadership Institute for Transformation) that’s part of Engage.

Let’s be clear… I just facilitate discussions where participants interact with material presented.  But the teachers?? Holy Buckets!  They are world class!   LIFT has gathered teaching from the best communicators around the country and Henry Cloud is one of them.  I love his LIFT class, Leading for Results which is based on his book, Integrity.  He is just so darn practical!

Friday afternoon at the Leadership Summit, Henry walked on stage with his signature greeting,  “Hey guys!”

He went on to say why he likes leaders (smart move with this audience!).

He said, “Leaders don’t blame.  They take stewardship of what God has given them.  Leaders do hard things.”

But the hardest thing a leader does is to lead him or herself.

Leaders are used to being in control.  Used to being able to predict if they do A, B will happen.  One day they get in a situation where they realize they can’t control of the circumstances around them.

The brain begins to change when you are out of control of circumstances in the way you interpret them.  This is when a downward spiral begins and the key is how leaders handle it.

Cloud says there are Three P’s that happen when there’s a downward spiral not handled well.

1.  Personal (the brain begins to interpret the situation in a personal way.  “This is because I’m not good enough, they don’t like me….”)

2.  Pervasive (It extrapolates into all areas of life and everything seems bad)

3.  Permanent (We think it will always be the same.  It will never change)

Psychologists refer to this as “Learned Helplessness”

Our challenge, according to Cloud, is to

Reverse the three P’s

1.  Log the personal and pervasive thoughts and dispute them.  Write down the terrible things you’re thinking about yourself and dispute it with Scripture and facts. It’s not pervasive.  Look at the whole picture.

2.  Make two columns – what you can control and what you can’t control. Make a list of what you can do.  Everyone has control of something.  Matthew 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Every day has its own problems.”

3. Connect.  Our brain lives on oxygen, glucose, and relationships.  The opposite of bad isn’t good, it’s love in relationship. Scientists did a test with monkeys in cage, making them crazy with noise and lights.  When they put the monkey’s buddy in the cage with them their stress level was reduced by 50%.  The moral?  Get a good monkey buddy (or maybe a real person).

I love these steps!  See! I told you he was practical!

What potential downward spiral are you facing right now and how can you reframe it, reversing the three P’s?

4 thoughts on “How to Get out of the Downward Death Spiral of Doom

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this! I am a psychologist, but I still find myself struggling with the 3 P’s! We all struggle with these as a result of sin and we need to be reminded that we can reverse them. Whether we change/dispute those destructive thought patterns or reach out for support. The important thing is we can change them! Such a great reminder! 🙂

    I find myself struggling with the p’s quite often, especially the personal category. I always need to remind myself that I am good enough and focus on the good qualities, what I can control and change, and spend more time with the people who accept me with all the flaws.


  2. Love Henry Cloud. He’s the best. I love the third P of connecting. When I’m in the middle of my “death spiral of doom” it helps so much to have a friend give light to the situation and meet me where I’m at.


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