Being in the psychology field, I’ve come across a lot of hard-luck stories – and stories of amazing human triumph. I am amazed at the strength of the human spirit to overcome difficult childhoods, toxic relationships, traumatic experiences, and debilitating mental health problems. That saying that “God only gives you what you can handle” most certainly doesn’t apply to everyone’s life. I’ve heard and read stories in this field that made me grateful for my “only moderately” dysfunctional family, and left me wondering if I would have ever been able to overcome such hardships.
How is it that some people will crumble under pressure while others rise to the occasion? What is it about these people that, for lack of a better word, make them so tough?
At the 2010 American Psychological Association Convention, researchers Goldman, Edmonds, Christensen and Kier presented some strategies for reducing burnout in nursing, arguably one of the most demanding job fields. Their presentation highlighted the importance of developing a “hardy” personality. But what does it mean? The answer lies in three C’s: Commitment, Control, and Challenge (S.R. Maddi, 2006).
1) Commitment – Hardy people tackle every task in their life, no matter how mundane, with 100% effort. They are able to understand the future payback of today’s efforts , rather than getting caught up in the drudgery of the daily grind. Their life has purpose. This is a key element.
2) Control – Rather than sticking their head in the sand during difficult times, hardy individuals proactively search for solutions. They look for ways to improve their circumstances, even if it’s just to make them bearable.
3) Challenge – Hardships and obstacles are merely challenges to overcome, not permanent roadblocks or the knell of a doomsday bell. This persevering attitude helps hardy people view negative events as less stressful, enables them to put things in perspective, and helps them stay motivated.
Hardiness isn’t something we are born with – it needs to be developed and nurtured. Hardy individuals, whether through education, knowledge, experience, or trial and error develop a specific way of viewing and approaching problems. They don’t allow stress to simply take over and overwhelm them. They don’t just ride out the storm. They take a step back, put the problem in perspective, and then find solutions or ask for help. They find ways to channel/reduce their stress level, and use an arsenal of coping skills. In essence, when the going gets tough, hardy individuals get going.
And get going they do. Queendom’s research on 3,237 people reveals that hardy individuals exercise more often, eat healthier, and take fewer sick days. When we compared hardy vs. less hardy individuals, here’s what we uncovered:
- 98% of hardy people have hobbies (compared to 50% of less hardy people).
- 76% of hardy people indicated that even when they have a bad day at work, they still love what they do and wouldn’t want to change (compared to 15% of less hardy people).
- 91% of hardy people believe that they control their destiny (compared to 26% of less hardy people).
- 92% of hardy people wake up looking forward to their day (compared to 7% of less hardy people).
- 71% of hardy people welcome change in their life (compared to 14% of less hardy people).
- 99% of hardy people believe in themselves and in their abilities in general (compared to 17% of less hardy people).
- When experiencing a setback, 81% of hardy people view it as a challenge to be overcome (compared to 6% of less hardy people)
- When they don’t succeed, 80% of hardy people are motivated to do better next time (compared to 5% of less hardy people).
- When they receive bad news, 55% of hardy people don’t get upset because they believe they can handle it; 44% get upset initially, but believe that they will be able to cope eventually (compared to 7% and 53% respectively for less hardy people).
Here are some tips to develop a hardy personality:
- Make an effort. Even people who are naturally positive, upbeat, and love what they are do have bad days. Those bad days don’t stop them from appreciating the overall positives in their lives. If you tend to become pessimistic after a bad stretch at work, fight against this tendency by reminding yourself of the good things. Accepting that every job has ups-and-downs can help get you through rough patches.
- Take pleasure in the small victories. Even the hardest occupations have moments when you can stop and savor a job well done, a person helped, or a difficult task accomplished. By stopping for a moment to reflect on your accomplishment, you may begin to feel more satisfied with the work that you’re doing.
- Stand up against passivity or self-defeating statements. Many of us have developed a thought pattern that replays over and over when we react to stress in our environment (“Here we go again. I can never catch a break.” “I am never going to get through this.” And my personal favorite: “It’s just one problem after another.”) That doesn’t mean, however, that this pattern is not amenable to change. You CAN break the chain by being conscious of when you blame circumstances, others, or fate for your successes and failures. YOU are the master of your life – YOU have the power to make or break your future.
- Take problems step-by-step. When you look at a problem as one big mess, it seems all-the-more overwhelming. Break it down and take it one level at a time. What’s the first step you can take to solve this problem? Do some research? Talk to a friend, family member, or professional? Remember, you don’t leap 15 steps to get to the top of the staircase – you start one by one.
- If you’re not motivated by your work, hobbies, or classes, maybe it is time for a change. The days where people stick to one job for their entire adult life are over. If you feel your current work or hobbies are stunting your potential or leaving you bored, consider trying something more stimulating or take it to a new level.
- Think about how you will feel about a tough situation in 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years. Either you’ll realize that in hindsight, the setback was really inconsequential, or you’ll regret not doing anything. Regardless, when you use the “5-5-5 rule,” you will gain perspective and motivation to move on with your life – either to work to change the setback or to simply let it slide.
- Look at the bright side. No, the world isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. But in every situation there is a lesson to be learned (a beneficial lesson can be good or bad), or other positives to seemingly awful circumstances. By looking for the silver lining, no matter how small, you can at least find some meaning in setbacks, tragedies, and disappointments. For example, a family member with a serious illness can bring the family closer together. A break-up means more time to yourself. No matter what the situation, try to find something good about it.
Join me for next week’s discussion on emotions and weight loss!