We all know that person who is constantly stressed out where everything is an ordeal. And then there’s the person who seems to go with the flow, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Sometimes these two people experience the exact same event and react in completely different ways. Why?
The difference is that one has “hardiness,” an ability to resist the damaging effects of stress that can determine how well you adapt and cope with difficult or unexpected conditions, say Steven Stein, Ph.D. and Retired Colonel Paul T. Bartone, Ph.D., authors of Hardiness: Making Stress Work for You to Achieve Your Life Goals.
Bartone researched the idea of hardiness when he was a colonel at West Point, and compared its importance to grit, says Stein. “In stressful situations, hardiness outperformed grit and could predict which cadets would succeed,” he says. “The military trains for hardiness. They look for it from enlistment to promotion. But the civilian public hasn’t examined hardiness and likely doesn’t know much about it.”
By understanding and developing hardiness, you can change your reaction to stressful situations, says Stein. “Hardiness can be a stress resilience resource that protects people from the bad effects that stress has on health, happiness, and performance,” he says, adding that hardiness has these key elements—the three Cs—that must work together:
People with a high level of commitment see life as meaningful and worthwhile even when they experience pain and disappointment. They strive for personal competence, are deeply involved in their work, and are socially engaged with others. They are aware of their own feelings and reactions. “People who have commitment have a purpose and goals that they look forward to,” says Stein. “Because of this, they are better able to deal with stressful situations.”
People with high level of challenge enjoy variety. They look at change and disruption in life as interesting opportunities to learn and grow. They know that problems are a part of life, and they solve them instead of avoid or run from them. “These people like and embrace change,” says Stein. “They look at a stressful situation as a puzzle to solve or something new to learn.”
Finally, people with a high level of control believe that their actions can directly impact their results and outcomes. They see themselves as being in charge of their own destinies, even though the future is uncertain and even frightening. “Being in control is being a go-getter, says Stein. “You get things done, act on goals, and facilitate change.”
Developing these traits
For some people, these traits come naturally, but Stein says being aware of them can help you intentionally develop them. A good starting place is with commitment, he suggests. Determine where you are in your career and where you want to go.
“Know what you want,” Stein says. “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Five years? Or even six months? Set goals and make sure you’re working in the direction want to be working.”
If you are not happy where you currently are in your career or personal life, embrace the challenge next, Stein suggests. What are the things you like about your situation, and what do you hate? “Some people struggle and they’re not happy with what they’re doing, but they don’t take action,” says Stein. “If you don’t like specific aspects of your job, for example, commit to finding a way to change it.”
Commitment and challenge will help you achieve the goal of gaining a sense of control over your life, says Stein. “Determine what you can change, and then take control,” he says. “Maybe you hate your boss. What are the things you can do to make your boss less of an impact on your stress? You may not be able to get rid of your boss, but maybe you can move to another department.”
From mindfulness to relaxation and meditation, a multibillion-dollar industry has formed to focus on reducing stress, but Stein and Bartone argue that stress doesn’t have to be an enemy. “There are great techniques that can help a lot of people, but some people are unable to benefit from them,” he says. “Instead of reducing stress, develop hardiness to use it in a different way. It’s taking the positive aspects of what you’re feeling and changing how you think. It’s reevaluating the situation.”