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The Secret to Success: How Can You Become More Hardy?

The value of learning and enhancing the characteristics of hardiness

It turns out that what predicts how well we will do in life, our relationships, careers, etc. isn't how much money we have or even how many obstacles we face; it's a matter of how hardy we are. Hardiness predicts how well people can handle the challenges life throws at them. It involves a pattern of personality characteristics that distinguish who will be resilient, thrive and remain healthy under stress versus who is more likely to suffer, fair poorly and develop psychological problems. In his 35 years of research, Dr. Salvatore Maddi, founder of The Hardiness Institute, has discovered that there are certain traits people can develop and trainings they can engage in to become more emotionally resilient or "hardy." By learning and enhancing the characteristics of hardiness, we give ourselves a huge leg up in any goal we seek to accomplish in our lives.

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Dr. Maddi, who authored the book Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You, describes the most important characteristics of hardiness as the three C's: commitment, control and challenge. Commitment involves one’s ability to stick with something even when things get tough. Instead of seeing challenges as overwhelming, a hardy individual holds a general curiosity and interest in what comes their way. Instead of throwing their hands in the air and bolting for the door, hardy people stick with the actions that will help them achieve their goals.

The second “C” of hardiness is control. Having a sense of control within yourself involves the belief that you can make things different through your own efforts. This non-victimized stance allows you to have faith in the fact that you have a great deal of power over your destiny. Your actions will influence your future, and therefore, you take actions that are in sync with your ambitions.

The last “C” is challenge. In today’s fast-paced world, we can often feel overwhelmed. Many of us don’t go a day without mentioning how stressed we are. A hardy person in contrast, will see the things that come at them as challenges, even opportunities for growth, as opposed to overwhelming stressors. He or she does not expect life to be easy. This attitude of expecting challenges or stressors to arise proves to be much more adaptive and resilient. A person high in hardiness traits takes power over his or her life rather than being overpowered by circumstances.

In Dr. Maddi’s research, he’s found that you can not only assess people for hardiness, but you can train them to enhance their hardiness. Because hardiness predicts how well you’re going to cope in life, building these skills plays an important role in one’s success, personally, practically and professionally. People who are hardy have a sense of purpose, whereas individuals who lack these skills tend to feel apathy, boredom and meaninglessness in life. They are less psychologically resilient and more likely to struggle when things go wrong.

The training for hardiness involves teaching people how to look at life differently. On Nov. 5, Dr. Maddi will join me to present the CE Webinar “Psychological Hardiness and Mental Health,” an online presentation, for which continuing education credits are available. In Dr. Maddi’s trainings, he focuses on teaching people tools for coping, self-support and self-care. Research has demonstrated that these skills can be acquired and improve a person’s functioning. Those who participate in these sessions become adept at analyzing problems in a way that transforms life’s challenges into opportunities for strengthening themselves both professionally and personally. They learn to accept what cannot be changed, while also sharpening their ability to recognize how, often, the real problem is that they get in their own way. Are they undermining their own performance, vitality and health?

Most of us can relate to the ways we self-sabotage. We all harbor a cruel inner coach or “critical inner voice” that tells us we aren’t strong enough or that we’ll never succeed. This voice can be self-critical feeding us thoughts like, “You can’t handle this stress. You just don’t have what it takes. You will never amount to anything. Quit dreaming already.” The inner coach can also seem self-soothing, tricking us with thoughts like, “Just take it easy; you don’t have to try this hard. “Watch another episode of that show you like. Going out will just get you down.” In both cases, your coach is just keeping you from pursuing your goals.

The self-critical and self-destructive thoughts of this anti-self represent the direct opposite of the hardiness attitudes identified by Dr. Maddi. They persuade you to take self-sabotaging actions, then punish you for being a “failure.” By building your level of hardiness, you help arm yourself against this inner critic. You learn not to crumble under its criticisms or listen to its instructions. You become hardier, more able to achieve the things you want in life, your own personal goals. 

Hardiness can help you get out of your head in a positive way. It can help you to have a more balanced and outward perspective, building your ability to cope and, consequently, feel better about yourself. When stressful situations arise, you’ll start to see them as a chance to learn and develop yourself.

The changes and challenges life throws at us can leave us wanting to protect or defend ourselves in ways that actually hurt us in the end. Throughout our lives, there are many struggles we will face, from relationship issues to existential realities. Instead of attempting to shield ourselves from these conditions, numbing ourselves to our emotions, distracting ourselves with superficial interests or limiting ourselves with addictive or self-harming behaviors, we can build our emotional resilience. We can learn tools and techniques to become more hardy and live a life that is more uniquely rewarding and fulfilling.

Join Dr. Salvatore Maddi on Nov. 5 for the CE Webinar “Psychological Hardiness and Mental Health.

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association.

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