Stress has a bad, bad rap – fair criticism or the product of paranoia? Or perhaps both? While chronic stress can definitely wreak havoc on our minds and bodies, research shows that some stress is actually healthy. Unfortunately, these days, we do everything we can to either avoid it or mute it – from spa treatments to stress management programs to a frosty cold beer. While I certainly agree that managing stress is a smart and useful tactic, I also believe that by going to great lengths to avoid it, we’re actually doing ourselves a great disservice. We may be stunting our opportunities for growth. Even when we’re faced with ‘bad’ stress, we have healthy, protective mechanisms for coping with it. In fact, we have the ability to thrive despite and often because of challenge.

In the world of academics, thriving is “characterized by the individual displaying less reactivity when faced with stressors, and resulting in a faster recovery or consistently higher level of functioning”.  To the rest of us, thriving is Sweaty Magic – the ability to spin hardship, whether unexpected adversity or self-imposed challenge, into positive growth! But how does one do that, you ask? Interestingly enough, there are many research-supported resources that enable you thrive, and everyone has the capacity to develop these resources. Above all, Thrivers are masters of challenge and change, and they grow from challenge. They know how to lean into stress and how to approach it, relying on special resources, or rather, tricks of the trade! Here are just a few of the 'tricks' Thrivers use to turn adversity, hardship and challenge into gold-medal value!

1.    Thrivers use Positive Illusions
Findings in social cognition research indicate that there are three different types of positive illusions people use to grow through challenge: 1) self-enhancement (believing that they are better at something than they may actually be); 2) unrealistic optimism; and 3) an exaggerated sense of personal control. Researcher Shelly Taylor and colleagues “suggest that the ability to maintain positive illusions provides the individual with reserve resources” for managing everyday stressors as well as in thriving through extremely stressful circumstances. According to these psychologists, positive illusions act as buffers and may even help people find meaning, which later leads to positive growth. Which type of positive illusion/s can help you thrive through a tough economy, a challenging relationship or the loss of a job?

2.    Thrivers use Positive Reinterpretation – they look for something good in what has or is happening. For example, when Dan lost his job this past May, he decided to look at it as an opportunity to reassess his career path as well as his life values. In doing so, Dan found a new job he truly enjoys, and he now has more time to spend with his family. Despite the fact that his salary is less, Dan is much happier and more fulfilled. What benefits have come from hardship you've experienced in your life? When faced with challenge, how can you use positive reinterpretation to see the good in a difficult situation?

3.    Thrivers have a sense of Self-Efficacy (the psychological phenomenon – “I think I can”)  – they believe they are capable of handling stressful situations, whether positive or negative, and they also believe that they can succeed in many different areas of life. Hence, the old adage “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right” holds more than a grain of truth, especially when it comes to thriving. You can build self-efficacy by reflecting on past successes and by identifying times when you've succeeded at a difficult task or have bounced back from hardship. Think of the times in your life when you've handled a difficult situation successfully. Tell yourself that you can thrive through adversity -- and believe it!

Not only are these 'tricks' vital for creating Sweaty Magic, they’re enable you to accomplish your goals and achieve your best life!


Angie LeVan, MAPP, is a resilience coach, speaker, trainer and writer, dedicated to helping individuals and organizations/businesses thrive!

Angie is available for presentations, workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching. For more information see:

**Special thanks to James Pawelski for allowing me to borrow his phrase - sweaty magic.

About the Author

Angie LeVan

Angie LeVan works at the Clinical Research Unit at the the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center.

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