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Study Looks at What It Means to be Mentally Tough
Any story that starts with “In my time…” will no doubt lead to a lecture on how older houses, older cars and older generations were made of sterner stuff. After all, most grandparents and great-grandparents alive today likely lived through at least one war and one major economic crisis, often surviving through sheer will and determination to become the hardy people they are today. But what does it really mean to have a hardy personality? Researchers at PsychTests looked at the impact of three key traits that have been the subject of numerous studies since the seventies: commitment, control and challenge.
Studies conducted by stress resilience pioneers Salvatore R. Maddi and Suzanne C. Kobasa revealed that a person’s ability to cope with a traumatic event or hardship was a matter of perception: According to Kobasa, hardy individuals have developed three essential traits that not only allow them to survive difficult experiences, but in fact help them thrive thereafter:
• Commitment: People with a hardy personality commit themselves to whatever task they take on, no matter how minor. They have a sense of purpose, whether it’s work, family, community or a specific aspiration.
• Control: Hardy individuals act with intent. Rather than viewing themselves as victims of their circumstances, background or fate, they are proactive. They believe that they have the power to change their life for the better.
• Challenge: When experiencing a setback, hardy individuals view these difficult circumstances as temporary. The only constant in life is change, so while things may be difficult now, they believe they will get better eventually. An obstacle is merely a challenge to overcome, and while it may significantly test their skills and emotional fortitude, in the end they will come out stronger and wiser.
Researchers at PsychTests examined data from 9,283 participants who took their Hardiness Test. They discovered that hardy individuals take a unique approach to life that allows them to thrive even during difficult times. For example:
• When they don’t succeed at a task or goal, 38 percent of hardy individuals (vs. two percent of the non-hardy group) said that it only motivates them to try harder and do better next time.
• When a plan they’ve put into place fails, 36 percent of hardy individuals (vs. two percent of the non-hardy group) see it as a chance to make a new and better plan.
• When given a project at work that is outside their comfort zone, 49 percent of hardy individuals (vs. five percent of the non-hardy group) view it as an opportunity to learn something new and expand their skill set.
• 44 percent of hardy individuals (vs. six percent of the non-hardy group) embrace change and the unknown.
• 44 percent of hardy individuals (vs. four percent of the non-hardy group) are able to find something enjoyable in even the most mundane tasks.
• 63 percent of hardy individuals (vs. 11 percent of the non-hardy group) will staunchly stick to a goal, even when they don’t see immediate progress from their efforts.
PsychTests study also indicates that a hardy personality can have a positive impact on an individual’s physical health and potential for success. For example:
• 62 percent of hardy individuals (vs. 35 percent of the non-hardy group) had top grades in school.
• 69 percent of hardy individuals (vs. 26 percent of the non-hardy group) are among the top performers at work.
• 60 percent of hardy individuals (vs. 11 percent of the non-hardy group) are very satisfied with their job.
• 71 percent of hardy individuals (vs. 23 percent of the non-hardy group) take less than four sick days in a year.
“We often choose to tiptoe around conflict situation, take the easier or familiar road, complain when we hit our first obstacle, and wallow in self-pity when things go wrong in our life,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “The interesting thing about hardiness is that every obstacle and hardship we face makes us wiser and tougher. Going through tough times can be to our advantage. We learn to be resilient and we learn new information and skills that will help us get through the situation…and any other hardship we may face in the future. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”
“The most important thing to remember when it comes to stress is that your perception of the stressor is what will determine your emotional experience, your thoughts, your attitude and your behavior,” explains Dr. Jerabek. “We like to use the example of a rainy day: Some people will lament about the weather; hardy people will simply grab an umbrella, put on their raincoat and head out like they would on any other day. Even when dealing with a hardship that is more long-term, like an illness, how you view the situation can significantly increase or decrease the emotional turmoil surrounding it, and affect the way your body deals with the illness on a physical level. There are those who will spend their days fearing their illness and creating more stress for themselves, and then there are those who will use their circumstances as inspiration and embrace life more fully and enjoy every minute. Hardy individuals have a more hopeful, proactive and determined attitude. They live fully, purposefully and with the attitude that no matter what happens, they will find a way to get through it.”