Nothing is ours outright as a gift. All we are given is possibilities
... to make ourselves one thing or another.
Jose Ortega y Gasset
Making the most of one's life is what living is all about and the challenge of daily life.
As a personal coach and a health psychologist, I have sought to identify how people who function well manage to do so, regardless of their individual circumstances, values, and endeavors. One common quality that these people have is hardiness, explained below.
Nature teaches us that what flourishes are those plants and animals that are the hardiest -- the ones that are sturdy, resilient, tenacious and flexible. So, while we often think of the Oak as the epitome of strength, it is the willow and the reed that survive the storms. Likewise, when people encounter the challenges and hard times of life, the hardy do well.
In the late 1970s, psychologist Suzanne Kobasa, Ph.D. (Kobasa, 1979a & b), a member of the Illinois Bell Study conducted by Salvatore Maddi, Ph. D., did a long term research study on the impact of stress on top AT & T executives when it was breaking up. The employees were either losing their jobs or being reassigned. Over a period of eight years, she found that there were two different patterns in the way these executives responded to the stress.
People in one group became increasingly symptomatic. They had more medical and psychological problems and symptoms and more doctors visits.
In contrast, the second group showed no difference in symptoms during this stressful period as compared to before its' onset. Surprisingly, they seemed healthier and more robust. They essentially rose to meet the challenge.
Dr. Kobasa referred to this second group as having a stress-hardy personality.
Psychologists have been attempting to isolate the components of the stress-hardy personality ever since then (Funk, 1992). The belief is that the approach to life used naturally by stress-hardy individuals incorporates mental and behavioral skills which can be taught to others. Over time, the regular use of these skills can become effective healthy habits that replace less functional ones. This is the foundation of Hardiness for Hard Times®.
Studies in Behavioral Medicine (Hellman & others, 1990, and Sobel, 1993) have demonstrated that psychoeducational courses -- classes that combine information with teaching effective coping skills -- are the most cost effective means of developing health-enhancing coping skills as compared with simply providing information.
The common element in these approaches is that their purpose is to build a foundation of wellness, rather than treat symptoms. These person-centered approaches are based upon the belief that real change in automatic reactions (behavioral, mental, and physiological) can be taught and become healthy habits.
A core component of hardiness is being able to regulate your energy -- the capacity to pace yourself in order to sustain the effort needed to deal with stress and strain.
Psychologist Ernest Rossi, Ph.D.(1991) has demonstrated that in addition to our daily wake-sleep cycles, we have natural performance rhythms that allow us to perform at peak levels for a maximum of 90-minutes. Then we require a rest period to recover energy. We can over-ride the take-a-break signals by force of will or drinking coffee, but continually doing so leads to dysfunction and breakdown.
Learning to regulate your energy resources requires developing habits and skills that allow you to get the necessary mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery you need. The impact of sustained high stress depends on how well you balance the pressures with meeting your recovery needs through relaxation, fun, and play.
Sports psychologist and performance expert James Loehr, Ed.D., has applied his findings from working with professional athletes to what he calls “Corporate Athletes.” These are the business people committed to performing at their best throughout the day. Since they never know when the pressures may rapidly and unexpectedly increase, they need to know that they can reliably increase their energy output on demand to meet the intensity level throughout the day.
Citing physiological studies that demonstrate the biochemical changes acquired through exercise, Loehr explains that by seeking stress, in the form of physical exercise, you can train your body to have a deeper capacity for dealing with any stress.
The acquired physiological patterns and their concomitant emotional states from planned stress and recovery are crucial components in the foundation for hardiness.
Additional components for hardiness are learned cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal skills, that enhance facing stress as a challenge, an opportunity to grow.
Sources Friedman, R., Myers, P., Sobel, D., Caudill, M., Benson, H. (1995). Behavioral Medicine, clinical health psychology, and cost offset. Health Psychology, 14(6), 509-518.
Funk, S.C. (1992). Hardiness: A review of theory and research. Health Psychology, 11(5), 335-345.
Hellman, C.J.C., Budd, M., Borysenko, J., McClelland, D.C., & Benson, H. (1990). A study of the effectiveness of two group behavioral medicine interventions for patients with psychosomatic complaints. Behavioral Medicine, 165-173.
Kobasa, S.C. (1979a). Personality and resistance to illness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 7, 413-423.
Kobasa, S.C. (1979b). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1-11.
Loehr, J.E. (1994). Toughness Training For Life, New York: Plume.
Loehr, J.E. (1997). Stress For Success, New York: Three Rivers Perss.
Rossi, E.L. (1991 ). The Twenty-Minute Break, Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher.
Sobel, D. S. (1993). Mind matters, money matters: The cost effectiveness of clinical behavioral medicine. Mental Medicine Update. 1-8.
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