Tips on Developing Psychological Hardiness

Psychological hardiness sounds like such an easy skill to develop. And yet it is something that takes a lifetime to master. The reality is that we experience periods when we feel resilient. Only to later go through periods when we may feel as if we are only surviving.

What is psychological hardiness?

Psychological hardiness is a mind-set that we develop as a cushion against inner distress due to life’s inevitable challenges. As much as we grow up on fairy tales of a prince on a white horse and endings where everyone lives happily ever after, reality is very different.

So let us be kind to ourselves and see ourselves as a work in progress. Life is a journey with lessons for us to learn. At the same time it also brings a multitude of opportunities for us to develop psychological hardiness. Hardiness enables us to recover from what we “perceive” as a disaster or failure and to try again.

Psychological hardiness according to psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi consists of 3 elements namely, commitment, control and challenge. Hardy people:

  • Have a strong commitment to themselves
  • Believe they have control over their life. They have an attitude that they are capable of overcoming all kinds of challenges through their own ability.
  • Are stimulated by challenge and see stress as a motivator rather than as a threat. They accept change: pick themselves up quickly and move into action.

Prerequisites for developing psychological hardiness

 So how do we develop psychological hardiness? We need to recognise that our beliefs about ourselves will be tested.  It is important to realise that at any time we can change our beliefs about ourselves and our life. Every day we have the chance to make a different choice. Not to mention that every day we can reframe any negative event that has occurred. Instead we can search for the gift in it.

Of course there will be days, possibly weeks and even months, that we wonder how we will survive. At these times our focus may be to allow ourselves to feel the pain, the hurt or the trauma. Sit in it. Just allow it. You need not fix it or change it or do anything.

In allowing ourselves to really feel, a time comes when the emotions shift of their own accord. Having said this, it is easy to fall into feelings of utter helplessness. Should this continue for a long period of time, seek help. Find a trusted person who can offer an ear and support.

Equally important is to think of the next small step you can take to either alleviate the pain or to move forward.  Instead of focussing on how impossible it seems to find a solution, focus on getting through the next hour or the next day. One small step at a time.

Aging and psychological hardiness

I observe how our coping skills to deal with life’s challenges become more pronounced as we age. Georges was always very pragmatic about life. Whenever he experienced challenges he would talk to his wife and together they would decide what action if any, needed to be taken. Despite his hardy approach to life, he did become depressed when his independence and mobility was affected. As a result he opted to go for “happy pills”. He could never quite talk about being on an antidepressant.

Sarah on the other hand becomes progressively more stressed and anxious with age. Therefore the slightest challenge is a major issue to her. In essence, she has always tried to control and manage her life. She is setting herself up for anxiety and depression into old age.

A friend recently commented that she realised life is a never ending journey of losses, beginnings and endings. This is true. How we look at events, reframe them and adapt determines how well we will cope.

If you would like to become more resilient, consider seeing a psychologist or coach.


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Posted in Self mastery, Stress.