So often people talk about resilience, mental toughness, and grit as the difference makers between why people are successful. What do you think about it? What does mental toughness mean to you? How do you define it? What role does it play in success, even your success specifically? Is your mindset the main difference maker between you and everyone around you? These constructs all fall into the bucket of mental fortitude and, personally, I am so interested in how they work. So much so that it was what my dissertation was on, how personality changes and how that affects performance (weird to say that in the past). Research on resilience, mental toughness, and grit is still being sorted out. So while you may be having trouble describing exactly what these are, researchers are too. Anyway I want you to throw out all those terms out and I’ll give you a new one, hardiness. Now I know it doesn’t sound sexy, it is the real deal.
First let's define it. Hardiness is the ability to maintain focus and perseverance during stressful scenarios. Because hardiness shapes our perspective, it influences our ability to endure when facing adversity. So far so good, right? The cool thing is that hardiness is related to everything. As the research shows, better health and performance in just about every aspect you can think of. Hardiness affects our mindset and that affects everything. Breaking it down: the way we approach life in other words our perspective can affect health and performance. So you can think your way into better health and performance? I imagine you asking me that with some sense of sarcasm, but the short answer is yes.
I will say I am biased, I choose to study what I believe is true. You know research is me-search. My bias is supported by research: the mind influences physiology and behavior resulting in effects on health and performance. In other words how the mind influences human performance.
Hardiness affects focus and perseverance through three main qualities: commitment, control, and challenge. Commitment is how engaged we are with our daily activities. The more engagement = more gratitude, leaving less room to stress or dwell. Control is the belief through effort we can influence the outcomes of our lives. Challenge is openness to variety and change as a chance to learn and grow. This encourages an appreciation for life’s ups and downs as part of life’s natural course.
Let's put it into real life. If you want to become hardier, increase resilience, more mentally tough, or grittier, how do we do it? First is commitment, more of it allows us to immerse ourselves in an activity. What we’re committed to, we put all our attention toward. Why we may be committed comes as the answer to a blend of questions: What gets you going? What keeps you going? You may not enjoy having a job, but you enjoy the activities it allows you to participate in. So you're committed to work as much as you are to the adventures that it affords you. Control is recognizing that you have an impact and can change outcomes. My favorite display of this is how we treat the body. If you choose to get more quality sleep, or eat less processed foods there will be an impact on the way you perform. Last, challenge is how we respond to change. If we view events as neutral (not good or bad), challenge is taking an optimistic and productive approach. Conversely if we interpret the same event as a threat, it is more likely to produce unproductive stress. We cannot perform at our best in a defensive state.
You can see how these three, commitment, control, and challenge affect our perception of stress overall. The amazing thing is the more hardy we are, we will perceive ourselves as being less stressed. Are you not committed to the activity or task? If so, think of the benefits of completing. If you do not feel you have any control, consider whether that is an accurate statement and what control you do have. Or better, how can you control the way you respond? Were you in a similar scenario where you did influence the outcome? And challenge, are you approaching the task or change in a productive and open way? If you perceive it as a threat , then you start on the defensive and avoidant side. Working through these supports our ability to focus for longer, and persevere when shit gets hard and stays hard. I lean on the three qualities of hardiness to make sure I work out and am getting up earlier. These can also be for long term goals like making a savings goal for a big purchase or working hard enough on a side hustle to pursue your passion full time.
Hardiness influences thought, emotion, and behavior. In many ways it can be linked to principles and who you are, the three qualities can serve as your foundational base. Am I committed? What can I control? How can I respond to challenges? Know that hardiness is easier said than done. It will take time to shift your thoughts, behaviors and approach that is consistent with who you intend to be. There will be battles and you won't win every one. There will be times when you lose the mental battle or forget to fight. This is part of the development process, it is a boxing match. Either way, make adjustments and reflect round by round. Remember building hardiness is a skill and improves with intentional practice.
Challenge: Pick something you have to do, but recently haven't been enjoying. Consider how you can utilize commitment, control, and challenge for progress?