Saturday, January 6, 2007


As we’ve seen, resilience is the capacity to survive and thrive de- spite stressful circumstances. But some people do it far better than others, so we need to look for pathways to resilience. The initial twelve-year study at IBT uncovered that hardiness is revealed in a pattern of attitudes and skills that promote resilience. Hardiness preserves people’s performance and health by helping them to think and act constructively when stressful circumstances occur.
There are two kinds of stress. One involves disruptive changes in routine or circumstance. For example, your boss suddenly tells you that a cut in your department budget will change how you operate, and at the most extreme, that you may not have a job. This acute stress, though disruptive to you, is time limited and has clear parameters. You may get a call to pick up an ill child from school, have to work overtime to cover work-task responsibilities for another employee on vacation, or the company may ask you to forgo a yearly bonus because of economic pressures. Whether big or small, acute daily changes like these call for us to act, and thus temporarily disrupt our work. The other kind of stress involves ongoing disparities between what you want and what you get. Maybe you are stuck in a routine job that rarely allows you to use your true creative capabilities. Your job pays the bills, but satisfies you very little. This chronic stress festers and may magnify when stressful changes appear. The weight of acute and chronic stress on your performance, health, morale, and conduct depends upon their amount and in- tensity. The less chronic stress you have, the more acute stress you can handle, and vice versa. If, for example, you find a close fit between what you want and what you do or get, you are more apt to smoothly navigate acute stressful changes. If, on the other hand, you really dislike what you do or get, any acute change will throw you for a loop. Your total stress level, then, is a combination of the amount and intensity of the acute and chronic stress in your life. The greater your total stress, the more it can undermine you physically, mentally, and behaviorally.
Your mind tends to respond to stressful circumstances as dangers you must protect yourself against. In this process, the mind mobi- lizes the body to attack the danger, or run away from it. This, well-known fight-or-flight response to stress involves a physical mobilization that arouses both body and mind. 1 To quicken brain and body responses, adrenaline pumps into your blood stream and stored fat deposits turn into sugar for energy. Your digestive and immune systems also suppress, as there is little time in dealing with dangers for niceties, like food digestion and protection against infections. The fight-or-flight response was very appropriate early in human history. In less-civilized times, our typical stress involved competitive encounters with animals or other human beings over survival means, like food or shelter. If these animals or human beings overpowered us physically, there was little to do but fight or run away. If we won the battle or successfully ran away, our body arousal decreased. We then returned to normal activities until the next encounter. The emergence of civilized social norms made the fight-or- flight response less adaptive. First, we typically no longer encoun- ter dangers such as wild animals and human predators. Second, social values, standards, and laws restrict us from fighting and run- ning away. Today, the root of our acute and chronic stress is social, typically work and personal changes, and conflicts that disrupt the status quo and affect us psychologically and socially. Although some acute stress is clearly negative, such as job demotions and automobile accidents, some can have both positive and negative features, such as company reorganizations, job promotions, and the birth of a new baby. Chronic stress typically involves a lack of something desired, like intimacy or creative work. If we respond to such stress by fighting or running away, others may view us as out of control, irresponsible, weak, ineffective, or some other unflattering attribute. Instead, we try to cope with stressful cir- cumstances by rising responsibly to these tension-filled occasions. Our modern mind still registers acute and chronic stress as danger. This is true even for stress that is not life threatening. If stress remains unchanged by our coping efforts, our bodies stay mobilized. If prolonged, this mobilization undermines our per- formance, morale, conduct, and health. We call this prolonged fight-or-flight response strain to emphasize how disadvantageous it is to our overall well-being.
Unless you are careful, unresolved stressful circumstances can re- sult in physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms. Physical strain can include symptoms like muscle tension, backaches, fatigue, anxiety, stomach and intestinal upsets, colds and flus, and other physical irregularities. Mental strain can include symptoms like ir- ritability, impatience, impaired memory and forgetfulness, poor concentration and attention, sadness, pessimism, depression, and other mental irregularities. And, behavioral strain can include symptoms like sleep problems, temper outbursts, social distanc- ing, poor performance, socially insensitive actions, and other behavioral irregularities. These various strain symptoms, if pro- longed, can result in degenerative wear-and-tear health problems, like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and diabetes. Intense and prolonged strain increases your likelihood for breakdowns in work performance, as well. In times of strain, you may insufficiently complete work tasks and fail to meet deadlines. You may also find it difficult to behave responsibly and support- ively toward others. Without intending to, you may decrease job promotion opportunities, or at the most extreme, court job termi- nation. At home, you may distance yourself from family members, pre- ferring isolation to their company. Your own problems may also occupy you so much that you communicate less and less with family members and show little interest in nurturing them. If these problems persist, you risk relationship breakdowns that at the most extreme can end in divorce.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this sinister scenario. To ensure sound performance, health, morale, and conduct in rapidly changing times, you must find and use more civilized and socially rele- vant ways to cope with problems than fighting or running away. Hardiness helps you to do this. Specifically, the resilient attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge give you the necessary courage and motivation to search for constructive, civilized ways of decreasing the stressfulness of circumstances around you. Through these decisive attitudes, you temper less socially responsible reactions to stress and replace them, instead, with constructive thinking and actions. This courage and motivation helps you to exercise the coping skill of solving, rather than avoiding problems, and the social in- teraction skill of giving and getting assistance and encouragement. These hardy skills further guarantee a resilient outcome. Through these key skills, you act in ways that turn stressful circumstances into opportunities, and give and receive help from others in this process. The hardier IBT employees showed great resilience. Rather than succumb to company changes, like their less-resilient com- rades, they survived and thrived, despite IBT’s immense organiza- tional changes. Many people already possess such coping and social interaction skills, although their ability to use these skills varies. If, however, you lack the necessary attitudes and skills to cope resiliently with life’s problems, you can learn and develop them. ADDITIONAL HARDINESS RESEARCH The clear message of the IBT study is that, in order to be resilient under stressful changes, you must have hardiness. Since the time of that study, hardiness has made a big splash among researchers and practitioners alike. By now, there are more than six hundred research studies on hardiness around the world. The questionnaire used in these studies measures the attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge, and the skills of coping by solving problems and interacting by giving and receiving assistance and encourage- ment. These measures have provoked the questions you will be asked in chapters 5, 7, and 9, in order to assess your own hardi- ness. Ongoing hardiness research continually shows its role in pro- moting resiliency to be consistent with the IBT findings. These studies have evaluated stressful changes across many different kinds of people and circumstances. In addition, the people studied ranged in age, income, educational level, gender, ethnicity, race, and job characteristics. Examples include not only the usual dis- ruptive changes of company reorganizations, but also the culture shock of working abroad or emigrating, pressure of sports compe- tition, uncertainty of leaving home to go to college, grief from nursing dying patients, pain of divorce proceedings and family breakups, and danger of life-threatening circumstances. The overall conclusion is that hardiness enhances performance, conduct, leadership, stamina, and health under stressful, changing circumstances. Here are some of the other consistent findings that underscore the main conclusion: s People with highly developed resilient attitudes—the 3Cs— perceive stressful circumstances to be less threatening. s The more resilient people are, the more likely they are to complete tasks in creative ways rather than in routine ways. s Dealing head-on with stressful circumstances in creative ways results in less physical, mental, and behavioral strain. s Hardiness is an amalgam of resilient attitudes, coping skills, support-enhancing social interactions, and behaviors. Resiliency has been studied in a wide range of life activities. The greater detail that follows will give you some idea of the extent and importance of what has been found out in the research.
Several studies assessed hardiness levels of U.S. military personnel before they went abroad on either combat missions, such as the Gulf War, or peacekeeping missions, such as Bosnia. 2 Military per- sonnel experienced life-threatening stress on both types of mis- sions. Even on peacekeeping missions, opposing forces shot at, bombed, and sabotaged military personnel. There were also lots of other disruptive changes in both types of missions. These disrup- tions included leaving family and home, unpredictable circum- stances, and having to deal with whatever came up in threatening, unfamiliar overseas contexts. Upon the troops’ return to the United States, researchers evaluated them for signs of physical and mental breakdown that are inconsistent with resiliency. They also had medical and per- formance active-duty service records for these troops. The re- sults showed that military personnel who had higher levels of questionnaire-measured hardy attitudes before they left on the missions were better protected from breaking down into depres- sive and posttraumatic stress disorders following their experience of life-threatening, battlefield stress. This finding is consistent with the view that the hardiness to manage stressful circumstances and solve the problems they represent provides the courage and capa- bility to be resilient.
There are also numerous research studies documenting that hardi- ness protects physical and mental health under stressful conditions that are not life threatening. 3 As a group, the studies cover both genders, a wide range of ages, other demographics, and circum- stances. In addition, the studies have involved people from various cultures. Typically, the studies include questionnaire measures of hardiness, symptoms of mental and/or physical illness, and the stressfulness of circumstances. The results are quite consistent. The more stressful circum- stances become, the greater the signs of physical and/or mental illnesses. Hardiness, however, moderates this absence of resilience. The higher your hardiness level, the less likely you are to get phys- ical or mental symptoms when you experience stressful circum- stances. A few studies also address how the protective effect of hardi- ness takes place. 4 They have shown that the higher your hardiness level, the milder your physiological arousal to stressful circum- stances. They used as signs of arousal blood pressure and heart rate readings and the presence of stress-induced hormones, like cortisol. Strong physiological reactions to stresses predispose you to various kinds of health breakdown. This is even more reason to approach the rigors of daily living with a strong hardiness level that will lead to resilience.
In another study, researchers measured the levels of hardy atti- tudes, coping, and supportive interactions of female swimmers be- fore they competed with each other for a place on the U.S. women’s 2000 Olympic synchronized swimming team. 5 The swimmers, and their coaches, did not know their hardiness levels prior to the competition, since the results were not made available. The ten women highest in hardiness made the final cut for the team. Then, in the actual Olympic competition, the team tied with that of another country, which led to a runoff match, to see which team would make the finals. In this match, the other country’s team won. Interestingly, the two U.S. swim team members who faltered during this decisive match had the lowest hardiness levels on the U.S. team. These results suggest that hardiness helps partic- ipating team members to maintain their resilience in competitions, especially when they need precise synchronous efforts to thrive. Less dramatic, though similar in its results, is a study of hardi- ness and performance in male high school varsity basketball play- ers in Southern California. 6 Researchers tested the hardiness levels of these players by questionnaire prior to their fall playing season. They then obtained season data on these players’ basketball per- formance from their coaches. The researchers organized these data into seven signs of performance effectiveness, such as number of points scored, assists, rebounds, free throws, foul outs, and num- ber of minutes played in games won. On six of the seven signs, hardiness predicted good performance. Only the number of free throws made failed to predict hardiness level. When you stop to think about this, free throws are the only performance sign that tends to involve a period of relative calm (except, of course, in crucial last-minute situations). The whistle blows; you step to the line and throw an unobstructed shot that, for a varsity player, is a well-practiced, routine activity. With all the other effectiveness measures that emphasize tumultuous and unpredictable circum- stances, hardiness level predicted good performance. This study, too, shows that hardiness helps you to be resilient in stressfully competitive circumstances.
A study done at West Point Military Academy attempted to under- stand what qualities make cadets effective leaders. 7 The academy encourages its cadets to be leaders, both in ongoing course work and in their various community-outreach activities. The academy measures leadership skills in various ways, especially the psycho- logical and social factors that influence the development or ab- sence of these skills. The researchers measured these psychosocial factors, including hardiness, shortly after a cohort of cadets arrived at the academy. They measured leadership at various times during the cadets’ stay. It turned out that hardiness was the best predictor of leader- ship behavior over the four years of the cadets’ training program. The specific leadership signs included becoming a model for their cadet peers, helping their peers bring out the best in themselves, and taking the initiative in performing community services. These results are quite consistent with other studies on hardiness and leadership. 8 We would expect this, as courage, initiative, and the ability to solve problems and build teams are qualities of leader- ship. COLLEGE PERFORMANCE Several college performance studies evaluate the influence of hardiness on college students’ performance and retention. 9 Hardi- ness, measured by a questionnaire given just before the students enrolled in college, turns out to be a better predictor of retention than are either Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores or class rank in high school. These results that show hardiness as critical to school retention are particularly interesting since SAT scores and graduating rank in high school are currently the major criteria used by colleges in evaluating student applications. Another study shows how high school graduates cope with the anticipatory stress of entering college, in the summer prior to their enrollment. Researchers measured these students’ hardiness levels by questionnaire during college orientation week. 10 They also per- formed urine screen tests on them to detect recent alcohol and drug use. The results show that hardy people are less likely to try to cope with stressful circumstances by using alcohol and drugs.
Several studies of stressful work environments evaluated levels of stress and hardiness among nurses, such as those assisting in hos- pital operating rooms and taking care of dying people in hospice settings. 11 In such settings, nurses high in hardiness take fewer sick days and show less depression, anxiety, and burnout. Similarly, the higher firefighters’ levels of hardiness are, the less stressed they feel, and the greater fulfillment and meaning they find in their job. 12 There is also a two-year study of American computer specialists in China on a training mission. 13 The researcher measured the spe- cialists’ levels of hardiness by questionnaire before they left the United States. In the first six months of their mission, the entire training group experienced culture shock sufficient to impede their job performance and undermine their health. They had con- centration and memory difficulties, tendencies toward social isola- tion, anxiety, and depression, and a range of physical symptoms. In the remaining year and a half, however, those who were high in hardiness became more resilient, showing performance and health levels equal, if not better, than before they left the United States. In contrast, those who were low in hardiness recovered more slowly, if at all. Those specialists whom the company sent home due to poor performance had low levels of hardiness. Hardiness also enhances employees’ performance in entrepre- neurial jobs, which tend to be stressful because, to be successful, you must develop, market, and service your products. In one par- ticular study, researchers evaluated levels of hardiness in the entre- preneurial effectiveness of consultants. 14 Billable hours, that is, the number of service hours charged to their clients, showed how well these consultants performed in their tasks of developing and ser- vicing their clients. The results showed clearly that the higher the consultant’s hardiness level, the greater the number of billable hours over the course of two years.
Where does resilience come from? A massive body of research sup- ports the importance of hardiness to performance and health under stressful, changing circumstances. We have applied what we learned from this scientific evidence to servicing individuals and organizations interested in resilient performance, health, morale, and conduct. In this process, we perfected our test for measuring people’s hardiness, and have extrapolated from it the questions posed to you in chapters 5, 7, and 9 about your own hardiness. Today, many companies, military and safety organizations, and schools use our hardiness test to screen applicants as to their resil- ience and to identify strengths and weaknesses in existing person- nel. We often follow up this test by teaching hardiness procedures for enhancing resilience in these settings. Now we would like to teach these same principles to you so that you can learn

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