Resilient people seem so capable that it is easy to think they were born that way. Certainly, some youngsters do show early signs of hardiness. Think of youngsters eager to learn everything and interested in everything around them, as compared to youngsters less involved in life. But, even if hardier adults report enthusiastic and purposeful childhoods, it may be a mistake to conclude that genes determine resiliency. After all, we know that some people emerge as hardy only later in their development. So where does resilience come from?
EARLY EXPERIENCES THAT BUILD RESILIENCE
Our early IBT research gave us clues to the origins of hardiness. Years later, Debbie analyzed IBT’s employee interview data, as to early conditions that differentiated the resilient and nonresilient employee groups. 1 Researchers in the early study were blind to the employee hardiness levels of those with whom they interacted.
Interestingly, many of the employees who tested high in hardiness reported stressful early lives. Their stress included serious illnesses in themselves or family mem- bers, single-parent households, divorces, financial difficul- ties, unemployment, alcoholism or substance abuse in family members, and frequent, disruptive changes in residence. These early lives if anything were more stressful than re- ported by those employees low in hardiness. Another important feature of those high in resilience is that many of them recalled their parents’ singling them out as special in some important way. Talents, skills, maturity, or other unique, defining features contrib- uted to parents elevating these children’s role within the family. As such, the parents supported these youngsters’ capabilities through either encouraging their gifts and talents or assigning them family responsibilities, or both. These chil- dren developed a keen sense of purposeful direction in school, community, and work activities. In contrast to less determined youngsters, these children emerged hardier, re- sponsive to growth-promoting opportunities, and creative in carving out niches that fully expressed themselves. . In school, teachers or other adults spotted and nurtured these youngsters. This helped their confidence. These youngsters’ openness to and involve- ment with the environment must have gotten their teachers’ attention. In any event, the high-resilience employees had found learning stimulating and fun. They further expected their efforts to lead to good results and cherished their central roles at home and at school. When these hardier youngsters encountered personal frustrations or setbacks, they utilized the help and encouragement of others. What exactly did the resilient IBT employees learn about them- selves in their youth? They learned that they were important enough to fully engage in living (commitment attitude), they could influence positively much of what happens to them (control atti- tude), and they could use ongoing changes in ways that benefited their development and growth (challenge attitude). Their hardy atti- tudes helped them to embrace life and to develop resources to cope effectively with life’s circumstances.
EARLY EXPERIENCES THAT UNDERMINE RESILIENCE
In contrast, the nonresilient employees remembered their child- hood experiences differently.Some recalled parents who rigidly advocated to them about rules, values, and family norms. They recalled few times, if any, when their parents made them feel especially capable or talented. If they did, however, it was inconsistent, oftentimes the result of external pressures rather than personal sentiment. Many within this group only vaguely recalled meaningful family interactions and attributed much of this to outside preoccupations that undermined family functioning. For various reasons, in their youth, these adults recalled limited encouragement, help, and empathy from their parents. They also reported that, be- fore long, they began hiding their feelings, frustrations, and problems from their parents. The nonresilient employees in- sufficiently appreciated how school and other community ac- tivities served as stepping stones to a fulfilling life. Vaguely defined talents and goals undermined their ability to grasp the larger picture. As children, this group also shied away from teachers. They did what they could to get by in school, with little sense of involvement or influence. Even though some of them did well academically, they still felt socially inadequate. These employees reported more unhap- piness at home and at school than their more resilient co- workers. As you can see, the nonresilient IBT employees did not have hardy attitudes and skills. As youngsters, they learned early to avoid life’s problems (alienation as opposed to commitment), to re- frain from influencing the manageable aspects of change (power- lessness as opposed to control), and to fear changes that disrupt stability (threat as opposed to challenge). These self-defeating atti- tudes toward living prevented them from coping and interacting effectively under pressure.
CAN RESILIENCE BE LEARNED IN CHILDHOOD?
Genetic inheritance affects our performance and health on many levels, but you can learn resilience as a child. There are many examples of people, genetically disadvantaged and thus vulnera- ble, who have nonetheless overcome such limitations, sometimes in extraordinary ways. In contrast, there are also just as many ex- amples of people who, though apparently well-endowed geneti- cally, are surprisingly low in hardiness. 2 Our IBT employee-history interviews showed how early expe- riences can be a formative influence on resilience. The develop- ment of hardy attitudes and skills in children varies with certain characteristics of their environment and parental interaction. What is the gist of this childhood hardiness? Circumstances that provide children with opportunities to find purpose, direction, and mean- ing in dealing with stressful changes strengthen resilient attitudes and resources within them. The resilient IBT employees’ early losses, setbacks, supportive parenting, and teachings gave them numerous opportunities to learn how to turn change to advantage and to use constructively the support from which to accomplish this.
CAN YOU LEARN RESILIENCE IN ADULTHOOD?
As long as you can use life experiences to grow, psychologically and socially, you can learn to be resilient as an adult. Resist falling into the trap of thinking that once you reach adulthood, you are what you are, and nothing will change that. Hardiness research, detailed below, indicates that adolescents and adults can learn to be resilient.
Our efforts to foster hardiness in adults began at IBT, in the years following the deregulation upheavals. IBT decision makers came to us, indicating that they knew us as careful and determined re- searchers, but wondered if we could also help their employees to become more resilient. The company was then in the throes of massive downsizing and reorganization, with the aim of being competitive in the new telecommunications industry. These up- heavals were taking a great toll on the employees, and they needed hardiness badly. In the first practical application of our research, we put to- gether a hardiness training program based on our findings about hardiness we had found in the resilient group and the parent/child relationships they had reported. 3 Specifically, we devised tech- niques and exercises to help trainees handle stressful circumstances by turning them to advantage (rather than by avoiding or attacking them) and to help them interact with others by giving and receiving assistance and encouragement (rather than by deep- ening ongoing conflicts). Also, we included ways to use the feed- back from these efforts to deepen the attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. In addition, the trainers tried to give the encouragement and support to trainees implementing the tech- niques and exercises that the resilient employees in our research sample had reported getting from their parents. As you will see later, the training was effective in helping trainees learn hardy cop- ing, social interaction, and attitudes. It is this training procedure that has led to the exercises you will encounter in chapters 6, 8, and 10. The beleaguered IBT employees benefited greatly from this training. The abiding emphasis of our hardiness training program is on transformational coping and supportive social interactions and using these to deepen the attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. Through mental and be- havioral actions, you transform the features of stressful changes and use them to advantage. At the mental level, stressful circumstances are placed into broader perspectives, so they can be managed more easily. An example is the time perspective, which may help you realize that the deadlines are all this week, so that next week you can get back to nor- mal. You also learn how to deepen your understanding of problems, so you know what to do to solve them. An exam- ple is the recognition that the stress is based on unfortunate but resolvable misunderstandings between you and your boss. At the action level, mental insights are used to plan and carry out decisive courses of problem-solving actions. The feedback gained from carrying out these activities deepens your hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. This process leads to greater resilience under stress. . The other abiding emphasis of our hardiness training program strives to foster supportive interactions that can help solve problems. Here, you identify and resolve ongoing conflicts that exist between you and others, and replace them with patterns of sharing assistance and encouragement. In doing this, you learn com- munication, listening, and behavior skills that bring about supportive interactions to improve relationships. Often, the trainee has to take the first steps unilaterally in trying to im- prove the relationships. The training process helps you to both understand and accept this approach, by realizing that if you are helpful to a coworker, it will be difficult for him or her not to respond in kind. Trainees practice these coping and support skills in real- life circumstances and use the feedback they get from their efforts to deepen their hardy attitudes. They emerge with the knowledge and skills to turn potentially disruptive stresses into advantages. Once the program is over, they have devel- oped the courage, motivation, and strategies to approach stressful circumstances resiliently. s GAUGING THE RESULTS. By now, there are a number of research studies of working adults and college students, all of which show the effectiveness of this type of resiliency training. The general pattern of the studies uses question- naires to measure the hardiness levels in the participants be- fore the training begins and after it is over. In addition, we measure their job or school performance in relevant ways, before and after training. To clarify the relative effectiveness of our training program, we further compare the participants to people who receive other special training or no training at all. At IBT, we compared IBT employees going through hardiness training to other IBT employees still on the training wait list. 4 Those who had completed the training were hardier, performed better on the job, were more satisfied with their job, and had a greater sense of personal fulfillment than those still on the waiting list. Their stress, strain, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure also simultaneously decreased, and their supervisors’ performance evaluations of them improved. These group differences persisted over the six months following the end of the training program. There have been other studies of hardiness training for work- ing adults who are undergoing great changes. When these adults went through specific training for hardiness, as compared to other adult trainees who received more conventional stress-management training, the results matched those already discussed. These other studies of similar training programs reinforce the value and effec- tiveness of hardiness training. 5 When we do hardiness training in the workplace, we typically arrange for there to be an ‘‘alumni’’ meeting, roughly one month after the training is over. This is an opportunity for trainees to meet once again, share what has been happening to them after the training, and fill out a questionnaire about how the training has affected them. Across the various groups, 90 percent of the work- ing adults find the training of marked value and 93 percent feel that they have definitely improved in their ability to deal with stressful circumstances. By now, there are also research studies of hardiness training with college students. 6 In these, the training for resilience is of- fered as a regular credit course for students who need or want it. These courses offer similar training to that used for working adults, and show similar results. Not only does questionnaire- based hardiness increase as students go through the course, so too do their grade-point averages and retention in school over the next two years. Taken together, these research findings on the effectiveness of hardiness training show a number of beneficial results that persist over time: s Trainees become more imaginative about how to bridge the gap between their needs and those of their company and co- workers. They are no longer overcome with panic, anger, and detachment. They feel more self-confident, as they think through all the changes that are taking place. They no longer feel inadequate and vulnerable. s They feel more energetic and enthusiastic on a day-to-day basis. They have fewer headaches, upset stomachs, aches and pains, and don’t have trouble getting out of bed anymore.They feel more involved in the events going on around them, and think they can really make a difference. They don’t think of themselves as victims being preyed upon by those in power. s They have a sense of a better future for themselves, rather than thinking it is only other people that can get what they want in life. s They procrastinate and avoid less, and do less stress-related eating and drinking. s As they come to feel less overwhelmed and powerless, they cut corners and disregard rules less. s They feel more flexible, and open to whatever happens. It is less likely that they get stuck in old beliefs about how the world works, as they become more open to possibilities and how they can actually improve their lives.
Developing resilience in people is our life’s work. We enjoy help- ing people to improve their hardiness and, as a consequence, to enhance their performance, health, morale, and conduct. It seems clear from the research on adolescents and adults that you can learn hardiness; it is not just in the genes. In this chapter, we have presented a rough outline of what our training program involves. In the pages that follow, we will take you through our specific training techniques that will help you to navigate successfully whatever work changes come your way.