When faced with change, how we cope depends on our psychological hardiness (similar to resilience). Rather than a personality characteristic, it’s more of a personality style or way of viewing the world. Whereas personality characteristics appear fixed, views can be changed. A core part of the life coaching process (and a key theme in my book Unlock Your Confidence) is to consider alternative viewpoints and change attitudes.
The concept psychological hardiness was proposed by psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi. It comprises three attitudes – the three Cs: commitment, control, and challenge. Individuals ‘high in hardiness’ are more likely to put stressful life events into perspective and tend to perceive them less of a threat and more of a challenge and as opportunities for personal development. As a consequence, stressful events are less likely to impact negatively on a person’s health. The buffering effect of psychological hardiness on health and well-being has been well researched and has been demonstrated for a variety of occupational groups, from business executives to students including people working in highly stressful conditions such as fire-fighters and people in the military. Let’s consider the three Cs in turn:
- Commitment is the attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people, having a curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people.
- Control is the tendency to hold the attitude that control is something that comes from the inside. You focus on what you can control and act as if you can influence the events taking place around you by your own efforts. The opposite of control is powerlessness which includes the perception that your life is controlled by external forces (fate, government) and that you do not have the means or capabilities to achieve your goals. Our sense of control is often based on perception rather than objective facts.
- Challenge is the attitude that change is the norm, as opposed to stability and that change offers opportunities for personal development rather than threats. The opposite of challenge is security, and the need for everything to stay the familiar and predictable, allowing you to remain in your comfort zone
Taken together the three components of psychological hardiness provide the motivation and confidence to look to the future to find meaning in life rather repeating the past. Often in coaching, we find that small changes can have a big impact. This is one of the basic tenets of the type of solution-focused coaching that I practise.
Building psychological hardiness need not be a mammoth task. It may involve simple ways in which we can reconnect with people or what some people call ‘getting yourself out of the house’. A few minutes engaged in a chat at the bus stop is a lot better than hours at home spent going over our problems. A small change can cause a dramatic shift in perspective. Just by focusing on the small areas that we have control and exercising that control may lead to fresh insights. Just choosing to break a routine and do something slightly different or in another order can cause a shift. We can build on the smallest of shifts in coaching. The same applies to challenge. We all crave predictability in life but at the same time, we appreciate the difference a bit of novelty brings. Again, a small ‘shake-up’ may be all that it takes to open up a new perspective.
Adopting the three attitudes of hardiness (commitment, control, challenge) has been shown in research to enhance performance and health even in the face of stressful life changes. To choose the unfamiliar future over the familiar past also requires courage. Coaching provides the necessary support and strategy to help you to do just that.
What will you do today that demonstrates the attitudes of commitment, control and challenge?
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