Topic: Control, Challenge, and Commitment

March 2014 Newsletter

 Let's talk about stress. Or more precisely, not letting stress get the better of us. 

"We were skeptical that stressful life events invariably debilitate, wrote Salvatore R. Maddi and Suzanne C. Kobasa, ground-breaking researchers on stress, resilience, and hardiness. "Stressful life events can have a debilitating effect," they continued, but there are "several other factors, which, if present, can have a buffering or protective effect [and] the more of these buffers or resistance resources that people have, the less likely they are to be debilitated by stressful life events." 


The term that Maddi and Kobasa used to define that collection of buffers is "hardiness" and here's what it does (and does not) look like:

"The high-hardy person, while not immune to the ill effects of stress," says Paul Barton, Maddi and Kobassi protégé, and creator of the Dispositional Resiliency Scale (DRS-15), "is robust and resilient in responding to stressful conditions." 

So what do high-hardy people do that low-hardy people don't? They consistently demonstrate three game-changing markers, or tendencies:
  1. The tendency to lean toward identifying and focusing on what you can control, rather than focusing on what you can't and letting that sense of powerlessness overwhelm you
  2. The tendency to view a stressful situation as a healthy and meaningful challenge, however difficult it seems, rather than it being a Level One threat to your safety and well-being as your fight/flight instinct might erroneously suggest
  3. The tendency to honor your professional commitment to doing what's right and fully engaging in that manner, rather than easing off, feeling alienated and alone, pretending it's not important, not holding yourself accountable for your actions, and/or just going through the motions in an effort to look good
The good news: Increasing your sense of control, challenge, and commitment creates a more optimistic (versus pessimistic) mindset, and with that comes a bias toward action (versus avoidance) which, in turn, helps you become more stress resistant. 

The even better news: Almost anyone can can choose to become more hardy than they already are.

"There is good evidence that hardiness levels can be increased as a result of experiences and training," says Bartone. "So it is better to think about hardiness not as an immutable trait, but rather as a generalized style of functioning that continues to be shaped by experience and social context."

With that, here are some tips for assisting you in that choice:

To increase your sense of control

  • Avoid pessimism and passivity; many people complain about circumstances more out of habit than anything else; act like you are not a victim of circumstances 
  • Believe (or just act as if you believe to start) that you really can influence what's going on around you more than seems probable, and act accordingly
  • Dig into turning even a small portion of the situation to your advantage
  • Remember that very small changes often make the biggest differences

To increase your sense of challenge

  • Avoid "awfulizing," believing that this particular event will upend and ruin EVERYTHING, because it likely is not as inescapable or foreboding as you might think
  • Realize that what's being asked of you – or what you need to do to rectify the situation – is doable, even if extremely difficult 
  • Focus on using your inherent strengths and capabilities more; determine how best to use them to make, at least, some progress
  • Rather than seeing things as strenuous instead of exciting, practice seeing them as exciting because they are strenuous

To increase your sense of commitment

  • Avoid justifying your overwhelm and exhaustion with impatience; use more positive and optimistic language 
  • Make a pact with yourself to deal with the situation in increasingly smart, capable, and diligent ways; strive to impress yourself with your stick-to-itiveness
  • Keep in motion; moving from the tiniest steps to medium steps is much, much, easier than trying to start moving from a full-stop position
  • Focus on the importance of the work, rather than how difficult, or seemingly impossible, it might feel; regularly remind yourself of the primary, secondary, and even tertiary, reasons why it's important and the bigger purpose it serves for you
  • Dig in; this is as much, if not more, about process than results; honor the process 

To increase your staff's sense of control, challenge, and commitment

  • To help them build their sense of control – Give them choices, ask for their input, talk with them about how they're enacting their vision, remind them they have more control than they may realize, lead by example, model how you want them to handle disappointing results, and never, ever, respond arbitrarily or be disrespectful to them
  • To help them build their sense of challenge – Remind them of the importance of "learning opportunities" and how this is that, foster their proactive and thorough problem solving skills, regularly assign "stretch" assignments, and never, ever, allow them to stay overwhelmed for too long
  • To help them build their sense of commitment – Tell them why what they do is worthwhile, recognize both effort and achievement, build a healthy organizational culture that has them want to come to work and do their best, encourage them to try new things, and never, ever, shoot the messenger
"But, Barry, I'm too stressed to do any of that!" 

If that's the case, then stop, take a few deep, clarifying breaths, and take control of yourself! Yes, while we cannot always control the people or situations we're forced to face, we can, with practice, learn to better control our reactions to them. We can, with practice, better embrace our challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. And we can, with practice, decide – more consciously and purposefully – that we are, indeed, committed to trying some new things to better handle all that's stressing us out. 

Yes, it's true, by taking more personal responsibility for our reactions TO stress – by holding ourselves more accountable FOR our stress reactions – we can start recognizing how much control we actually DO have in these seemingly impossible challenges.

Is it easy? Not always, no. Is it important? You have to decide that for yourselves.

I'll tell you this, though: Hardy executives believe it is. Hardy executives look for what they can control to bring things back in line; they embrace every challenge to learn, grow, and excel, no matter how inconvenient or ill-timed; and they show a steadfast commitment to fully focusing on what matters and why it's worth it.

Other Resources

But, regardless, do SOMETHING. Do something in the next 30-minutes that will help you become more hardy and resilient. Why? Because you deserve it.


Don't forget to visit my blog at to see the new posts I've added recently. Maybe one of them will inspire you to greater things before you get my next newsletter. Here's wishing you a fabulous month!

- bz
Barry Zweibel | 847-291-9735
LeadershipTraction® |

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