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    Pillar 1: Developing Mental Hardiness

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    Resiliency Pillar 1: Developing Mental Hardiness

    This pillar focuses on specific mental factors known to be associated with higher performance in all areas, including health and happiness. The Hardiness "mindset" is targeted at your ability to avoid self-defeating thoughts, and better withstand life's inevitable frustrations.

    Have you ever been around someone whose emotions were unpredictable? You probably felt as if you had to "walk on eggshells."

    Or have you tried to reason with someone who was in an extreme state of fear or anger. It's almost impossible to get through until they calm down, right?

    One of the hallmarks of personal and professional maturity is the ability to identify and manage stressful negative emotions, a big component of "emotional intelligence".

    Can you imagine functioning well at anything while your feelings cycled through episodes of worry, rage and sadness? In fact, your emotional and social intelligence are responsible for more of your success in life than almost any other factor. [4]

    Our emotions are like a "barometer" of our state of well-being, or lack of it. Emotions are healthy and natural, so long as they don't lead to damaging consequences, and with the following powerful caveat:

    Human beings are "primed" to experience and remember negative emotions much more deeply than positive ones. If unchecked, these emotions lead to unhealthy consequences so powerful that they can literally shave years off your life, decrease your productivity and cause your most important relationships to go toxic.

    Want Proof?

    Let's have "NUN" of that!

    In one of the most famous scientific studies of its kind, 180 catholic nuns were classified as either "pessimistic" or "optimistic" when psychologists carefully analyzed their autobiographical essays written around the age of 22, and shortly after entering the convent. Decades later, the health records of the two groups were compared, and the Sisters classified as "optimistic" lived almost an entire decade longer than the pessimists, even when all other factors were controlled for! [5]

    And don't think this issue is just specific to Nuns. Mayo Clinic studied a group of medical patients for three decades.Their results showed that a pessimistic outlook, or "explanatory style", was "significantly associated with a self-report of poor physical and mental functioning" thirty years later, as well as nearly a twenty percent increase in mortality rates. A second forty-year study, also done at Mayo, found that "optimists had increased longevity" and other significant health benefits. [6]

    At one of the nation's largest insurance companies, MetLife Inc, the top ten percent of optimists outsold the other ninety percent by ninety percent. When the company began hiring for optimism, these new agents outsold the more pessimistic salespeople by 57% within two years, even if they did not fully meet other more traditional hiring standards! [7]

    Studies have also shown that an attitude of "learned optimism" in both coaches and team members can predict who makes it to the playoffs in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, even when controlling for talent and ability! And, optimistic athletes have been demonstrated to be much better at recovering from setbacks and disappointments during professional sporting events and the Olympics. [8]

    The Resilient Mindset

    There is a popular misconception about the term "optimism". It is often cast as a naive and superficial effort to view the world through "rose-colored glasses", or as just "positive thinking".

    As one airline captain put it: "Say I'm low on fuel and flying into a thunderstorm. Am I just supposed to tell myself "No problem", it's all going to turn out just fine"?

    Wrong! Being unjustifiably optimistic in high-risk situations is dangerous and often leads to poor judgment. And not just dangerous... pollyanna dumb!

    But there is another less obvious kind of optimism: rational, or flexible, optimism. It has been shown to be associated with far better outcomes in virtually every important area including increased life span, financial success, improved athletic performance, and enhanced levels of happiness. [9]

    Healthy Optimism

    Bad things happen to everyone at some point. When they do, we quite naturally look for answers, and have habitual ways of explaining them to ourselves. These are called our favored "explanatory styles". [10] [11]

    Pessimistic people, for example, tend to interpret life's adversities according to the "3 P's":

    This style of thinking, of course, leads to much higher levels of emotional and physical strain.

    Flexibly optimistic people, on the other hand, interpret adversity as temporary, limited in scope, and contributed to by a number of factors other than just "me". And haven't the majority of negative events in your life mostly turned out to be time-limited and/or less impactful than you might have predicted initially?

    By working to develop a more flexible, optimistic mindset, you unlock your ability to deal with potentially dangerous chronic daily hassles, and you add a layer of protection against future life-altering traumatic events.

    The Stress Continuum

    Which of these do you think is the most damaging to your long term health and peace of mind?

    We often think that significant life adjustments (e.g. divorce, job loss, etc) or major life altering events (e.g. a severe health problem, etc) are the most damaging to our sense of well-being. For most of us, however, chronic daily hassles accumulate over time, and create the most strain both physically and psychologically.

    They often "sneak up" on us and gradually over-activate our nervous systems on a chronic basis.

    But how we interpret, or "talk" to ourselves about the various adversities we experience has a tremendous impact on our feelings and actions.

    So developing a more flexibly optimistic perspective just includes re-programming self-defeating explanatory styles, and replacing them with ones more like those who regularly achieve higher levels of health, happiness and higher performance!

    Here is how to do it.

    Rethinking Your Thinking

    Emotional upsets are always composed of three interactive elements called the "ABC's". [13] [14]

    A: First, you have an Adverse circumstance. This includes all the things that happen to you, or the circumstances that seem to be causing your emotional responses.

    B: Secondly, you have your personal Belief system. This represents your Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) reflected in your conscious and non-conscious self-talk about your circumstances. [15]

    C: Lastly, you have the emotional Consequences, or stressful emotional feelings (and behaviors) that flow directly from your underlying attitudes and beliefs.

    So the model looks like this:

    The following example explains how two people can experience the same Adverse Event, and yet respond very differently on an emotional and behavioral level:

    Which response do you think reflects a more resilient mindset?

    The Answer? Focus on what you can control.

    One of the key findings of the AT&T study, cited in the R4L Introduction, was that the most resilient people were the ones who focused on what they could personally control; their own attitudes, beliefs, and self-talk. They also showed high levels of commitment to their goals, and thought of stressors as challenges, rather than endless struggles.

    So, some key insights into developing a resilient mindset are:

     You are frequently unable to change the world to suit you. In other words, you often can't change (A) directly (e.g. Your adverse circumstances).

     Instead, highly resilient people focus their attention on changing (B) (e.g. Their "explanatory style", or habitual self-defeating beliefs) which generate their stressful feelings in the first place.

    Reprogramming your ANT'S (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

    In order to lessen the stressful emotional impact of life's adversities, you often just need to correct certain faulty assumptions and self-talk.

    Common ANT'S

    Self-defeating Beliefs at point B often come disguised as ANT'S, or Automatic Negative Thoughts. [16] [17] [18]

    Some common ANT'S include:

    To reframe self-defeating ANT'S, replace them with PAT'S, or Positive Adaptive Thoughts.

    Positive Adaptive Thoughts (PAT'S)

    The hallmark of Positive Adaptive Thoughts is that they are:

     Factually true 

     Proportionate and not exaggerated

     Likely to lead to a better outcome  [19]

    Helpful questions to "re-frame" your thinking include:

     How important is this in the overall scheme of things?

     What's another way to look at this situation?

     How much of this is my issue?

     Is it helpful or harmful for me to think this way?

     How long is this likely to last?

     Is it really worth stewing over? [20]

    So when ANT'S are replaced with PAT'S and then practiced, you will achieve the desired new emotional responses over time!

    Examples of PATS

     "This will likely pass in time."

     "I can take steps to correct the situation."

     "There's no evidence I can't handle this, even though I don't like it."

     "I've stood much worse."

     "I'll gather some further information and develop a plan."

    Our Pessimistic Brains

    Did you know our marvelous brains are capable of processing millions of bits of sensory information per second? And yet we attend to only a tiny percentage at any given time. [21] This means that we are actually only aware of a very small sliver of reality from moment to moment.

    Secondly, our brains are hard-wired to "scan" the world for threats and other dangers to our safety. Our ancient ancestors would never have survived thinking only "happy thoughts". They would have been eaten!

    So how do happier, more flexibly optimistic and productive people avoid being self-defeatingly pessimistic, and program their brains for success and resiliency?

    One way is by using the "Tetris Effect" to their benefit. [22] [23]

    The Tetris Effect

    Tetris is a very popular, semi-addictive online game. It involves random geometric cubes "falling" from the top of the video screen. The player then lines them up across the bottom as quickly as possible. The better the player gets, the faster and more challenging the game becomes.

    Researchers at Harvard University wanted to see what effects playing Tetris had on the brain. [24] They recruited a number of regular Tetris players, and paid them to play for several hours a day. At the end of the study they found that the subjects began to literally "see" the world in terms of the geometric shapes from the game, even in their every day lives!

    Try this brief experiment. Take about five seconds right now and stare directly at a nearby light (not the sun!). Now, close your eyes tightly, and what do you see? Probably an "after image" of that light as your brain retains it. Repetition and intensity literally change the organization of your brain, for better or worse. [25]

    Why Does It Matter?

    Because when pessimists habitually scan their world for adversities, and then practice telling themselves that these adversities are "permanent, pervasive and personal", they come to see the world through that prism.

    Those with a Hardy Mindset see the negatives as well, but realistically recognize and practice telling themselves that most of the bad things that happen to them don't tend to last, and if they do, can be countered or overcome. Optimists are also far less likely to take things personally and predict the worst. In other words they see most events as temporary, limited, and not just about me.

    So, hardy optimists use the Tetris Effect to their advantage, and do not let it put them into a downward emotional tailspin when events don't go their way!

    Look at This!

    Try this brief exercise to better make the point. Before reading further, look at the photo below and count up everything you see that is GREEN for about 5 seconds. Ready? Go!

    Got a number? Okay.

    Now, how many things did you see that were RED? Probably not many. Why? Because you weren't looking for red items, not because they aren't there! We often "see" or find what we look for, and if your focus is primarily on life's adversities or your shortcomings, you are sure to find them.

    Mental Focus and Direction

    This leads to the very real consequence of looking for things in "all the wrong places". The practical reality is, just like driving and downhill skiing, we tend to goin the direction in which we visually and mentally focus. The more you look for all the things that might go wrong, the more likely you are to see them "up close and personal".

    And the opposite is true as well. If you regularly visualize the steps needed to achieve a positive goal, you will ultimately accelerate your progress toward it. That is why professional athletes, performers and other high achievers practice simple visualization techniques to reduce the tendency to focus on pitfalls and distractions, and build mental pathways to success. [26]

    A Lesson From Driving School

    One of the first things you learn at schools of high performance driving is to "look" where you want your car to go. Too many times drivers get distracted by curves or dangerous obstacles; their vision then focuses in on the "threat", and many drive right into the very thing they were trying to avoid!

    Defensive Pessimism

    One of the most seductively self-defeating mindsets you can embrace is "defensive pessimism". [27] Those who do typically think of themselves as just being "realistic" or "pragmatic".

    The hallmark of defensive pessimism is to "expect the worst" until proven otherwise. It is self-defeating because you end up creating the world you expect, the worst one.

    In addition, defensive pessimism leads to excessive "mind chatter", or worry, one of the greatest destroyers of productivity, health and well-being.

    Defensive pessimists act as though dwelling on what might go wrong somehow wards off negative events. This puts them in a chronic, smoldering state of fight or flight, and causes them to exaggerate the worst outcomes in their own minds. They also seem to equate excessive worry, especially about others (kids, family, friends, etc), with morally responsible behavior.

    All this, of course, is reinforced by the few times when their worry is actually confirmed by events. But is it really worth it to place that kind of chronic strain on your nervous system just to be "right" on those few occasions when things turn out badly?

    "I've had many catastrophes in my life, most of which never happened."

    Attributed to Mark Twain


    Flexible, rational optimism is the hardiness mindset of resilient high achievers. Research shows that it can clearly be learned, and is associated with many benefits to your health, happiness and higher performance.

    Far from being pollyanna-ish, healthy, learned optimism is hardcore realistic when it comes to the downside, but also helps you re-program the most common thinking traps which undermine your mental hardiness or toughness.

    Assess your new learning by clicking on the link below and answering some brief quiz questions:


    Here are two proven mental hardiness and optimism building tools that you can start using right away. Please read about both, then select one to begin with. As you grow your skill over a period of 21-30 days, you can come back and work on the second. Soon they'll both be working together to reinforce a much stronger, more resilient mindset. With practice, you won't believe the impact these simple, proven strategies will have on your outlook and life satisfaction.

    Why 21-30 days?

    Because 21-30 days is generally considered as the length of time required to begin a new positive habit.

    Sabotage Alert !

    You can easily sabotage your resilience by telling yourself you "don't have the time" to practice these well-validated, scientific tools on a regular basis for 21-30 days. But the average person spends several hours a day watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet. You know who you are!

    Surely you can adjust your schedule and build in 10-20 minutes per day to initiate some habits that can change your life. Don't settle for less!


    People regularly become worked up about chronic daily hassles that are blown way out of proportion to their actual significance thus lowering their resilience. The Catastrophe Scale allows you to regain perspective, and place many adverse life circumstances in context from a more rational vantage point, and is an important resiliency building skill.

    Here is how it works. Use the downloadable form to help you work through this very simple process.

    This procedure alone will allow you to soften many of your daily life hassles and become much more detached from toxic interactions with others which you have little or no control over. Use it as a first step whenever you feel negative emotions escalating.


    Practice Catastrophe Scaling for 21-30 days. It will expand your perspective, and reduce the chances that you will overreact in the future.

    If the adversity is truly significant in your life, then utilize the next tool, Thought Challenging, described in this section to help re-frame self-defeating ideas and replace them with "PATS" (Positive Adaptive Thoughts).

    Print Strategy 1


    Pick an "adverse event" that generated noticeable stress for you within the past week.

    1) Complete the following downloadable form by writing down a brief, objective description of the Adverse Event.

    2) Next, write down your emotional and behavioral responses at point C (e.g. sad, mad, fearful, yelling, withdrawal, etc).

    3) Then, identify and re-frame your self-defeating thinking or ANT'S under B, and replace them with PAT'S or Positive Adaptive Thoughts.

    4) When completed, read your thought challenge form out loud to yourself 2-3 times per day for 21-30 days.


    Generate at least 4-5 examples over a 21-30 day period. You will soon become much more skilled at identifying the thinking traps which contribute to a defensively pessimistic mindset.

    Print Strategy 2

    Congratulations for completing Pillar 1, Developing Mental Hardiness. When you're ready, move on to Pillar 2 to learn about the single biggest predictor of resilience and how you can take advantage of it right away!

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