Mind | Written by: Corrie Alexander

What is Hardiness? The Key to Growing in Adversity

When I think of hardiness, I immediately think of my rubber plant.

It was a gift from a coworker several years ago when she noticed how boring and desolate my desk looked. I warned her that I wasn’t great with plants, but she insisted it was low maintenance and hardy.

I was doubtful but accepted the then-tiny plant. And although it saw little light and I constantly forgot to water it, it thrived for two years on that desk.

It also survived when I resigned from my job and forgot it in the trunk of my car. It lived through four subsequent house moves. It even survived when my cat playfully tugged on one of its long vines and sent the whole thing crashing to the floor, leaving the pot in thirty pieces and the roots drying out in the air.

Ten years and a new pot later, it’s still as healthy as ever.

We can learn a lot from that little plant. Because although we may face bigger challenges in life than mischievous felines and broken pots, the best way to cope with them is the same: with hardiness.

Mental Hardiness: The Super-Trait

Hardiness, or the ability to endure and even thrive in life’s challenges, is really a super-trait that is made up of three smaller ones:

  • Commitment: The concept of being invested our undertakings, responsibilities, and goals. It’s the ability to stick to the plan when the going gets tough.
  • Self-confidence: A belief in your ability to sway the outcome of any given situation. When bad things happen, you don’t just roll over and play the victim; you take action to resolve it.
  • Challenge-embracing: Seeing the value in negative events as an opportunity to keep growing and learning. 

These three things together form what I like to call a “super-trait” which we refer to as hardiness, resilience, or grit.

Hardy people tend to be more successful in life because they don’t give up on their goals just because it’s difficult. They just tend to be happier, more positive people because they see life’s challenges as a way to develop so that even negative events yields a positive effect.  

Lastly, mentally hardy people tend to be healthier because they cope better with the stressful nature of life. Stress is a proven killer, which makes hardiness one of the most essential elements of our overall well-being.

How to Become Mentally Hardier

It can be a struggle to cope with life’s challenges. The good news is that you can learn to become hardy with a few mental exercises:  

1. Take an Active Approach to Problems

Hardy people tend to have an active stance towards their problems rather than a passive one. In other words, instead of just letting things happen, they’re utilizing their ability to change things for the better.

For example, a hardy person will stand up to a bully while people who take the passive approach will try to “wait out” the torment and suffer in silence.

If taking an active approach is a terrifying concept for you, start with acting on smaller problems to help build your confidence. The more you take an active approach and succeed, the more confident you will be when it's time to tackle bigger problems.  

2. Perform a “Perspective Audit”

You can’t always control the situation but you can always control how you view it. Perspective is a powerful thing, so use it to your advantage! Audit your thought process and then figure out how you can shift your thinking to serve you better.

One way to do this is to change your internal monologue. For example, instead of viewing challenging situations as “bad things happening”, think of them as experiences you can learn from. After all, each time you come out the other side of a challenge, you are stronger for it!

It doesn’t mean that you’re sugarcoating the reality, or that certain things that happen aren’t awful. But viewing it as a challenge that you can grow from empowers you to push through it.

3. Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude

I say it three times because it’s that important. Actively counting your blessings will change your perspective, and changing your perspective will change your life.

Take a few minutes of quiet each day, either when you first wake, or while you’re winding down for bed. Recount the good things that happened that day, no matter how small or trivial they may seem.

If you can make this a consistent practice, you’ll find it becomes easier to find and focus on the positive things throughout the day, despite your challenges.

4. Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

Sometimes we avoid dealing with issues until they completely overwhelm us. In order to truly be mentally hardy, you need to be able to look at not only what’s happening in your life, but why it’s happening. 

Because the truth is, many (though not all) tough circumstances are ones we are choosing to submit to. For example, if you’re a wreck by the time you get home from work every day, you need to ask yourself why that is.

Is it the commute? The job? Are these things really worth the stress?

Being honest with yourself will help you realize if something needs to change.

5. Don’t Be an Ostrich 

Knocking back a few drinks might feel like a way to relieve stress, but it’s no more effective than when an ostrich buries its head in the sand. It’s a temporary measure that makes you feel better in the moment but doesn’t actually fix anything.  

Of course, alcohol is just one example of a “quick fix”. These self-destructive behaviors can manifest as drug abuse, stress-eating, spending irresponsibly, gambling, or any other behaviors that feel good in the moment, but ultimately leave you even less capable of handling your problems.

6. Forgive Yourself

Dwelling on the past and beating yourself up over mistakes you’ve made is a great way to waste time, but doesn’t do much for you in the present or future. 

Realize that you are human and if you can see the lesson learned from your mistake, forgive yourself an move on. Life is too short for anything less!

7. Prioritize Self Care

It shouldn't be a surprise that looking after yourself mentally and physically will help you handle life’s challenges. Because if you’re burning the candle at both ends or constantly putting others before yourself, you’re not going to be able to effectively employ any of these other strategies. 

So carve out some time for yourself, no matter how busy you are, even if it’s just fifteen or twenty minutes.

My favorite form of self-care is a routine exercise. Physical activity not only keeps you healthy, it also boosts your positivity and confidence; pure fuel for a hardy mind!

Hardiness ≠ Hardened 

It’s important to understand that achieving mental toughness doesn’t mean you become “hardened” by the world. On the contrary, you become more flexible. 

You bend with the breeze and bounce back from setbacks, just like my rubber plant.

Not only that, you become more capable of helping others who might be going through the challenges you’ve already survived though. And what is more kind-hearted and compassionate than that?

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