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February 14, 2011

Do You Know What Makes You Great?
Neil F. Neimark, MD

Years ago, researcher Suzanne Kobasa studied the key elements that make up a Stress Hardy Personality.

Stress hardiness is a measure of our ability to stay healthy in the face of adversity and stress. Essentially, it is a form of stress immunity.

In her classic study, Kobasa looked at 161 business executives who were under large amounts of stress. She found that those who stayed healthy judged their stresses differently than those who became ill. The healthy individuals had a capacity for what she called optimistic cognitive appraisal. This capacity has come to be known as the stress hardy personality and is characterized by 3 C's. They are:

1) Commitment:
Those executives who stayed well were committed to work and committed to family, but predominately they were committed to their own values, their sense of purpose and their inner life.

2) Control:
Healthy executives always displayed an attitude of control in their lives, so that even if they could not control the external events in their lives they were able to control their reactions to and beliefs about these events. And finally,

3) Challenge:
The healthy executives were able to view life's difficulties and setbacks as a challenge and an opportunity for growth rather than something catastrophic.

By consciously paying attention to the 3 C's, we can begin to build a stress hardy personality. When adversity strikes, why not take out a piece of paper and write down your answers to some of these questions:

What am I committed to?
Where do I stand on this issue? What are my values?
What do I believe in?
What am I willing to fight for? What is my purpose in life?
How can I stay on purpose?
What do I really value in my life?
How can I strengthen my commitment to what I stand for, value and believe in?

What am I in control of?
Is there something I can do to alter or change this adverse situation?
Is there someone I can talk to that can help?
Is there some step I can take to help resolve the situation?
If I cannot control what's happening, can I control the way I am thinking or perceiving what's happening?
Can I change my attitude about what's happening?
Can I let go of having to control the situation, and just allow things to be?
If I cannot change what's happening, can I accept that I have no control over it?
Can I accept my limitations? My humanness?

What is the challenge for me in this situation?
Can I see the positive benefit from this adverse situation?
Can I find the blessing in what is happening?
Can I become stronger from it?
Can I see the opportunity for growth?

By asking ourselves these key questions, we can begin to use adversity as a way to build our inner strength and inner resolve. It may be hard at first, but with time, looking at every bad situation in the light of commitment, control and challenge will help us to move from stress to strength.

I remember watching an old Tom Hanks movie called A League Of Their Own about the women's baseball league during WWII. In the movie, Gena Davis, who was incredibly passionate and alive with her love for the game, was ready to quit the league because her husband returned from war with a minor injury and wanted to move back to Oregon. While trying to sneak away, her coach Tom Hanks confronted her and asked her why she was leaving. She replied that with her husband coming home, things just became a little too hard. Tom Hanks replied, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes you great."

I love that line: "The hard is what makes you great."

So it is in dealing with the adversities of life. It's hard to honestly examine our own attitudes and beliefs. It's easier to blame things on other people or on external factors. But when we make the effort to face adversity with an open mind and a willingness to question and examine our level of commitment, control and challenge, we can begin to build a stress hardy personality. We can begin to use the "hard" to make us great. We can begin to use the stress to make us strong.

Till next time, always remember what makes you great. In body and soul,

Reprinted by permission

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