Regardless of how easygoing or carefree you are, life finds ways to push you to your limits and test your resilience. Sometimes that’s through simple miscommunication in the workplace. Other times it’s through insoluble problems at home. How do you handle these big and small stresses in life? Do you fall into a state of sheer panic, or do you take charge and solve problems as they come? How you respond to life’s challenges and obstacles depends almost entirely on your cognitive hardiness. It’s a psychological trait that defines how resilient you are to common and uncommon stresses. It helps you stay calm under pressure, or it stops you in your tracks. Some people are just naturally great at handling stress – they have extraordinary cognitive hardiness that keeps them going. But this isn’t a gift or a talent that you have to be born with, it’s a skill they learned, and it’s a skill you can improve. Let’s take a closer look at cognitive hardiness, see exactly what it is, and find out how you can develop the skills to improve your own hardiness.

What Is Cognitive Hardiness?

Cognitive hardiness, also known as psychological or personality hardiness, was first defined by the psychologist Suzanne C. Kobasa. Her research focused on examining how renowned business executives and managers handled stress. More specifically, she studied which patterns of personality characteristics allowed some of them to remain perfectly healthy under severe stress, while leaving others to develop health problems due to it. She defined hardiness as the ability to cope with stress effectively. Cognitive hardiness is the skill set that allows you to deploy suitable coping strategies to manage stressful events and make the most out of them. Instead of seeing only the negatives when faced with difficulties, cognitive hardiness enables you to see the positive side and create valuable learning experiences from everything life throws at you.

Hardiness in Psychology

Like most psychological skills and traits, it’s believed that cognitive hardiness is developed in early childhood. Children learn how to cope with stress by observing their parents and their surroundings. If others in their environment handle stress inefficiently, children will be more likely to adopt the same approach later in life. Of course, parent feedback plays an important role in building a child’s cognitive hardiness as well. The perception of cohesion is a significant contributor to the development of hardiness and resilience. Children of loving, supportive, patient parents are more likely to display stronger resilience than those who grow up in more dysfunctional families. Stable, positive, predictable parent-children relationships instill confidence in children, allowing them to develop a sense of trust and control in their surroundings and in themselves, which enables them to take control when faced with challenges and stress later on.

How Stress and Worrying Affects Us

Our minds and bodies are well-equipped to handle stress as it can sometimes be a matter of survival. The adrenaline boost caused by stress can help you escape dangerous or life-threatening situations; it can provide you with extra energy or get you to process information faster. However, longer exposure to stress takes a toll on both mental and physical health. Constant stress and worrying can lead to the development of mood disorders and mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. It can cause you to develop insomnia, PTSD, acute stress disorder, and more. Stress can also lead to the development of chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, inflammation, and it can impact your immune system. Unfortunately, the list of mental and physical health problems you could develop due to constant stress is fairly long. It’s critical therefore to develop adequate coping techniques that can help you maintain your overall well being.

Important Role of Cognitive Hardiness

Since cognitive hardiness defines how you cope with stress and problems, it’s evident just how critical it is for both your body and mind. While you cannot always control how much stress you’re exposed to, you can always control how you manage it and how it affects you. Cognitive hardiness can impact every aspect of your life – from how well you do at school and work to how you approach new challenges and opportunities and how you form relationships with others. With lower cognitive hardiness, it becomes more challenging to learn, advance, and thrive. It becomes more difficult to establish trusting relationships and embrace significant life changes – whether they’re generally positive or negative. On the other hand, higher cognitive hardiness makes it all that much easier. Improving hardiness and resilience can improve your overall quality of life.

Characteristics of Cognitive Hardiness

There are three characteristics that psychologist Suzanne C. Kobasa proposed to define cognitive hardiness:
  • Commitment
  • Control
  • Challenge
Commitment involves being committed to yourself, to your purpose in life, and to who you are. It’s your ability to believe in yourself, your skills, and your importance. Control involves taking an active part in handling stress. It means taking control over how you allow stress to affect you and being in charge of how you handle it. It allows you to take action and transform challenges and obstacles into valuable lessons and something beneficial. Challenge involves seeing opportunities in new or adverse circumstances. It includes believing that change, rather than predictability, is the norm of life. It allows you to view stress as a motivator rather than as an overwhelming and paralyzing force.

How to Be More Resilient

As mentioned, it’s believed that cognitive hardiness is largely shaped in early childhood. However, that doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved or built upon in adulthood. To be more resilient and improve your cognitive hardiness, you need to work on yourself and adapt your behaviour.
  • Get to know yourself
    • Identify your critical inner voice, and explore your strengths and weaknesses. Analyze your common responses to stress, and see how you can change them.
  • Be prepared
    • If you’re commonly overwhelmed by the same stressors, always be ready for them. Plan your course of action.
  • Allow room for mistakes
    • Instead of trembling in fear when you make mistakes, learn to embrace them and turn them into learning opportunities.
  • Recognize your value.
    • Develop a positive attitude and recognize your strengths.
Becoming more resilient takes practice. You need to be patient with yourself and find coping mechanisms that work best for you.


Cognitive hardiness can help you thrive, both professionally and personally. It can improve your overall wellbeing and allow you to embrace change, challenges, and new opportunities as they arise. With a bit of hard work and dedication, you can be the better you who remains strong even when life gives you lemons.