All of us face adversity at one time or another. Some of us see it at work. Others face difficult times at home. Sometimes we might face adversity at work and at home simultaneously. But if overcoming challenges is a part of life for everyone, why do some people shy away from trying to deal with those challenges while others seem to thrive in turbulent times? There is no question that stress affects everyone to some degree, yet some people seem more prone to adverse reactions to stress than others. This holds true for those who work in organizations and perhaps even more so for those who own and run their own business. Part of coping with stress lies with having a strong support network. If you have your own business or work from home, it can be even more difficult to deal with stress and setbacks as this type of business is often a solo operation. However, recent studies have shown that increasing something known as psychological capital can help you face, overcome, and even welcome the challenges that are bound to arise at work and at home.
Psychological capital is a construct that has its roots in positive psychology and positive organizational behavior. Both of these areas focus, as you may have guessed,on the positive aspects of human behavior. Instead of looking at what needs to be fixed in a person, positive psychology and positive organizational behavior studies what characteristics create happier, more flourishing individuals. There are certain characteristics which have been found to contribute to a fuller, more positive lifestyle. These qualities help people deal with and overcome adversity both at home and in the workplace. And while these characteristics are powerful when engaged individually, they become a powerhouse of positivity when they interact together. When combined, these qualities become known as construct called psychological capital. The qualities involved are self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience. People with higher levels of psychological capital are better at dealing with stress, adversity, challenges, and all the other bad stuff that life can throw at us.
But just what are these qualities and why do they make people more resilient? Let’s start with self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to deal with a certain task or situation effectively. It’s akin to self-confidence, but is more specific to a situation than a perspective of overall personal capability. High levels of self-efficacy can help the entrepreneur set high professional goals and invest the necessary energy to accomplish them because he or she believes those goals are achievable. The same holds true in the traditional workplace. Those with higher levels of self-efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals for themselves or the organization since they see those goals as possible even when faced with obstacles.
Hope may seem like an odd trait to include in psychological capital, especially when paired with optimism. Together, these characteristics may seem redundant, but hope focuses on specific ways to achieve a goals. Rather than just assuming one can achieve a goal, hope provides both the willpower and the waypower to reach the destination. Hope consists of the willpower–namely the determination and motivation–necessary to achieve a goal. It also provides a way to explore various different routes to reach that destination. Hope allows a person to work toward a goal, and provides the ability to change strategies if one course of actions doesn’t seem to work.
While hope focuses on internal abilities, optimism works in tandem to view external factors in a positive light. An optimist looks at adversity as a temporary concern, whereas the pessimist can see it as more of a normal, chronic condition. Optimism is associated with a broad spectrum of positive outcomes including sales, job performance, and leadership. Hope provides the optimist with the willpower and the way-power, but optimism is critical in that it helps individuals envision and create more positive outcomes.
Finally, resilience is a key factor in psychological capital. Resilience is the ability to rebound from adversity, obstacles, and challenges. The interesting thing about resilience is that it is now considered to be a highly learnable quality. Resiliency allows a person to not just bounce back from adversity, but a highly resilient person can become even better because of addressing and overcoming the challenge. People who are highly resilient are more likely to look at challenges as opportunities for growth and development instead of insurmountable stumbling blocks.
If you would like to be able to weather setbacks more effectively, and even look forward to challenges and obstacles as a means for growth, there is good news. Because psychological capital consists of state-like qualities, each of the four characteristics can be developed and enhanced. The first step may be as simple as taking an honest assessment of yourself and your views on the world. How would you rate yourself in each of the areas? Are there certain characteristics you feel might be improved upon? As you increase awareness of each trait, you will be raising your own psychological capital. As you do so you will be able to face adversity and challenges in the workplace, the home, or your own business in a more positive and effective manner. And if you are an entrepreneur, you may just find raising your level of psychological capital to be a very effective tool for increasing your bottom line.
Avey, J. B., Luthans, F., & Jensen, S. M. (2009). Psychological capital: A positive resource for combating employee stress and turnover. Human Resource Management, 48(5), 677-693.
Luthans, F., & Youssef, C. M. (2007). Emerging positive organizational behavior. Journal Of Management, 33(3), 321-349. doi:10.1177/0149206307300814.