Developing a mindset to manage your health

How do we reframe a difficult circumstance from a threat to a challenge?

“The way you choose to look at a situation ultimately determines how you will respond,” says Dane Jensen, CEO of Performance Coaching, the partner organization with Medcan Coaching. “When you choose to view the situation as a challenge rather than a threat, that frame is more likely to support your mental, emotional and physical health in a beneficial way.”

Observing personality hardiness

Jensen likes to reference a longitudal study on personality hardiness by Salvatore Maddi and Suzanne Kolbasa from the University of Chicago – summary in The Hardy Executive published in 1984. Personality hardiness is a term they coined that describes showing resilience under stressful conditions. The researchers monitored employees’ stress levels and health issues over seven years in a workplace setting going through structural upheaval and uncertainty.

The researchers discovered those employees with the greatest hardiness – i.e. the least absenteeism, best health outcomes, and strongest engagement through change and stress – displayed a similar mindset when it came to viewing they upheaval. Their mindset had three consistent elements: challenge, control and commitment. Jensen says the findings can apply to everyday scenarios, including one’s personal health management.

Choose a challenge over a threat

First, the Chicago study’s participants who considered their scenario as a challenge, rather than a threat, displayed greater resilience and had better health outcomes. Jensen encourages his clients to ask themselves: “Am I looking at my health as a challenge or a threat? What can I do to change my perspective from a threat to a challenge?”

Distinguish what is in your control

Once the challenge frame is in place, Jensen moves to control. He asks, “What perspective can I adopt, or action can I take, to transition from a position of victimhood or resignation to one in control of their response and being the driver of circumstances? Of the things I can’t control, how good am I going to be at letting go of these things or referring to my social or medical network for support?”

Once you know what you can control, that’s when you can start acting.

Commit to acting on that which you can change

This frame is influenced by the first two. What can I commit to now by acting on those aspects I can control?

Let’s say your health challenge is high blood pressure, a recent injury, or preventing chronic illness. Given those aspects that are within my control, where can I act to improve or modify the condition?  I.e. working with a registered dietitian and physician on increasing nutritious meals and moderate exercise; training with a physiotherapist and personal trainer to recover with adequate rest; or enhancing your grip strength and cardiovascular health to prevent heart disease.

Ask yourself: “Am I perceiving things as opportunities or threats? Identify those aspects I can control, and commit to taking action on them.  This ensures the ability to influence your situation, rather than resigning to it,” says Jensen.

Are you ceaselessly striving or mastering the situation?


Another way to look at a situation as a challenge or a threat, is a two-by-two matrix called the ‘situation mastery’ grid.

“If you don’t let go of the things you can’t control you are in what we call ceaseless striving,” says Jensen. “This state is a huge waste of energy and a great way to burn yourself out.”

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