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  • Heather Davis

Resourcefulness & Band of Related Traits are Keys to Unlocking Success

If the goal is success - in anything really - few qualities are more valuable than resourcefulness.

The power layered within this seriously underrated trait is found in elements like goal-setting, planning, self-control, coping skills and the resilience necessary for achievement.

Research has found that highly resourceful people are better at achieving goals than their less-resourceful counterparts. Resourcefulness is really helpful for progressing in life.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Resourcefulness is a mindset, a set of skills, a way of approaching life. It also includes an empowering take on the control we have over it.

Psychologists have been studying learned resourcefulness for over half century. Coined by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum in the 1970’s, it involves the ability to confidently and creatively solve problems in order to achieve our goals. It’s heavy on self-control which helps in overcoming challenges along the way.

Resourcefulness develops through various ways: mostly through successful hands-on experience, but also through others that model resourcefulness, and by learning in and out of school, throughout life. It’s about being compelled to find a way, especially when the answer is unclear or during difficult situations.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then resourcefulness is the father.” - Beulah Louise Henry (aka “Lady Edison”)

Resourcefulness from difficulty

Resourceful people are better able to maneuver through rough patches, and those same hardships and bouts of adversity can also prime for future resourcefulness.

The upside of adversity could be a powerful set of skills that may not have been gained any other way. Studies have found that difficult times can spark latent, untapped ingenuity.

Business school professor and psychologist, Scott Sonenshein has been examining resourcefulness in good and bad times, for decades. He says that research confirms that constrained resources can activate the adaptability and creativity necessary to conquer challenges we face.

According to Sonenshein, and others at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, resource scarcity can encourage less-obvious, unconventional and creative ways to use what’s on hand and get more from less.

Struggle and scarcity can give rise to clever and efficient solutions. Sometimes it’s what comes from having no other choice. However, Sonenshein (2014, 2017) has shown too that low resources are not a prerequisite for resourcefulness. It is entirely possible in abundant environments as well.

Learned resourcefulness and self-control

What is fundamental to learned resourcefulness, according to psychologist and expert on the subject, Michael Rosenbaum is self-control.

Forty years ago, Rosenbaum (1980) developed a Self-Control Schedule (SCS) to gauge individual self-regulation. Findings by Rosenbaum & Jaffe (1983) found that highly resourceful individuals are better at two types of self-control important for achieving goals:

Reformative self-control is what’s necessary to stop unhealthy habits and replace them with more beneficial alternatives - like healthy eating, exercising or executing financial restraint.

Redressive self-control is key to being able to cope with, and rebound from, stressful circumstances. Pandemic, anyone?

Learned Resourcefulness and stress

Resourceful individuals are better able to remain calm during difficult times.

Research shows that the redressive self-control associated with resourcefulness serves as a buffer of sorts, from the negative impact of stressful situations (Rosenbaum, 1990). It also helps with emotional self-control necessary for planning, action and to deal effectively with stressful events.

This is due in no small part to expected self-efficacy and the resourceful person’s confident belief in their abilities to manage effectively through stressful times.

Rosenbaum & Ronen (2013) also linked self-control and learned resourcefulness to the ability to achieve emotional wellbeing.

With your brain and your resourcefulness, you can rescue yourself.” - Brad Meltzer

Learned resourcefulness and self-efficacy

Famed psychologist Albert Bandura originally advanced the idea of self-efficacy in 1977. It’s a person’s assumption, expectations and beliefs that they can effectively manage, cope and succeed in the situations they face:

I believe I have control over my life and its outcomes and I expect to be effective and successful.

Or, I do not. That’s a pretty massive dividing line.

On one side is self-efficacy, self-determination, resourcefulness and self-control. Multiple studies show a strong connection between resourcefulness and its influence on one’s expectations of self-efficacy.

Research has found that undergraduate students with high levels of self-control and resourcefulness, combined with expectations of being effective, led to focus and better performance (Rosenbaum & Jaffe, 1983).

Students low in resourcefulness, self-control and a lack of self-efficacy, resulted in helplessness instead.

“Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.” – Martin E.P. Seligman

Power of attribution in helplessness

In 1967, researchers Seligman and Maier’s experiments on learned helplessness showed that animals, including human beings, are conditioned by trauma or repeated failure, to believe that they are powerless. <