At one of the lowest points in his life, Frank Magwegwe, Ph.D., made use of the characteristics that he ultimately would share with others. In doing so, he became his own HERO.
Magwegwe grew up in South Africa, part of a large family of seven with an alcoholic father. He moved away from home and ultimately found himself broke, unemployed, and homeless as a 20-year-old.
“Hunger is a constant companion of a homeless person,” he says. Some days he didn’t eat and faced danger on the streets. Although homeless, he was not hopeless.
In 1993, through selling fruit and vegetables in downtown Johannesburg, he beat the odds and escaped homelessness. His journey since then includes many accomplishments: Completion of his Ph.D. in personal financial planning from Kansas State University, and work as an entrepreneur, research scientist, and academic, recently as a lecturer at the University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Now Magwegwe, who spoke at the 2021 EMBAC Conference, writes and teaches about overcoming adversity and finding more joy and happiness in life. His message takes on even more meaning as the world struggles through a global pandemic that has impacted the mental health of many people.
Why do some people seem to weather difficult circumstances better than others? As Magwegwe discovered, psychological capital can make a difference on well-being and bring out the HERO within us.
HERO refers to the core elements of psychological capital – hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism – which help lead people to a more positive psychological state that allows them to better overcome obstacles and experience greater joy.
Recent research that looked at the impact of the pandemic demonstrated that the concept of psychological capital does improve well-being, Magwegwe says. “Results are clearly showing us that individuals with high levels of psychological capital reported lower levels of depression, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of stress, for example.”
During difficult times, people often look for a hero, and the movies are full of them. Still strong, this HERO hits much closer to home.
“We are talking about a different kind of HERO, a HERO that doesn’t come from outside, the HERO that is already within us,” he says. “What is amazing is how powerful this HERO is, but how misunderstood or underutilized this HERO is.”
What do the qualities of a HERO look like?
With hope, individuals persevere toward goals, and when necessary, redirect paths to goals, to succeed. When they run into an obstacle, they find an alternative route. Efficacy means they have the confidence to succeed at challenging tasks. They exhibit resilience through a sustained effort, bouncing back in response to problems and adversity to succeed. They are optimistic and they stay positive regarding success today and in the future.
Psychological capital is not only important to individuals, but to organizations.
Research has shown, particularly in organizations, psychological capital is positively linked to increased mental well-being, higher levels of life and work satisfaction, lower employee absenteeism, lower employee cynicism, reduced intentions to quit, and higher job satisfaction and commitment, says Magwegwe.
When individuals frame their thinking like HEROs, research shows they also behave differently. Instead of seeing an obstacle as a threat, they perceive the obstacle or the challenge as an opportunity to grow, he says.
Everyone can increase their levels of hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. “We can help individuals grow their psychological capital by positive psychology interventions that have been shown to improve each one of those four components.”
Magwegwe suggested the following practices to help strengthen psychological capital:
• Set, clear, measurable, and achievable goals
• Break complex goals into smaller, more manageable pieces
• Celebrate even the small milestones
• Focus on past successes (master experiences)
• Copy other people (social modeling)
• Create situations that foster success (social persuasion)
• Reframe negative experiences (psychological responses)
• Face reality
• Search for meaning
• Seek help
• Change your focus
• Practice gratitude
• Surround yourself with positive people
• Celebrate success
It’s good news for everyone’s well-being: Psychological capital can be measured and improved, says Magwegwe.
“Psychological capital is not a trait. It’s not you have it, or you don’t. We can build it in our own personal lives through deliberate practice.”