Mental toughness, mindset and mentality are totally misunderstood terms in the general community. The reason being is that there is no definitive measure or score that can be applied to the attribute of the trait. However, to be able to know it when you see it is much more powerful than any score. There are also misunderstandings around what mental toughness is and isn't, so this post will try to explain:
- What it is
- What it isn't
- Have you got it
- What happened if you haven't got it
- How does it help me if I have it
Mental toughness is an outcome, it is part of the psychological and emotional process that occurs after we receive certain inputs but before the resultant actions and behaviours that we then take. It forms part of your psychological core and is in there with your beliefs, attitudes and values. These inputs can be in the form of anxiety, stress, pressure, challenge, threat, fear, poor thoughts, problems, adversity and more.
By taking these inputs in and processing them leads to different mixed emotions, thoughts and actions that can either be helpful or unhelpful to what you are trying to achieve. So I consider mental toughness to be a converter of inputs to outputs that happens deep within our mind many many times a day. Multiply this by 7 for each week and 365 for each year and you can see how important it is to our ultimate success, performance and survival.
When I am asked, What is it if you cannot measure it? I state that it is the ability to face and overcome anything that is thrown at you, not once but always. It is your ability to truly keep going in the face of threat and adversity and to get to your desired result. If things go well, you build confidence in your own ability to overcome anything and if things go badly, then you have the resilience to bounce back and fight again. You do not give up, you build internal mental resources through your mindset and mentality.
So what isn't mental toughness? Mental toughness is not about walking through walls, hurting and damaging yourself, being mentally disconnected because this is not healthy for anyone. It certainly is not macho as the evidence is available in both genders, all races, creeds and religions. It is not about physical strength and the ability to overcome pain. It is not a lost cause if you believe that you do not possess it and it is not a club that only some can join.
So how do you know if you have an abundance of mental toughness. In all likelihood, you don't, it is a mix of your genetics and your life to date. It will be an accumulation of challenge that you have experienced in your whole life and how many you have overcome. The more you face and overcome, the more you build your mental toughness muscle. Similar to the gym, where you develop physical muscle by challenging each muscle group and putting them under stress, the mental strength muscle also develops by testing it and developing it throughout your life. The more you test, the more it builds and the bigger and stronger it gets.
When asked about the reserves of mental toughness I say that you know if you are strong when faced with something uncomfortable and maybe threatening. How do you respond? Do you run and hide, do you shrink under the weight of expectation, do you blame, cheat or ignore it or do you face it and look internally for the mental resources that you need to overcome the demands of the situation. If you know that you have enough you apply yourself to solving it, if you don't you go and build those extra resources needed to achieve your outcome.
You are aware of the demands being placed upon you because of the importance of the situation, scenario or challenge and how important it is to you to succeed. We consider that a challenge mindset is needed when faced with uncertainty. This approach is good brain chemistry and triggers empowering motivation at a electro-chemical level. By applying this approach frees up your mental resources away from stress, pressure and fear as you seek solutions. It is conducive to good problem solving and decision making and helps ongoing health and wellbeing.
The opposite is true if you apply the avoidance approach, which hopes that uncertainty and fear will just go away. Your brain chemistry triggers poor responses to solving situations and your health and wellbeing. The reason being is that you activate your sympathetic autonomic nervous system and leads to fight, flight or freeze which is the evolutionary in-built system that helps us in response to serious threat to life. The good part is that in a short amount of time you can evade attackers and save your life, the bad part is that cortisol, the stress hormone pumps throughout your veins constantly over the smallest little threat and leads to serious dis-ease for mind and body.
So in a nutshell, if we work upon our mentality and change things internally and apply a new and empowering mindset that faces our threats, we will develop mental toughness. Once developed we build confidence that we can overcome anything that goes wrong. We embrace change, we adapt to new needs and we make better decisions.
We may be born with a certain amount of mental toughness in our DNA, but that is not the end of the story. We can learn and build it, we can understand that every time we overcome setback or adversity, we build reserves for next time. It gets easier all the time. The evidence also suggests that we develop hardiness, control, grit and determination in our day to day life.
Imagine the results that can be obtained from being mentally tough. Let's just consider how mentally tough people act:
- They remain calm when facing up to the challenge
- They are always confident that the result will be the right one
- Their attitude and behaviour is professional and empowering to those around them
- They are focused upon the challenge at that time and nothing else
- They listen to those around them and communicate clear and concise plans
- They lead by example, they take leadership and responsibility
- They are motivated intrinsically
- Their goals are the right ones and challenging
- Their arousal levels are finely balanced
- They are prepared, their emotions are in check
- They are the master of their thoughts, so the resultant behaviours will be appropriate
So in conclusion, why would we not become aware of our levels of mental strength and work on the areas and resources needed to become even stronger. Why would we not build resilience and the ability to never give up. If you consider staff and employees that enjoy better wellbeing and productivity because they use the power of their mind to pursue mastery and purpose at work. What if our management and leadership changed business culture to allow workers to develop themselves in this way, saving fortunes in lost productivity and performance through illness, presentee-ism and job changing and extra revenues in creativity, handling of pressure and pure engagement in the workforce.
Mental toughness, mindset and mentality development is the same as any form of workplace training, allow everyone to learn about these skills, practice them and apply them for you at work. Do you think that this may be a positive thing or a negative thing? Guess what, it is also inexpensive which is a good sell for any board.
So in conclusion let's highlight the 4 easy steps to mental toughness:
- Reclaim your winning mindset
- Reprogram your winning mindset
- Reactivate your winning mindset
- Re-ignite your winning mindset
So I hope you have enjoyed my take on this incredible skill and attribute that can serve you well in whatever may come your way.
Geoff Greenwood FCCA MBA MSc