Mental Toughness for Success
Few of us wake up in the morning with the intention of being a hero. Instead, we hope to get by without any major stumbling blocks and aim to do what is expected of us.
It’s only when confronted with obstacles that threaten to derail our routines and plans that we don the armor and go into battle. As they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Here’s something to think about: What if we’re missing opportunities to get what we want ̶ and help others get what they want ̶ by not seeing the obstacles early enough?
Successful people don’t limit their worldview. They aren’t imprisoned in their mind by circumstances. They see a universe of possibilities. They don’t want to simply “get by,” but rather they use mental toughness to ask for more, no matter the barriers.
What Is Mental Toughness?
Some people think that mental toughness is the ability to plow through circumstances without being affected by emotions or feelings. When it comes to success, however, high performers know that the key is to identify, control, and manage emotions, both their own and others’.
“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”
~ Vince Lombardi
Mental toughness means perceiving, understanding, using, and managing feelings. When you are aware and curious about emotions, you are sensitive to others’ needs. This puts you in a stronger position to sort out negative from positive feelings and make better decisions.
Wikipedia describes mental toughness as a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances and emerge without losing confidence.
Only within the past ten years has scientific research attempted a formal definition of mental toughness as a psychological construct.
Dr. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute, in his book The New Toughness Training for Sports, defined mental toughness as “the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”
Self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions. To be successful, you must stay alert to emotions in order to manage behavior in various contexts.
It’s not enough to be aware; mental toughness means you are both willing and able to tolerate the discomfort of negative feelings.
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”
~ Lao Tzu
You don’t need to spend time discovering the deep dark secrets of your inner world but rather developing an honest understanding of what makes you tick.
Mental toughness strengthens your ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. Then you can choose to express feelings appropriately in a way that connects with other people, their needs, and desired outcomes.
When you become more sensitive to feelings, you can do three things:
- Identify what creates stress
- Pinpoint what motivates positive behavior
- Listen and talk in ways that resolve conflicts rather than escalate them
Also Required: Self-Discipline
Self-discipline is not an attitude of harshness; instead it requires inner strength to choose what you will make a priority. To become competent in your field, you’ll have to study, practice, make mistakes, and find new ways to solve problems. This means you have to persist until you find a path that works successfully.
In terms of instilling the values of mental toughness and work ethic, discipline is the gift that keeps on giving.
~ William Baldwin
As a result, you create authentic skills you can rely upon when confronted by obstacles. This is how you build mental toughness and strength to do things better, more confidently.
Tips to Build Mental Toughness
A good book on the subject is Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths by LaRae Quy.
1. Identify your emotional hot buttons. Knowing who or what pushes our buttons and when it happens is critical to developing the ability to control a situation. This awareness allows you to carefully choose your actions and words, thus avoiding unproductive behaviors that sabotage success.
- Notice your emotions as they arise, both positive and negative, without judging. Simply observe them with curiosity.
- Slow yourself down with deep breathing so the fast, emotional brain doesn’t overtake the slower, rational brain.
- Pinpoint the circumstances that produce emotional reactions. This awareness will enable you to calibrate your reactions in future situations.
2. Observe others as well as yourself. Notice emotions in other people. Becoming a keen observer of behavior is critical to understanding others. Ask questions to find out more about how others think, react, and choose priorities. But remember:
- Everyone’s different. Simply observe and inquire.
- There are no right or wrong reactions; allow people their uniqueness.
- Observe, inquire, and learn without an agenda. Do not judge.
- Cultivate and express a curiosity about life and other people.
3. Don’t settle into complacency. Success seduces us into becoming set in our ways. We love routine and we readily accept assumptions. Don’t let your comfort zone turn into a limiting barrier. Stretch and challenge your habits. Always ask questions, such as “What if…?” Try new things.
4. Express gratitude as a power emotion. Nothing resolves conflicts and energizes people more than appreciation, yet most of us don’t express it enough. We have a negativity bias and are too quick to point out flaws in both others and ourselves.
Mental toughness must be built on a solid foundation of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, discipline, and positive social relationships.