In every area of our life, it is our mental toughness and grit that predicts the level of our success more than any other factor. Whether we are embarking on a new task, or continue to challenge ourselves at activities we currently do, being mentally tough is important. Be it pursuing a career, mastering a skill, learning a sport or to handle daily work stresses or physical ailments, mental toughness is essential for navigating the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives.
Not everyone can be strong in adversity. While some make uncertainty as an opportunity for growth, for many, coping with uncertainty can be quite daunting. Research shows that uncertainty can often be harder to deal with than the negative consequences that follow. This also can be because of our negativity bias or tendency to focus on the bad even when these consequences might be insignificant.
“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.”
― Gever Tulley
Also, resilience and mental toughness are not skills that come naturally to everyone and often we won’t realise we are mentally strong until we use our mental muscle. Sometimes an adversity can make us stronger or sometimes it can make it harder for us to carry on with even the everyday tasks. The difference between the two is what determines our personal resilience. It is your ability to stay focused and keep pushing to achieve goals, despite setbacks is what determines your mental strength.
Even though many of us know what it means to be mentally strong, yet in our day-to-day life we can handle some situations well and get overwhelmed by others. In fact many talented people do not follow through with their commitments and never reach their true potential because they cannot mentally endure certain challenging situations or circumstances.
Similarly, people who are physically strong would have used a lot of mental strength, but may lack grit to face other challenges in life. Whereas some people who may not appear physically strong may actually be quite tough in handling and overcoming stressful circumstances because of their life experiences. Same holds true with people with high intelligence quotient. High IQ doesn’t guarantee their ability to adapt to tough times. It’s not that mentally strong have all the solutions, it is just that they have a strong purpose for going forward that drives them to look for opportunity within challenges they face.
What it means to be mentally strong?
Being mentally tough is to be resilient against unexpected stressors and uncertainties. It’s the ability to stay strong and function well in the face of doubt coping with demands or anxiety. It means having a psychological edge to perform consistently, remain determined, focused and confident under pressure.
It is perfectly possible for individuals who are mentally sensitive to be effective and successful provided they are self-aware. The same holds true for mentally tough people. They can struggle without developing self-awareness. This is because our mental strength reflects our experiences and what we learn from them. So, if we have learned to think in some way, we can re-learn to think if we reflect on what we experience and draw new learning from that. The key is self-awareness and reflection on what this means for the way we go through life.
Also, being mentally tough is not only about recovering or bouncing back after a setback, it’s also about managing your wellbeing, outlook and approach when dealing with the smaller things and developing the skills to help you feel prepared to face challenges.
According to the more widely used “4Cs model “ for defining and measuring mental toughness, developed by Professor Peter Clough and others, experiential learning is extremely effective whether it is exposure to situation or through reflecting on past or current experiences and drawing learning from them. Here are some more attributes of mental toughness along with the 4 C’s that make up mental toughness according to his mental toughness framework:
Control, both( emotional and life)
Confidence in your abilities.
Commitment to achieve your goals.
Challenge. The ability to embrace challenges.
Intention and effort. The will or the tenacity to stay on task or return to it until the work is done.
Clarity on your goals and values and to make choices that are consistent with them.
Courage or the willingness to bear the fear and other emotions.
Ability to take risks and learn from mistakes, failure and rejections.
Ability to embrace change and challenges and bouncing back from setbacks with increased determination.
Steadfast self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities to achieve your goals despite any obstacles or setbacks.
Strong desire to thrive under pressure and competition. Refocusing after unexpected events.
Mental toughness Vs Productivity
Mental toughness is an important personality trait to develop not just to thrive in a sport or competition, but to achieve your personal or professional goals like career, fitness, health or relationships. Research shows that mental toughness correlates closely with our performance, well-being, mental agility and aspirations that are central to achieving success. In life, when we experience failure, or make mistakes, most of us never get up to try again. But by being resilient, you can face challenges head-on and take risks despite initial setbacks. It helps you overcome self-doubt so you can continue to work towards your day to day endeavours with increased confidence.
To perform effectively in your field and to pursue your long-term goals and to work through unexpected changes or challenges, you need to persevere through uncertainty. Mental toughness helps you deal with such challenges, uncertainty and expectations, considering what is feasible, what is not, by taking a positive approach that is grounded in reality. When uncertainties and sudden life stressors keep you stuck and demotivated, mental toughness helps you dig deep and discover your inner strength you need when you are tired, unambitious or discouraged. It provides courage to face your fears and assists you in bouncing back from failures to try again.
Building mind toughness will help you develop resilience to life’s inevitable obstacles so you can overcome setbacks with confidence. Be it embracing change, how to build emotional resilience and how to get back on track ofter a setback, when applied to any life’s endeavour, mental toughness provides fuel to keep you going. Even when things are going well, the ability to focus and get things done requires a lot of mental endurance.
How to improve your mental toughness
The decisions you make in the moment and habits you establish overtime determine your level of resilience in any situation. Even though mental strength is innate, it is not something we are born with, but it is something we develop overtime. Just like physical endurance, it comes through experience with how we handle the circumstances life throws our way. You can increase your mental toughness by indulging in habits that stretch your mental endurance. The only way to know how strong you are is to keep testing your limits by stepping out of your comfort zones. Here are some habits and strategies you can practice everyday.
Let go of victim mindset
The way you approach an issue is one of the only things you can control. External events and circumstances may influence how you think and act, but they don’t control the way you respond or approach them. Consider how you think about different situations and the narrative you tell yourself in your daily endeavours. Having more control on self makes you embrace adversity or uncertainty and develop an ability to think outside the box. Ask yourself, Are you speaking encouragingly to yourself, or tearing yourself down? what story am i telling myself? is it empowering?
Complaining, blaming, worrying or wishful thinking doesn’t improve your resilience, instead focus on things you can control. This way, you will be much more prepared for whatever life throws your way. Pay attention to the things when you are tempted to worry about things you can’t control and accept situations that are beyond your control.
Reframe your negative self-talk
State to yourself what attitude you intend to adopt on any given moment and carry that with you as you go about your daily tasks. The bigger picture approach can be more useful than trying to control every single thought that passes through your mind. Choose something that resonates with you like integrity or positivity and don’t beat yourself up if, occasionally, you do something that doesn’t align with your chosen attitude. Take ownership of your choices, be it habitual or behavioural and do not stress about circumstances that you cannot change. Instead of being a victim, choose to take responsibility by being honest and thinking about what happened or how you could approach it differently next time if you are in a similar situation.
Embrace change & challenges
We all reach a critical point in our lives where you need to see things through a new lens and take decisive action if you want to move through certain phase. Sometimes, the prospect of facing unexpected changes leaves many of us anxious with fear of unknown. If you worry that change will make things worse, you will stay stuck in your old ways. Your success to persevere to a greater extent depends on your ability to adapt to new. Instead of resisting change, be flexible in your approach to tackle problems and difficult situations to break the mould and take a bold, new direction.
The more you practice stepping out of your comfort zone, the more confidence you will have to adapt to changing situations and to do difficult things. Practice delayed gratification instead of instant gratification. Looking for unhealthy short-cuts or short-term solutions just to avoid discomfort can often create long-term problems. Reminding yourself of bigger picture can help you push through short-term discomfort. View every situation as a chance to learn something new and develop a learning perspective instead of perfectionist thinking.
Practice cognitive reframing
In the moment of adversity or a changing situation, it may feel like a really big deal. The way we view a potentially stressful situation can either make the situation worse in our mind or minimise it. Pay attention to how you view challenging situations for any negative thought patterns that keep you stuck. Recognise and reframe them. The Cognitive reframing helps you to become aware of negative irrational thought patterns to understand their source and challenge those beliefs. This helps you to mange stress and reduce the cycle of negative thought patterns with positive, empowering ones that enable you to cope and build mental strength.
Reframing things in a more positive way can alter your perceptions and changes your physical response to stress. Instead of seeing a difficult situation as an insurmountable problem, try framing it as challenge that you are capable of overcoming it. By intimating action and taking small steps you can build resilience to take decisive acton. Having hopeful and optimistic outlook will help you see beyond the current situation you find yourself in. Sometimes the anxiety we feel about something is so distracting it can be hard to think of anything else. When you are facing something anxiety provoking, it can help to play it out in your head, exploring all the possibilities and practice how you will respond to them if they should occur.
Manage your expectations
One of the most effective way to build your mental toughness is to manage your expectations. While pursuing your big goals, acknowledge that things don’t always go according to your expectations. Holding on to them makes you confined to fixed mindset and will not help you effectively deal with the challenging situations you are in.
Expectations create resistance to alternative perspectives but also create internal conflict. Instead of holding onto your expectations of a particular outcome, accept the fact that you are experiencing an obstacle ad try to see things more rationally. Clinging on emotionally to a particular outcome or the way you want things turn out may not let you see the things clearly. If something isn’t going as you expected, remain flexible in your approach and acknowledge that there are certain things beyond your control and choose to respond to them in positive ways.
Try to see a different perspective so not to get your vision clouded with an immediate emotional response because it did not match your expectation. Comprehend and understand to put things in proper perspective. Doing this overtime will help you adjust your expectations to a realistic level. You can also define what you specifically think might happen to keep them realistic. When a problem arises, take some time to ask yourself, what outcomes you think are truly possible? If you can see possible realities and accept them, you will be better prepared for whatever comes your way. Eventually, you will be able to approach situations with calm and clarity.
Develop emotional awareness
Emotional intelligence is the cornerstone of mental toughness. You cannot be mentally tough without the ability to fully understand and tolerate strong, negative emotions, and do something productive with them. Being in touch with your emotions is a good thing, but they can cloud your judgment in difficult situations. Resilient people are comfortable with and to express their feelings whether it be happiness, joy, fear or sadness. Being aware of your emotions helps you build emotional resilience by owning what’s happening to you instead of running away to seek comfort. Approach the situation rationally, identifying your emotions without allowing anger or frustration to take control of you when dealing with toxic or difficult people or work culture.
Consider other person’s standpoint to find the common ground and solutions to problems. We often give too much importance to experts when each of us know our own motivations better than anyone else. Trust your instincts and use your critical thinking and reasoning skills to get to a solution instead of running away from difficult circumstances or problems. Instead of avoiding an emotional response that stems from your discomfort and fear of the situation, being aware of the emotions in play gives you a better control and improves your confidence to stick through tough times.
Be motivated intrinsically
Intrinsic motivation keeps you going when going gets tough. Whether you are striving for your daily goals or long-term goals, tackling a problem, or handling a difficult situation, you need to find your source of motivation. Asking yourself, Why do i need to solve this problem? Why do i need to get through this? or why do i achieve this goal? can help you identify the true reason you need to or want to accomplish something. Thinking in terms of bigger perspective or your core values helps you strengthen your resilience.
Have a specific goal in mind and build your habits and set personal standards that support your goal. Develop routines to follow so as to show up and build the momentum when going gets tough. This allows you to follow the pattern to do the work and stay motivated. Maintain simple habits to muster your will power on a daily basis. Challenging yourself to accomplish little things can boost your will power and improve your sense of control by adding incremental challenges.
Learn from your failures
Some people avoid failure at all cost because it unravels their sense of self-worth. It can seriously dent your confidence to take on challenges. Face your fear of defeat head on by stretching yourself to your limit and refuse to let lack of success define you as a person. Focus on improving your skills and be willing to try again if you fail. Whether you missed that important promotion or forgot an important deadline, view each misstep as a learning opportunity. Learning from your failures can be an important factor of being mentally strong. Look at failure as a delayed gratification-accept it and being okay with not getting what you want right now.
Mental toughness is about building strength and resilience to the thing you need to do and the things you want to do. So, don’t be hard on yourself by trying to keep strong for something that is not in alignment with your goals. Take them as learning experiences and focus your energy more on things and situations that are within your control to stay committed to the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
Difficult moments require courage, resiliency and grit, but for most of such circumstances, it simply comes down to being more consistent in your efforts in pursuing what you are after. Mental toughness isn’t about getting a dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions. Have a clear goal to work towards each day. Don’t let short-term distractions, negative feedback, or busyness prevent you from pursuing your vision. Develop systems that help you focus on the important stuff regardless of how many obstacles. Focus on building small behaviours, develop a routine that gets you going regardless of how motivated you feel. stick to the schedule and when you miss, get back on track as quickly as possible.
Set realistic and smart goals to stay committed
You can’t magically think your way to becoming mentally tough. You need to stay committed and work your way through by setting small goals on a daily basis. Working your way through small wins by knowing what you have to accomplish each day improves your mental toughness. Set manageable smart goals. With each goal you achieve, you will gain more confidence in your ability to succeed. This also helps you realise when your goals are unrealistic and when they are challenging enough.
How many times you gave up on your most cherished goals, because your mind said? Most often we think it is about how we respond to extreme situations. There is no doubt that extreme situations test our courage, perseverance, and grit but to grow mentally tough in our everyday circumstances, it needs to be worked on a daily basis by pushing yourself in small ways to step out of your comfort zone.
Space for self-reflection
How do you respond to obstacles or challenges in your daily life and how are you prepared to overcome them?
How do you perceive what story you tell yourself?
What is your willingness to persevere in challenges?
How strongly do you believe in the purpose of your gaols?
How often do you ask yourself solution-focused questions that challenge you to think about your life and circumstances in more optimal ways?
How consistent are you in your efforts to develop new habits or behaviour?
How consistent are you in sticking to your routines?How do you view stressful situations- Something you can overcome or do you tend to lose your perspective?
Mental toughness is something everyone needs as we all face adversity in our lives and sometimes it’s the everyday situations that test our mental strength. Choosing a positive mental attitude, focusing on what you can control and managing your expectations are all powerful strategies to handle feelings of anxiety or overwhelm.
Setting small and manageable goals, being consistent and taking failures in your stride help you endure through your short and long-term goals. Sometimes, you need supporting people and relationships to thrive. Seeking help and support are also part of being mentality tough.
With focus, determination, and with some of the habits mentioned above, you can strengthen your mental resilience. Stay committed to improve your personal resilience by building the above strategies into your day-to day endeavours.
Pay attention to areas in which you are doing well and figure out where you need improvement. Create opportunities for growth and challenge yourself to become a little better today than you were yesterday.