13 Thoughts on Mental Toughness - RegInsights

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Mental toughness is a state of mind embodied in a refusal to be intimidated, a determination to succeed despite a setback, and proficiency in controlling emotions and persisting under severe pressure. Mental toughness is embodied in individual resilience and confidence. It is correlated with success in sport, education and the workplace. 

We live in difficult times. The Covid-19 is still with us, we are in the midst of an economic downturn and all around us, we witness global turmoil. It is especially so, in these times, that we need to strengthen our mental toughness, not just to survive, but to live fulfilling lives of achievement and purpose, despite what is going on around us.

Mental ToughnessWe are not born mentally tough

We were brought up in families that loved and cared for and protected us. But as we branched out into the world we had to learn how to be persistent and resilient, how to overcome whatever the difficulties. Some of us came into adulthood in a supportive and gentle environment. Others were thrust into the realities of being an adult, without a choice being offered. Whatever our background, we can learn and practice meat toughness, to help us achieve success in our careers and to overcome the trials and hardships facing us. The satisfaction of having overcome odds increases our ability to survive and thrive in our modern world.

The best achievers weren’t always mentally tough, but their personal experiences have taught them to become resilient. To be able to sustain the highest levels of pressure, we must endure adversity. We even need to fail sometimes at coping with adversity to be able to grow and become more resilient.  

What is mental toughness?

The concept and practice of mental toughness came to us from the world of sport. Top-level sportspeople have to manage long periods of intense pressure alone. Think of a tennis player or a golfer in a major international tournament. For most of the time, it is just them and their opponent. Their focus and their performance are influenced by their internal dialogue, that ever-present critical internal voice that can either be disparaged or encouraged to master this internal dialogue. It takes cognitive and emotional control to prevent that negative internal dialogue from restricting your performance.

I tried that in the past.

They won’t approve this plan

I don’t have the capability to do this

I tried before and I failed.

It is going to be too difficult.

Each of the statements above is an example of self-limiting dialogue. And when we fail again at something we tried in the past, we regard it as proof that we cannot do it. 

Be self-aware to be mentally tough

Being aware of your internal dialogue is the first step toward building mental toughness. Self-awareness helps you to understand your perception of events.  Are you fearful? Are you confused? Become aware of your self-talk – I am telling myself that I am going to fail at this because I am anxious about failure. What will they think of me? Once we put a label on what we fear, we can deal with it. When it is running about unnamed in our head, we are powerless to control it.

Once we understand our perception of events, we can recognise and replace any negative behavioural responses to stress and replace them with more positive behavioural responses. This will help promote our mental toughness through the emotional, cognitive and behavioural processes of self-introspection and self-insight. 

Be self-aware and develop self-insight?

Take a recent situation that you found stressful and analyse it. What was the context? What were the words or actions that triggered your anxiety or feelings of vulnerability? What made you feel that you could not cope. Writing this down is a useful way of putting distance between you and your emotions.

Now consider other situations you experienced similarly. What was the context? What was going on in your head? What triggered the negative cycle and what sustained it?

Develop control

Control is having a sense of self-worth. It is the extent to which you feel in control of your life and your circumstances. It relates to the extent to which you can control the display of your emotions. A mentally tough person with high control will get on with the task at hand irrespective of how they feel without seemingly being distracted or derailed. They can put their self-limiting doubts, their negative self-talk to one side.

Boost your commitment

Commitment means seeing the task through to the end, getting it done with no unfinished business. Be prepared to set goals and make measurable promises, and then deliver on them. 

Rise to the challenge

Challenge describes the extent to which you will push back your boundaries, embrace change and accept risk. Mentally tough folk see in a challenge, a change or adversity an opportunity to grow and develop as leaders and useful human beings.

Be confident 

Confidence is the self-belief you have in your abilities and the interpersonal confidence you possess to influence others and deal with conflict and challenge. When confronting a challenge, mentally tough people have the self-belief to deal with the situation and the inner strength to stand their ground. They act boldly and deal with objections and detractors.

Long term goals

Mentally tough leaders have long term goals. These goals sustain and motivate them while they confront the short term challenges of the present.

Attitude

Mentally tough leaders have a positive can-do attitude. They are optimistic about the future and that they will be able to do what is necessary to be successful in a task or project. Their previous experience of success empowers them to expect success with their current projects.

Pressure

Mentally tough leaders can deal with pressure. They practice stress-relieving routines, and they get regular physical exercise. They know when to take breaks, and when they do, they don’t continue to mull over the same problems.

Focus

Mentally tough leaders have perfected the art of focus. They concentrate on what is important to them, and they are not distracted by noise going on in the periphery.

Dealing with failure

Mentally tough leaders are good at dealing with failure. They regard failure as temporary and not self-defining. They learn what has to be learned, but they don’t dwell on it.

Mental toughness can be learned. Like all things, it takes effort. But you will be amazed how much better you feel about yourself as you increase your toughness and resilience. You will be in charge of that awkward voice in your head.

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