Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t. – Jerry Rice
What Exactly is Mental Toughness?
Have you ever pursued something so relentlessly and tenaciously that no matter what obstacles stood in your way you just kept pushing forward? That’s essentially what mental toughness is about. It’s about responding resiliently to overwhelming odds that are stacked against you.
A person who is mentally tough feels deep within their core that, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” They push through adversity and difficulties with determination, urgency, and focused effort — without ever losing hope, confidence or self-belief.
These people work tenaciously through problems while in the pursuit of their deepest passions and goals. Yes, at times they face insurmountable odds, but they keep persisting and working through these challenges. In the end — whether they succeed or fail — they emerge stronger and wiser than before.
Given this, it’s quite clear that mental toughness is simply not possible if you’re someone who is easily discouraged by failure, mistakes, rejection or criticism. Likewise, it’s not possible if you’re unable to handle anxiety, overwhelm, frustration, stress or fear. And it’s certainly not probable if you can’t deal with uncertainty, discomfort, and impatience.
With this in mind, it could be argued that most of us probably don’t have the necessary mental toughness to push through life’s greatest challenges. Why? Because many of us are fragile emotionally and take things too personally.
You might, in fact, be someone who typically struggles when facing overwhelming odds. Just maybe, you are wanting to become a little more resilient, resolute and tenacious when facing life’s difficulties. But is that even possible? Are some people simply born mentally tough, while others continually struggle to make progress?
The honest truth is that mental toughness isn’t something that people are born with. It’s rather something that we develop over time. It’s something that comes through experience — with how we handle the circumstances that life throws our way.
What I mean by this is that it’s not what happens to us that matters. It’s rather how we perceive what happens and then how we go about dealing with these circumstances that makes all the difference in the end.
Mental toughness is therefore all about choice, not birthright. It’s about the decisions you make in the moment, and the habits you establish over time that determines the level of mental toughness you bring to any situation.
But mental toughness, of course, isn’t always equal across the board. It isn’t the same for you, for me, or for anyone else. We all have a set of criteria of what it means to be mentally tough in certain situations. What’s that criterion for you? Well, let’s find out. Ask yourself:
What does being mentally tough mean to me?
What is my criteria for being mentally tough in specific situations?
What rules will I abide by and what standards will I uphold to prove to myself that I am mentally tough and resilient?
What concrete actions must I take to convince myself that I am mentally tough? That I have what it takes to get through anything that life throws my way?
Having criteria in place will help you get a sense of what exactly needs to happen to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to get through life’s toughest problems. Moreover, it provides you with a means of measuring your responses and progress.
If however at the moment, you’re unsure about your answers to these questions, then that’s okay too. You will no doubt gain further insights and ideas as you continue to work your way through the remainder of this article.
The Requirements for Mental Toughness
What does it take to develop mental toughness? Or, more specifically, what are the requirements that can help us develop this habit-of-mind? Well, that’s not exactly an easy question to answer.
Building mental toughness requires consciously working on yourself in many different areas. Let’s take a look at some of these areas below.
You Must Have Clear Goals
For starters, you need clear goals that drive you forward. However, these can’t just be common meaningless goals. They must instead be passion goals tied to your life’s purpose. They must inspire every action you take and decision you make. They need to be meaningful and motivational — encouraging you to go above-and-beyond to achieve them.
You Must Have Self-Discipline and Motivation
With your goals in place, mental toughness now requires self-discipline. You need the self-discipline to help keep you focused when the entire world is conspiring against you. Likewise, you need a high level of motivation to push forward through these challenges. And motivation always begins with positive self-talk that consistently encourages you to keep pushing forward.
You Must be Fully Committed
Mental toughness also requires a high level of commitment toward achieving your goals. You need an unwavering and steadfast commitment to ‘stay the course’ when things get tough. It requires committing yourself for the long-haul. Committing yourself toward applying consistent effort over time to help you break through the challenges you face.
You Must Have a Sense of Duty and Purpose
Mental toughness requires that you work with a mindful sense of duty and purpose. It requires working for more than just yourself. There must rather be a higher calling that keeps driving you forward each day. In other words, there must be high-level reasons behind what it is you are planning to do. Without these reasons, there will be a lack of drive and desire when facing life’s difficulties.
You Must Have a Tolerance of Discomfort
Mental toughness requires having the ability to compartmentalize your emotions — preventing them from getting in the way of making sound choices and decisions. It means detaching yourself emotionally from concrete results and outcomes, and instead focusing on the process of achieving your goals.
Along the same lines, mental toughness requires having the ability to tolerate discomfort when facing adversity. It’s about getting comfortable with experiencing uncertainty so that it doesn’t interfere with your rational decision-making process.
You Must Hold Realistic Expectations
Mental toughness requires holding realistic expectations of what can be done or achieved within a specified time-frame. It’s about realistically assessing what you’re capable of, what resources you have on hand, and how much time you have to get the job done.
A realistic appraisal of each situation helps you make course corrections when things get difficult. It helps you avoid making terrible mistakes that could lead to failure. Moreover, it gives you time to ask for help before things get completely out of hand.
You Must Have a High Level of Accountability
Mental toughness requires two levels of accountability. On the first level, you must keep yourself accountable for your choices, decisions, and actions. Your word is your law. Whatever you say must be done, and you will move heaven and earth to bring it to reality. Ask yourself:
How will I hold myself accountable?
On the second level, you must have other people hold you accountable to your word. These are people you answer to who won’t accept any excuses you make.
When there is a high level of accountability, we naturally try harder and make an effort to push through adversity. We take extra steps and go the extra mile to do things we normally wouldn’t do.
You Must Develop Supporting Habits and Routines
Mental toughness is essentially nothing more but a habit that we develop over time through conscious practice and effort. These habits and routines build empowering beliefs and attitudes that support us through life’s greatest difficulties and problems.
It, of course, takes work to develop these habits. In fact, it takes consistent practice over long periods of time. Moreover, it requires exposing yourself to problems and working through them in experimental ways.
Our muscles only get stronger when we exercise them. As a result of the ongoing stress, pain, and effort, the muscle grows bigger over time. The same is also true of your mental toughness muscle.
This muscle needs to be flexed and worked out as often as possible. While we can certainly use our imaginations to strengthen this muscle through mental rehearsal, a better way to go about it is to practice in the real-world.
Start in small ways by doing something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, then build things up over time. Eventually, with more experience, you will gain more knowledge and understanding that can help you get through life’s toughest challenges.
This now just leave the question of what mental habits will help us to become mentally tough and resilient when facing adversity? Well, let’s take a look at that within the next section of this article.
The DNA of Mentally Tough People
Here within this final section, let’s break down the DNA of mentally tough people. Specifically, let’s take a look at core beliefs, habits and the mindset that mentally tough people cultivate that helps them get through life’s toughest challenges.
The Beliefs of a Mentally Tough Person
The decisions we make and the actions we consistently take are a direct result of the belief systems we have adopted over a lifetime. These beliefs either help move us forward, or they hinder our progress.
Now of course, what we believe about something is only our personal truth. It’s not the actual truth or the reality of the situation. And that’s essentially what makes belief systems so powerful. They can literally help you get through life’s toughest challenges if you use them in an optimal way.
Mentally tough people have a very particular set of belief systems that assist them to rise to the occasion when facing adversity. I have listed these uncommon beliefs below. They’re uncommon because the vast majority of the population choose not to adopt them. And that’s essentially why they lack the mental toughness they need to overcome life’s toughest challenges.
I have written out these beliefs in the first person to help you integrate them into your psyche. However, for this integration to take place, you will need to read them consistently (several times per day) over several months. You will then need to take action on these beliefs in small ways — building up to larger actions over time. That is the only way you will adopt them as your own.
Here they are listed below:
I believe that adversity is only a temporary condition that I can overcome.
I believe that failure does not exist. Failure is simply part of success and nothing more but a learning experience. It provides feedback that helps me move forward in more optimal ways.
I believe that adversity builds my character and strengthens my body and mind.
I believe that my confidence grows from taking massive action in the direction of my desired goals and outcomes.
I believe that everything has purpose and meaning. Things happen for a very specific reason that serves me in the long-run. I may not know where this path may lead, however I have faith that it will take me to where I need to be.
I believe that everything is possible given enough time, creativity, and persistent effort. This is why I never give up. A breakthrough might be right around the corner.
I believe that luck favors me when I respond resiliently to adversity. It favors me when I show dedication and willingness to adapt and grasp opportunities that are presented before me. It favors me when I take initiative and develop a strong support network that I use for guidance and direction.
This list of beliefs is, of course, incomplete. There are certainly more beliefs that we could add to the list. However, these beliefs are realistically all you need to gather the strength and courage you need to overcome life’s toughest challenges. They are all you need to help you face challenges with confidence and determination.
Now, of course, not everyone will see things this way. In fact, the vast majority of the population will not share these beliefs. They have a different set of beliefs that color their view of reality in a very different way — in a way that prevents them from moving forward.
Whether these beliefs are true for other people, actually makes no difference. All that matters is that they are true for you when facing the challenges that life throws your way.
The Mindset of a Mentally Tough Person
Belief systems are of course only one piece of the puzzle that encapsulates the mindset of mentally tough individuals. The other pieces of the puzzle include our thoughts, attitudes, language patterns, and the resulting behavior (habits).
Mentally tough people take full responsibility and ownership for their problems. They don’t blame, complain or make excuses about their problems. And, even more importantly, they don’t indulge in catastrophic thinking that typically derails people’s efforts. They instead deal with the situation at hand and make the best of their predicament.
Complaining, blaming or making excuses serves little purpose. It can, of course, make us feel better about ourselves and about the situation in the short-term. However, it has little-to-no value long-term. Mentally tough people understand this and therefore accept what is. They accept what can’t be changed or controlled and look to move forward in a better way. They might for instance ask:
How can I use this?
How is this helpful?
What’s funny about this?
What could this possibly lead to?
Where’s the opportunity to be found?
Mentally tough individuals are convinced that as one door closes something else opens. They believe that a window of opportunity is always waiting for them to find.
Mentally tough people adopt this solution focused attitude because they realize that problems are inevitable. With this in mind, they take the time to prepare for problems and setbacks in advance. They understand that preparation helps them make more objective and rational decisions when adversity strikes.
Life’s challenges are of course rarely straightforward. Even with preparation, we can’t simply plan for every possible scenario. However, what helps mentally tough people get through these circumstances is that they’re always willing to learn and grow from every experience. They approach each challenge with a beginner’s mentality and a tenacious spirit that challenges them to act as if it were impossible to fail.
Mistakes are of course always made. Everyone makes mistakes. However, mentally tough individuals don’t allow their mistakes to deter them from pushing forward. They learn from their mistakes and adapt their approach. Likewise, they also learn from other people’s mistakes, which helps them avoid costly long-term errors.
Uncertainty, of course, always awaits us on the horizon. While others shy away from uncertainty and obsess about their bad luck, about failure, rejection, criticism and about making mistakes, mentally tough people embrace uncertainty and never take things personally. They, in fact, use fear as a motivator that helps drive them forward toward their goal.
While everyone else obsesses about doing things perfectly, mentally tough people just take immediate action, even if it is in a small way. They rarely wait for the right moment to act. They instead embrace the moment and do what they can in the present to move forward. They focus on making the most of small victories, which helps them generate the momentum they need to achieve their goals.
The Language of a Mentally Tough Person
Mentally tough people use language as a driver for their actions. They think positive thoughts and then express those thoughts out load in the following ways:
I can do this…
I believe in myself…
Just keep pushing forward…
Just keep going no matter what happens…
This can be done…
I can get this done…
I will eventually find a way to make this happen…
These kinds of statements help get them through the toughest of times. They help drive them forward in the direction of their desired objectives. They help keep them focused and motivated when life gets overwhelming and out of control. However, statements alone are not enough. They aren’t sufficient. They must be coupled together with questions that can help spark ideas and inspire course corrections.
With this in mind, mentally tough individuals persistently ask solution focused questions that challenge them to think about their life and circumstances in more optimal ways.
How can I do this better?
What can I learn from this experience?
How can I make the most of my predicament?
What advantage can I gain from this situation?
What can I do here that I hadn’t considered before?
Questions such as these, expand possibilities and encourage the mentally tough individual to look for other alternatives and paths that can help them move forward in a better way.
Given all this, it is now clear that language coupled together with empowering belief systems and a resolute mindset are the key variables that distinguish a mentally tough individual from everyone else.
So, there you have it. That is essentially what it takes to develop the mental toughness you need to face life’s toughest challenges in optimal ways.
Building mental toughness will of course take time, and certainly won’t be easy. It’s after all very much like a muscle that needs to be worked out and strengthened over time. However, with practice and repetitive use, it will become a secret superpower that you can turn to and use to help you overcome life’s greatest difficulties and challenges.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic? Would you like to optimize how you think about this topic? Would you like a method for applying these ideas to your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m confident you will gain tremendous value from using the accompanying IQ Matrix for coaching or self-coaching purposes. This mind map provides you with a quick visual overview of the article you just read. The branches, interlinking ideas, and images model how the brain thinks and processes information. It’s kind of like implanting a thought into your brain – an upgrade of sorts that optimizes how you think about these concepts and ideas. 🙂
Recommended IQ Matrix Bundles
If you’re intrigued by the idea of using mind maps for self-improvement then I would like to invite you to become an IQ Matrix Member.
If you’re new to mind mapping or just want to check things out, then register for the Free 12 Month Membership Program. There you will gain access to over 90 mind maps, visual tools, and resources valued at over $500.
If, on the other hand, you want access to an ever-growing library of 100s of visual tools and resources, then check out our Premium Membership Packages. These packages provide you with the ultimate visual reference library for all your personal development needs.
Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 4 Counterintuitive Ways to Increase Your Mental Toughness at Work @ Business Insider
- 4 Exercises for Building Your Mental Toughness Inspired by War @ The Art of Manliness
- 5 Powerful Exercises to Increase Your Mental Strength @ Forbes
- 7 Habits of People with Remarkable Mental Toughness @ Inc.
- 7 Reasons You Need Mental Strength to be Successful @ Success
- Developing Mental Toughness in the Face of Adversity @ The Creativity Post
- How to Develop Your Mental Toughness @ Lifehacker
- How to Develop Your Mental Toughness: Lessons from 8 Titans @ Tim Ferris
- How to Strengthen Your Mental Toughness Like an FBI Agent @ Psychology Today
- Mental Toughness Training @ Men’s Fitness
- The Psychology of Mental Toughness Explained @ Psych Central
- The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Your Health, Work and Life @ James Clear