Five Aspects of Mental Toughness


Five Aspects of Mental Toughness

Improve your level of mental toughness with the tips in this article from Wojciech Gryc.

In Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Long Rain”, a group of astronauts are trudging through a jungle on a planet where rain falls incessantly and aggressively. The water pours over the astronauts, and they are slowly going insane while looking for a military outpost with an energy source – light, heat, and food. The hike is depressing, and astronauts on the planet are known to simply give up: to sit down in the rain and let it overtake them, breathing in the water and literally drowning themselves in heavy water vapor as they give up the will to walk on, and on, and on.

We don’t often look at people and call them “mentally tough”, but we do use synonyms. A role model of ours might have grit, determination, vision, or she might maintain confidence against all odds. We admire leaders for their ability to withstand adversity, to persevere, and to motivate.

We often think of these qualities as innate, but in reality, they are things we can work on and improve.

What exactly is mental toughness?

What do we mean when we call someone “mentally tough”? Mental toughness is a multifaceted characteristic. My favourite framework for this is presented in a triathlon training book1, which lists five aspects of mental toughness:

Motivation. Motivated individuals are excited and keen to work on their goals, and while they might still get nervous, their positive attitude pushes them forward.

Confidence. Belief in oneself and one’s ability; if you are confident, then you are full of positive self-talk and encouragement. Confidence strives for excellence.

Thought habits. Positivity and a “growth mindset”2. Those with great thought habits learn from mistakes, are encouraged when facing challenges, and remain in good spirits even when facing challenges.

Focus. Having clear goals, a calm state of mind, and the ability to tune out distractions while focusing on your singular purpose or target.

Visualization. Clarity around a goal and the ability to define a concrete achievement and see yourself, or your team, succeed.

Leaders struggle with different aspects of mental toughness. Some leaders have confidence and motivation in spades, but lack focus and thus meander along despite their best intentions. Others might have clear focus and visualization, but struggle at the first sign of trouble, and so need to work on their confidence and thought habits.

Choose what to work on, and start with small behavior change.

Key points include:

  • Personalizing strategies
  • Small behavioral changes
  • Different aspects of mental toughness

Read the full article, On improving your mental toughness, on