The more I have researched mental toughness for my coaching and training business, the more I realise that a lot of people don’t really understand what it really is.
It’s not about being ‘tough’ in the literal sense of the word, for example, strong, hard, unbending, inflexible, aggressive, firm etc. You don’t have to endure some form of hardship to discover how mentally tough you are. It’s not a macho, male dominated concept. It doesn’t mean that you are emotionless. It’s not just something that is used solely in sport.
The definition of mental toughness that I work with is as follows:
‘The ability of an individual to deal with the stressors, pressures and challenges that they face in any aspect of their life.’
Its evidence based
There has been a huge amount of research carried out over the past 15 years by well regarded institutions in different parts of the world that has shown that:
- Mental toughness does exist
- It can be developed
- It is highly useful in occupational, educational and sport settings
- It is a narrow plastic personality trait
- It explains in large part how individuals in the settings above respond differently to the same or similar stressors, pressures and challenges
- It helps people to prosper under pressure, not just survive.
- It can be measured
(I take my definitions, information and inspiration from the work of Doug Strycharczyk – CEO of AQR International and Professor Peter Clough – Professor of Applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, who have carried out extensive and excellent work on a mental toughness in occupational, educational and sporting settings)
A description of Mental Toughness
Think of mental toughness as a vehicle. Its primary purpose is to help you get to where you want to go e.g. your performance aspirations, your personal aspirations etc. It protects the occupants of the vehicle from the cold, wind, rain and the sun e.g. the things that irritate us and cause us stress. When we’re in a collision with another vehicle it protects us from harm e.g. emotional and/or cognitive overload.
- So mental toughness is about equipping us with what we need, to achieve what we want to in life, business, work or sport.
- High levels of mental toughness means that we are less likely to suffer the negative consequences of the stressors that we face, as we are better able to deal with those in productive and effective ways.
- It can help us thrive under pressure and achieve more positive outcomes that get us what we really want.
- It also means that we are better able to fulfil our potential and become better versions of ourselves
The 4 C’s Model
This has been developed by AQR International and following extensive research and testing and enables us to more clearly define the key elements of mental toughness.
The extent to which you feel that you can shape and influence your environment so that you can feel that you can make a difference and achieve what really want to. You have an inner belief that you are enough and you don’t need others to approve of you.
The extent to which we make promises to ourselves and others, particularly those which are tangible and measurable, and the extent to which we commit to keeping those promises. You relish a goal or target and are able to get a clear sense of what success will look like and remain committed to a task despite other attractions and diversions.
The extent to which you respond positively to situations you view as challenging. You will be aware that there are risks and you may even experience a sense of fear, but you will see the opportunity rather than the threat. You thrive in continually changing environments and you see new things as an opportunity to prove yourself and tend to seek out situations in which you can develop new knowledge or skills.
The extent to which we have self-belief to see through to a conclusion a difficult task which can be beset with setbacks, and the inner strength to stand your ground when needed, particularly when you might need to persuade others to your point of view.
The 8 sub-scales of mental toughness
Each of the 4C’s is then broken down into two further sub-scales
The extent to which an individual has a sense of self-worth and can manage many of the elements which affect their performance and wellbeing. They are great at multi-tasking and positive in outlook.
The extent to which an individual can manage their emotions and, when needed, mask their emotional state from others. They are able to manage anxiety and maintain poise when others might let it show.
The extent to which an individual likes setting goals and working to targets. This helps us to visualise what success looks like and can be a source of drive and motivation for many.
The extent to which an individual will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and keep promises. These individuals gain satisfaction from delivering on time and to a good standard.
The extent to which an individual is prepared to stretch themselves, push back boundaries and expose themselves to new experiences. For them, change can be an opportunity as well as a threat.
The extent to which an individual reflects and learns from both good and bad experiences. Setbacks rarely put them off and instead can be a source of improvement, they see setbacks as part of life.
Confidence in Abilities
The extent to which and individual has self-belief in their abilities, knowledge and skills. Without this self-belief, individuals may possess these abilities but never have the confidence to use them.
The extent to which an individual is able to assert themselves and engage with others when needed. They are confident about asking questions and promoting their position in discussion.
Three main benefits of this model
This highly reliable and valid model allows not just overall mental toughness to be assessed, but also the specific components of. This benefits an individual in three main ways (there are many others):
- It gives us a detailed breakdown of what mental toughness actually is.
- A greater understanding of how it can applied in different contexts.
- It makes it easier for an individual to identify specific areas for development, rather than just focusing on mental toughness as a generic concept.
I am accredited by AQR to use their highly reliable and valid measure of mental toughness called MTQPlus. This instrument is based on a comprehensive model developed by AQR over the past 15 years. It has been tested and developed in occupational, educational and sporting settings and has provided an outstanding platform for many people to assess and develop their mental toughness to improve aspects of their working life, sporting performance and educational experience.
Thus, it can be measured and it can be developed. Just looking at the different components demonstrates how it can mean that a mentally tough individual is less likely to suffer the negative consequences of the stressors that they face, as they will be better able to deal with those in productive and effective ways.
Imagine being able to develop this…
Imagine being able to develop all of these areas and experiencing results that allow you to perform better, experience improved wellbeing and generally gaining a more positive outlook. Now that would be good…right?
If you want to develop your mental toughness either overall or in one or more of the specific elements, get in touch.
You could experience:
- An MTQPlus assessment and feedback.
- A mental toughness workshop.
- A mental toughness coaching programme.
Steve Dent is a Mental Toughness Coach & Trainer, Accredited by AQR International to administer the MTQPlus assessment, INLPTA Master Practitioner of NLP and founder of Pro Mind Coaching & Training.