How to develop your mental toughness
In the last couple of years, we have seen a rise in mental health and wellbeing awareness campaigns; what is not being addressed is our self-development through times of stress; which is equally important.
It is paramount to educate individuals in subjects such as personal and professional development. Part of self-development is having those transferable skills which we can take through our lifetime. If we look back many years ago, young people used to have huge dreams and aspirations and only a few would believe that it is possible to follow these through. Times are changing and practitioners and academics like myself have a passion for self-development and are researching a concept known as mental toughness.
The first question to answer is: What is mental toughness?
Mental toughness is a term that describes cognitive, behavioural, and emotional processes in response to adversity and pressure. It is a personality trait that is closely linked with positive psychology, resilience, grit, and mindset. When we think of a personality trait, we think of how we act when things happen to us. Mental toughness is how we think when a situation arises, which in turn affects performance, wellbeing, and agility. Therefore, a key aspect is how individuals deal effectively with challenges and thrive under pressure (Clough et al., 2002).
There is also a correlation between mental toughness and an individual’s coping mechanism (Hardy et al., 2013). Individuals who are mentally sensitive (the opposite to mental toughness) may find change and challenges difficult to deal with. We all face stress, adversity, and challenges which are often unavoidable, and in an era of unprecedented crisis, we know the global pandemic has had a significant impact on many individuals’ psychological wellbeing (Salari et al., 2020a) and cognitive functioning (Arnsten, 2009).
Furthermore, not only is mental toughness associated with personal development (St Clair-Thompson et al., 2014), it is also associated with individuals who can cope and thrive under pressure as they are less likely to have less stress and burn out (Gerber et al., 2015). The challenge here is to guide individuals who are both mentally tough and mentally sensitive to maximise their own potential and to ensure effective development can take place.
The next question to answer is: Can an individual develop mental toughness?
Scientists do believe that individuals can develop mental toughness so much so that there are many psychological strategies and tactics that can be applied. So how can an individual thrive and flourish through a global pandemic? Simply by focusing, knowing what the objective is, being able to stick at the task and believing that they can achieve the goal whilst under pressure. In 2002, scientists were able to break down the components of Mental Toughness which is represented in a model by four scales known as the 4C’s Model. The 4Cs model has 4 pillars:
Control: Believing that you can control your destiny
Commitment: Being able to stick to tasks
Challenge: Seeing challenge as an opportunity
Confidence: Having high levels of self-belief
The value of this model will identify and support an individual on one’s mental toughness, it is possible to change and develop the way we think.
Moving on to: How can we assess our mental toughness?
There are questionnaires and other methodologies that can offer various perspectives on mental toughness. The recommended and best researched scale is a psychometric test call MTQPlus. The MTQ assessment uses what is called a Sten Scale to indicate the level of mental toughness an individual has. The MTQPlus is also a normative measure,
meaning that the level of an individual’s mental toughness is shown on a scale of 1–10, compared to the average score achieved by a normal person.
Finally answering: How do we develop mental toughness?
It is possible to build and develop mental toughness, sports coaches and psychologists have been doing this for many years with significant evidence. There does seem to be some advantages by determining performance, behaviour, and wellbeing. The advantage of using the model and the assessment is to identify which characteristics of an individual’s mental toughness is preventing or hindering achieving wellbeing, performance or leading a more positive life.
Here are a few tools and techniques that can develop positive behaviours, increase performance whilst improving wellbeing
- Use visualisation techniques by visualising what success looks like.
- Set goals and objectives by using the SMART technique.
- Start positive thinking by recording three good things at the end of the day.
- Improve time management - use the pomodoro technique to help be more productive.
- Control anxiety by using control breathing techniques.
- Have group or one-to-one coaching to assist with reaching one’s full potential.
In summary we must remember that mental toughness is not a new concept as it has been used for many years in the sports industry, and not to confuse this with resilience. In essence is to create self-awareness and understand whether we need to develop aspects of our mental toughness or stay as we are. The need to change is there, it is the ability to embrace changes for us to grow and develop.
As Darwin quotes, adaptability is the key to survival.
Arnsten, A. F. T. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 410–422. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2648
Clough, P. J., Earle, K., & Sewell, D. (2002). Mental Toughness: The Concept and its Measurement. In, Solutions in Sports Psychology (pp. 32-43).
Gerber, M., Feldmeth, A. K., Lang, C., Brand, S., Elliot, C., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., & Pühse, U. (2015). The Relationship between Mental Toughness, Stress, and Burnout among Adolescents: A Longitudinal Study with Swiss Vocational Students. Psychological Reports, 117(3), 703–723. https://doi.org/10.2466/14.02.pr0.117c29z6
Hardy, L., Bell, J., & Beattie, S. (2013). A Neuropsychological Model of Mentally Tough Behavior. Journal of Personality, 82(1), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12034
Salari, N., Hosseinian-Far, A., Jalali, R., Vaisi-Raygani, A., Rasoulpoor, S., Mohammadi, M., Rasoulpoor, S., & Khaledi-Paveh, B. (2020). Prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression among the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Globalization and Health, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-020-00589-w