Mental Toughness

by Doug Strycharczyk

Four core components

The research has shown that there appear to be four core components of Mental Toughness. These are the four Cs: control; challenge; commitment and confidence.


This identifies to what extent the individual feels they are in control of their life and of their work.

Individuals who are high on this scale feel that they are in control of their work and of the environment in which they work. They are capable of exerting more influence than others on their work and life environment and are more confident about working and living in complex or multi-tasked situations.

Ongoing research into psychometric measurements of control has enabled the identification of two subscales to this component:

Control (emotion)

Individuals scoring highly on this scale are better able to control their emotions. They are able to keep anxieties in check and are less likely to reveal their emotional state to other people.

Control (life)

Individuals scoring higher on this scale are more likely to believe that they control their lives. They feel that their plans will not be thwarted and that they can make a difference.


Sometimes called change orientation, this relates to the way individuals respond to challenges, changes and problems. To what extent, in other words, do you see ‘problems’ as opportunities? If you are among those who see them as opportunities, you will actively seek them out and will identify them as avenues for self-development. At the other extreme, there are those who perceive challenges as threats.

So, for example, at one end of the scale we find those who thrive in continually-changing environments. At the other end, we find those who prefer to minimise their exposure to change and the problems that come with that, and who will strongly prefer to work and live in stable environments.


How well does an individual respond to goals and targets, particularly when these are clear and measurable? Sometimes described as ‘stick-ability’, commitment relates to the ability of an individual to carry out tasks successfully, despite any problems or obstacles that arise while achieving the goal.

Consequently, an individual who is high on commitment will be able to handle and achieve things within tough, unyielding deadlines, whereas an individual who is low on commitment will need to be free from demands of this nature if they are to achieve their goals.


This measures how an individual responds to setbacks.

Individuals who are high in confidence have the self-belief to successfully complete tasks that may be considered too difficult by individuals with similar abilities, but with lower confidence. Less confident individuals are also likely to be less persistent and to make more errors.

For example, individuals at one end of the scale will be able to take setbacks (external and self generated) in their stride. They keep their heads when things go wrong and such obstacles may even strengthen their resolve to do something. At the other extreme, individuals will be unsettled by setbacks and will feel undermined by them – their heads are said to ‘drop’.

This component appears to be a function of the two subscales described below.

Confidence in abilities

Individuals scoring highly on this scale are more likely to believe that they are truly worthwhile people. They are less dependent on external validation by others around them and tend to be more optimistic about life in general. They have an inner self belief and don’t need others to confirm that for them.

Interpersonal confidence

Individuals scoring highly on this scale tend to be more assertive. They are less likely to be intimidated in social settings and are more likely to express themselves in groups. They are also better able to cope with difficult or awkward people.