Mental Toughness

by Doug Strycharczyk

Developing MT components

As well as a general approach to Dealing and coping with stressors, there are some more targeted approaches that you can take, especially when you have a good diagnosis as to just what aspects of your Mental Toughness need improvement.

For more on diagnosis, see Measures of Mental Toughness.

The table below gives you a range of options and approaches that can be used to develop Mental Toughness. You will notice that there are many suggested ways to help people improve their Mental Toughness components.

There is relevant development activity at all levels of Mental Toughness – even high Mental Toughness. In the latter case, we are often concerned with moderating the impact of the kind of mental insensitivity which is often associated with very high Mental Toughness.

MT Component
Interventions for low MT
Interventions for high MT

 Control
   (Life)

 Control
   (Emotional)

 Challenge

 Commitment

 Confidence
   (Abilities)

 Confidence
   (Interpersonal)

General interventions for any level of Mental Toughness

Anxiety control

Anxiety control techniques include things such as controlled breathing, meditation and guided imaging, which are found in most stress management programmes.

Assertiveness

Assertiveness is about respecting the rights, personal boundaries and feelings of others and expecting others to respect your rights and feelings too. Assertive behaviour is about a balanced approach. Assertiveness is about respect – for self and others.

It is important in the context of Mental Toughness because a lack of assertiveness can impact on confidence, particularly interpersonal confidence, which is a driver.

See the topic on Assertiveness.

Attentional control

Attentional control refers to the ability to maintain focus on what is important, even where there are distractions and conflicting priorities. Approaches to develop attentional control would include techniques such as time management, as well as psychological approaches to maintaining and keeping focus.

Awareness of the qualities of others

This entails understanding why others behave in different ways and, in particular, why they might respond to you in certain way.

There are several useful models (many with simple measures) which help in this regard. They will provide ways to enable the individual to assess themselves and others round them. From that, an understanding of how people respond can develop, together with approaches and interventions.

Good examples include Belbin’s team roles and MBTI.

Biofeedback

The body responds physiologically to stressors as well psychologically. The two are related. This can be measured using Galvanic Skin Response meters (sourceable from the author). This enables people to assess how they respond to stressors, as well as measure the effectiveness of Mental Toughness development techniques.

Body language

Understanding how to read these signals helps to provide a more complete picture of how others communicate with you and respond to you.

See the topic on Body Language.

Coaching

Here, an expert works with the subject to improve areas of their life or working behaviours, and to assist the subject to learn strategies to cope with stress.

See the topics on Coaching and Coaching Yourself.

Controlled breathing

Most of us only use between 10 and 20 per cent of our full breathing capacity. If you learn to breathe properly, you will begin to feel less fatigued, less overwhelmed by your thoughts and more able to cope with each new challenge. You will also become more optimistic as you learn to cope better.

  • When done properly breathing can relieve anxiety, improve circulation, concentration and digestion, and increase energy.
  • Is bigger, stronger, deeper and more rhythmic than typical shallow breathes.
  • Once you gain control of your breathing in a non-stressful environment, you can more readily call up your relaxation breathing during times of stress.

Dealing with procrastination

Procrastination is a sign of low Mental Toughness and may be due to feeling disempowered, unable to cope or insufficiently motivated.

See the Procrastination page in the topic on Motivation.

Delegation

People with high levels of Mental Toughness may find it hard to delegate.

See the topic on Delegation.

Empowering others

People with high levels of Mental Toughness may have little sympathy for those with lower levels and indeed may have a disempowering effect on them. In this case, they need to learn how to empower such people.

See the topic on Empowerment.

Fatigue management

Fatigue is a common experience in a modern high-stress/long hours working culture. This is a concern, because it is associated with accidents, poor performance and ill health. There is a long history of poor understanding of what fatigue actually is, but now it is possible to define ‘fatigue’ and a number of different types of fatigue have been identified.

It is important to distinguish between two different types of fatigue. Firstly, state fatigue, which represents your state – usually representing how hard you have been working. Secondly, trait fatigue, which represents your pattern of fatigue. For example, are you a morning person or an evening person? You need to work out your patterns of fatigue and then choose to carry out demanding or challenging activity when you are most up for it.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is a skill essential to the commitment component of Mental Toughness.

See the topic on Goal Setting.

Learning to say ‘no’

People with high levels of Mental Toughness can sometimes be over-confident in their abilities and need to learn to say ‘no’ on occasion.

See the page on saying ‘no’ in the topic on Assertiveness.

Listening

Listening is often a problem for those with high levels of Mental Toughness.

See the topic on Listening.

Meditation

Whatever your level of Mental Toughness, you can benefit from meditation.

See the topic on Stress Management.

Opening up to others

People with high levels of the emotional control component of Mental Toughness may have difficulty here as other people find them difficult to read. One generic way to tackle this is to work with your Emotional Intelligence.

Planning and organising

People with high levels of MT may sometimes enjoy challenges to such an extent that they generate too much change and variety, leading to the classic initiative overload.

See the topic on Change.

Positive thinking

This is critical to the commitment and confidence components of Mental Toughness.

See the tips to motivate yourself in the topic on Motivation.

Presentation skills

If the idea of giving presentations daunts you, this relates to the commitment component of MT.

See the topic on Presentations.

Progressive muscular relaxation

This stress-busting technique is helpful for all types.

See the topic on Stress Management.

Self hypnosis

Whatever your level of Mental Toughness, you can benefit from learning self hypnosis.

See the topic on Stress Management.

Team working

This may be a problem for some of those with high levels of MT.

See the topic on Team Building.

Time management

Poor time management is not only a symptom of low levels of Mental Toughness, but it is also likely to set up a vicious circle of increasingly lower levels.

See the topic on Time Management.

Transactional analysis

This is a way of analysing personal relationships that is useful for most people, but particularly those with high levels of MT.

See the topic on Transactional Analysis.

Understanding what motivates others

It’s not always goals and targets!

See the topic on Motivation.

Visualisation

This responds directly to Henry Ford’s maxim ‘If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re probably right.’

Essentially, this means that if you imagine you will fail at something then you are visualising that failure – and it’s more likely to happen because you will have already experienced that failure in your head. The reverse is also true. If you visualise something as a success, then it is more likely to be successful when it runs for real.

Visualise yourself in a situation – for example, a job interview, an important meeting or a much-anticipated social occasion – behaving, reacting and looking as you would wish to do. Imagine yourself there: what does it mean to you, how do you react, how do others around you act, how do you feel, and what emotions are you experiencing?

There is more on this in Goal Setting.