Developing Mental Toughness

According to the rockstars of mental toughness Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk, mental toughness is one of the most important attributes to develop to become successful in our careers and lives.

Being mentally tough sounds very macho but this isn’t about being muscle-bound, Alpha male, uncaring, individualistic and even aggressive. Clough describes a mentally tough person as “someone who is comfortable in their own skin, can take whatever comes along in their stride and mostly enjoy the challenge”.

When we say that we are being mentally tough we are saying we can perform under challenge, stress and pressure and so this concept is closely related to qualities such as character, hardiness, resilience, grit, buoyancy and perseverance. It is our default response to what comes our way and we deal with it. The opposite of mental toughness isn’t mental weakness, but mental sensitivity.

In their book Developing Mental Toughness: Improving performance, wellbeing and positive behaviours in others, Clough and Strycharczyk talk about mental toughness being the product of four pillars. This is 4Cs Model:

1. Control

Control is your self-esteem – your life’s purpose and your sense of control over your life and emotions.

This is believing you control your destiny. To you the cup is half full and that involves having a strong sense of accountability and saying you can do something without needing to check if it is possible. If you are nervous then you won’t show it.

2. Commitment

Commitment is your focus and reliability.

This is being able to stick to tasks – your ‘stickability’. It involves setting goals for what you need to do and making promises which are measurable. You will work hard to deliver and do what it takes to achieve success. Clough says,

“Control and Commitment taken together are what most people mean when they think of resilience. They are useful and are a good response to adversity. However resilience is largely a passive quality and is only one part of mental toughness.”

3. Challenge

Challenge is your drive and adaptability.

This is seeing change and adversity as opportunities rather than threats. Being mental tough means embracing change, pushing into the unknown, stretching yourself, taking risks and enjoying it even it results in an epic fail. This is because you have the growth mindset and learning something new whatever the outcome. You will typically enjoy new places, meeting new people, innovation and creativity.

4. Confidence

Confidence is your self-belief and influence.

Having high levels of self-belief is crucial. Being confident in your abilities and having the power to deal with conflict and challenge is key. This involves having the inner strength to stand your ground when needed.

Can mental toughness be taught? Clough says yes: “There are options here. We can either aspire to be more mentally tough or we can learn to do what the mentally tough do when dealing with stressors.”

He adds that “You can’t make somebody taller, but you can give them a step ladder,” so we can use the 4Cs to help students and us cope better and more effectively.

Do you have it? Clough et al (2002) developed a 48 item, self report questionnaire to assess the overall mental toughness and the 4 underpinning scales; the MTQ. See their book for further details.

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