The Importance of Mental Toughness

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Mental toughness is a topic widely discussed in athletics, but less often in business. Yet, mental toughness in any job or industry is at least as important to sustainable success as it is in sports. While it’s common in business to discuss strong drive, ample talent, and great attitudes, without mental toughness those traits are marginalized.

Mental toughness is defined as: a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances and emerge without losing confidence. While everyone will endure difficult circumstances in the workplace and throughout his or her life, not all will emerge without losing confidence. In fact, some emerge far less confident and begin playing not to lose. Others emerge dangerously risk averse and downshift into maintenance mode, while some others still emerge but quit soon thereafter, changing jobs or careers altogether.

Mental toughness isn’t genetic—it’s developed, and is heavily influenced by one’s attitude as he or she goes through difficulties, suffers rejection, endures setbacks, or fails outright. While we don’t get to choose what happens to us, we do choose—and are responsible for—our response to those things. The quality of that response goes a long way in determining whether we develop mental toughness.

Following is a handful of essential traits mentally tough people share. There is not enough space for a comprehensive list, so these are highlights. Practice the disciplines that help you develop these traits, and teach others to do likewise.

  1. Mentally tough people are aggressive. 

Aggressive is defined as: forcefully pursuing one’s objectives; likely to attack and confront.

I’m not referring to a bull-in-the-china-shop style of reckless abandon, or to being pushy or offensive in one’s approach. Rather, mental toughness is about being resolutely clear about what is most important and proactively shaping one’s day to seize the opportunities that take you to those objectives—taking the initiative, staying in motion, and maximizing your time and resources.

Being aggressive means you are more likely to happen to things than to have things happen to you because you are attacking the day, rather than reacting to it. Being aggressive in terms of mental toughness doesn’t mean you’re loud or obnoxious; rather, you’re focused, diligent, and relentless in pursuing and achieving what matters most in your life.

Sample signs one lacks aggressiveness: One who spends too much time reacting—who plays not to lose or spends more time trying to hold ground than risk, change, and proactively move forward to gain new ground.

2. Mentally tough people are resilient. 

Resilient is defined as: an ability to recover quickly from setbacks or difficult circumstances. 

Everyone eventually goes through setbacks or difficulties, but the ability to recover quickly separates the mentally tough from those who may nurse and rehearse the incidents to the point they lose focus or eventually quit altogether. Resilient people have an attitude that sees setbacks as something they can learn and grow from; as a result, they turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones and may lose an occasional battle, but continue to fight and eventually win the war.

Sample signs one lacks resilience: The salesperson who loses a deal he thought he had, and can’t move on—he spends so much time whining, complaining, and rehearsing what a “stroke” the customer was, that his lost focus costs him five more deals that month.

3. Mentally tough people are hungry.

Hunger is defined as: an intense desire, a compelling craving.

Hunger comes from the inside; from someone’s “why”—their big, bold, compelling reasons that motivate them to do what they do, so they can achieve their dreams and fulfill their purpose. People lose their way in life when they lose sight of or lose focus on their why.

Hungry people are more persistent, aggressive, resilient, passionate, and energized because they have something worth paying a price for, worth fighting for, and worth sacrificing for.

However, hunger without resilience brings about disappointment as one dreams big, but fails to power through the inevitable setbacks they encounter as they move towards their dreams.

Sample signs one lacks hunger: You’re already driving the car, living in the house, and making the money that was once your “why,” and rather than continue to set goals that stretch you, you have become complacent and are content to tweak and maintain rather than risk, change, and grow.

4. Mentally tough people are responsible. 

A responsible person is someone defined as: being the primary cause of something.

Mentally tough people own their results. They don’t blame, because blame is the anti-focus and reduces them to victim status. Responsible people know they can’t control the adverse external conditions affecting them, but understand they are still responsible for results—for making the decisions and developing the disciplines that marginalize the conditions beyond their control.

Sample signs one lacks responsibility: When confronted with feedback concerning performance the person is more interested in being right than in getting better. He or she takes information that would help them and minimizes it, externalizes it (whips out their black belt in blame), or rationalizes it. As a result, they become virtually un-coachable, and highly undesirable to keep around.

Other mental toughness traits include aspects like: being positive, being coachable, and the ability to maintain intensity despite the circus going on around you. While a strong talent and skill set are essential for success, the mental toughness aspect of performance heavily influences whether the skills and talent are maximized or marginalized. In sports performance, as is performance within organizations, mental is often to physical what four is to one.

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Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson, “Mr. Accountability,” is a leading international speaker on personal and corporate performance improvement. The author of 14 books and host of the wildly popular podcast, The Game Changer Life, Dave’s message has impacted leaders in nearly 70 nations. His “in-the-trenches” background of starting and running world-class businesses, coupled with his relatable non-academic approach, creates an unmatched connection that resonates with audiences and moves them to action. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveAnderson100