Mental toughness is used to refer to a set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with stressful or difficult situations. Most of the time, when mental toughness is spoken about, it is used to describe top athletes or some other very high performer, and a series of actions are prescribed to be carried out so you too can become mentally tough.
Well, the truth is that most people are already mentally tough.
At its core, mental toughness is all about having an effective method to deal with stress! Most of the high performers can deal with stress and still reach their goals. The average Joe on the street is also able to do this.
What does the high performer have on Joe? Unlike Joe, the high performer is more likely to face stress in a positively conscious manner, while Joe is likely to face stress in an unconscious or negatively conscious manner.
What is this person talking about?
Let us look at Joe’s life. When Joe tried to kiss his first girlfriend, he was so nervous that he practically passed out. After a few days, Joe could not remember that this event occurred. This is called repression. Joe has successfully been able to remove the event from his conscious thoughts.
A few days after the terrible kiss, Joe’s girlfriend breaks up with him. He, however, continues to call his girlfriend daily. Joe is in denial that his girlfriend broke up with him.
When Joe finally gets round to stop his denial, he takes out his frustration on his neighbor's poor cat by throwing his shoe at it.
When Joe gets into his apartment, he regresses to a child-like state and starts to suck his thumb. This was a way he used to get comfort when he was 3 years old.
A few days pass, and Joe suddenly realizes his girlfriend left him. He decides that he is still angry and thus goes to the gym, where he proceeds to beat the living daylight out of the punching bag. He goes home satisfied.
When he gets home, Joe rationalizes that his girlfriend could not handle his awesomeness, and thus she had to leave him. With this, Joe can get on with his life, and the memory of his girlfriend fades.
Joe has been able to deal with the stress of his girlfriend, leaving him successfully. Although most of the techniques that Joe uses are unconscious, and some are bad, Joe can deal with the stress and get on with his life. This shows that Joe has some level of mental toughness.
Let us see the life of another individual named Max. Max is a timid person. He, however, just lost his job. He has begun to drink excessively, and when he gets very drunk, he bangs his head on the walls as he calls himself stupid. When a former co-worker comes around, Max yells at him and throws furniture at him, sending him out. Max often feels like ending his life. Max's story is sad, but Max represents a person who has very little mental toughness.
Let us consider Alex's story. Alex works at a local bakery. He is the accountant at the bakery. Alex lost his sister to cancer a few weeks ago. Alex was very sad for a while, but he is beginning to get out of it. He goes over his sisters’ pictures whenever he feels particularly sad and remembers the fun times he had with her. He believes his sister has gone to a better place, and if she were still around, she would not want him to sit around and mourn her. Alex goes to volunteer at the local orphanage twice a week. His sister worked at the orphanage. Alex believes working at the orphanage will get him closer to his sister and help him to affect her values in the children. Whenever he feels particularly very sad, he discusses with his girlfriend, and she is there for him even when he cries.
Alex is a person with a high level of mental toughness. Although Alex is not an athlete or a CEO, he shows the same amount of mental toughness seen in this group of people.
What separates Alex from Joe and Max is that he consciously deals with his problems.
Alex tries to control what he can while he acknowledges what he cannot control. He talks to people around him and gets their support and advice, and this helps him to get through this period of his life.
Most of us use the techniques used by Alex, Max, and Joe to varying degrees. To improve our levels of mental toughness, we should try to cut down on the Max-like actions and some of the Joe like actions and instead use thee, Alex, like actions to deal with and handle stressors that arise in our daily lives.
We need to face every challenge that comes and view them as stepping-stones and not as obstacles. We need to take control of what we can and learn not to worry about what we have no control over.
We should learn to commit to our goals with the confidence and assurance that we will achieve them no matter what, and just like that, we would attain the levels of mental toughness seen in only a few groups of individuals.