Mental Toughness: Do You Have What It Takes?

Why do some people fail to reach their potential, while others go on to achieve greatness?  How do people persist when faced with tremendous obstacles and challenges?  What makes it possible to center our focus, rebound from failure, and handle enormous pressure? 

In the field of sport psychology many professionals have attempted to answer these questions by studying mental toughness.  Mental toughness is a term that describes the quality in which individuals can effectively deal with the numerous challenges that derive from life stressors and difficult circumstances.  Mental toughness is not something that we are all just born with, but is instead a skill that can be cultivated at any age.  If you want to build your mental toughness, you need to work at it every day through the implementation of repetition and hard effort. 

The Four Cs of Mental Toughness

Control The extent to which an athlete believes they are in control of their own life, circumstances, and emotions.  

Commitment An athlete’s skill to set goals, work hard on tasks, and to remain focused through completion. 

Challenge The ability to view challenges and adversity as positive opportunities.  Athletes use challenges as a way to push their limits, embrace change, and accept risks. 

Confidence Is considered the internal belief an athlete has to succeed in the face of conflicts and challenges.  

Strategies for Enhancing Mental Toughness

  1. Set realistic and measurable performance goals
  2. Take responsibility for actions and use fewer excuses 
  3. Manage negativity through positive self-talk
  4. Practice visualizing achieving goals 
  5. Look at performance mistakes as data from which to learn
  6. Develop a positive pre-event routine 

It comes as no surprise that many professional athletes and Olympians conceptualize mental toughness just like any other physical muscle that needs daily exercising and care.   Athletes who display traits of mental toughness have been found to be both physically and emotionally more successful in their sport.  Their resilience, confidence, and competitive edge sets them apart from other athletes.  While mental toughness is commonly used in sports and athletics, the core ideas of hard work, determination, and positivity can be applied to all areas of an individual’s life.  Whether someone is experiencing a difficult personal hardship, trying to succeed in a challenging job, or is faced with daunting odds, I believe a quote by Winston Churchill captures mental toughness best, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Ashley Hallheimer, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist