November 4

Changing the image of Mental Toughness

If you ask people (as I do when starting Mental Toughness sessions) what “images” Mental Toughness conjures up, most people will say things like, “the SAS”, “the Navy Seals”, “sportspeople”, “mountaineers”, etc.

If you search Mental Toughness on the web you will invariably come across sites with images like the images above.

The images are generally of people (invariably men) doing push-ups, pumping iron, running through mind fields and the like.

There are rarely images of doctors and nurses dealing with emergencies, mediators dealing with international conflicts or teachers dealing with the problems of inner city schools.

Mental Toughness is considered to be a mindset or attitude which determines, in some part, how effectively individuals perform when exposed to stressors, pressure and challenge; and not just physical stressors, pressure and challenge!

It is clear that elite athletes must be able to handle pressure, have self-belief and avoid any lifestyle distractions. They must have that urge to win and know that they have all the capabilities to do anything they desire – it’s this that separates the “good” athlete from the “elite” athlete.

The same could be said of the SAS or the GIGN (special unit of the French Gendarmes); pressure, focus, split-second decision making, emotional control, etc. are essential when trying to distinguish between hostages and terrorists in a dark and smoke-filled building.

However, as Dr Graham Jones explains in his book “Developing Mental Toughness : Gold Medal Strategies for Transforming Your Business Performance” this applies to business people and many people in many walks of life; succeeding as a musician, getting your start-up off the ground and on the road to success, staying focussed and calm at the scene of a road traffic accident, working with disadvantaged youth, leading a political campaign - in fact, the list is almost endless.

High Mental Toughness isn’t just about being a sports superstar, canoeing down impossible rivers, climbing unimaginable heights or crossing arid desserts; it’s clear that people who do those kinds of things need high Mental Toughness – but then, so do a lot of us.

It’s what I call “Everyday Mental Toughness”; it’s the Mental Toughness that helps us to deal effectively with those difficult meetings, it’s the Mental Toughness that helps us to keep the project on cost, on time and to specification, it’s the Mental Toughness that helps us to bounce back from the presentation that went horribly wrong and it’s the Mental Toughness that helps to stand our ground without becoming neither aggressive nor passive ……….. and none of that requires big muscles!

We all have a certain degree of Mental Toughness, some certainly have a lot more and some certainly have significantly less, but most of us probably have more than we think. In fact, studies have shown (using the MTQ48) that Mental Toughness is “distributed normally”, i.e. follows a normal (Gaussian) distribution curve with a small percentage at each end of the curve with either a lot or little and a lot of people in the middle with "average" Mental Toughness. With some time and effort, we can all increase our Mental Toughness; we may not move from “very low” to very high” but we all have room for development.

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