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Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is the ability to withstand innumerable insults, setbacks, defeats and disappointments without losing your mind, your motivation, or your sense of humour.

The lack of mental toughness, which we can call, mental fragility, is the bad habit of losing heart, losing hope, becoming too upset, too angry or too depressed, at the slightest slight, or insult, or at the first setback, defeat or disappointment.

There is a great benefit to developing mental toughness

Since life doesn't always go according to plan, and that there are many things you cannot control, then we can reasonably expect a certain amount of setbacks, defeats, disappointments and insults.

It is a good idea to get used to that fact and be able to live with it.

The problem is, many people have never learned to deal with upset. They find upsets very upsetting. As a result they are emotionally too hurt, too often.

Many people cannot take criticism well.

Many cannot take losing, many can't handle failure, many are over concerned with what other people think of them, many cannot handle rejection.

Most cannot handle discomfort, hunger or loss. As a result, they fold too soon, and under conditions that are not very arduous.

The truth is that it is necessary to be able to handle: loss, hunger, discomfort, rejection, upset, disappointments, defeats and difficulties; and to do so without losing your spirits, your mind, your motivation or your sense of humour.

In other words, it is important to develop mental emotional toughness.

How to develop emotional and mental toughness

There are two approaches to this question.

  1. Do things that actively build up your mental toughness.
  2. Stop doing things that actively tear down your mental toughness.

Things you can do to actively build up your mental toughness.

1. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal

Even though you have suffered failure, you must keep your mental focus predominantly on the ultimate goal. Once you lose your grip of the goal, you lose grip of your motivation.

Always reaffirm your goal and remind yourself that there are many ways to arrive at any destination.

Failure means that the way you have tried is faulty and you need to find a different method.

Thomas Edison said: "I am never discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is one step forward."

2. Rest and come back stronger with another plan

Whenever I fail, I take some time off. I retreat to my home, eat, train with weights, and go to bed early. I sleep for 12 hours and then I get up and come back at the problem-situation with my fuel tanks fully replenished. I never drink alcohol as a way to overcome problems.

Only drink alcohol to celebrate a success, never to drown your sorrows.

If you are in a sorry state, exercise, then eat, sleep, and recover your energy.

Come back stronger with a better plan.

3. Keep the situation in its proper perspective

Don't dramatise the situation. Most situations that you encounter do not involve people being injured or dying. They are not as dramatic as that.

Don't over dramatise and make the situation seem more dangerous than it really is.

I have a friend who is a military medic; he is never psyched out by normal life problems, because he has seen real life and death situations.

So his stock reply to most problems is; "Nobody died. So it's no drama!"

Keep the situation in its proper perspective.

4. Distract yourself

If you are in a middle of a bad time, don't let that situation dominate every nook and cranny of your cortex. Instead, it may be time to take a break.

Go out with people who don't have anything to do with the problem and hang out with the other crowd.

Go to the cinema. Take a mental rest. Then you can come back stronger.

Stop doing things that actively tear down your mental toughness

1. Many people mentally tear themselves down and detract from their own mental toughness

One way to make yourself feel small and weak is to talk as if you ARE smaller and weaker than your problem. If you see your problems as being huge and your abilities to handle the problems as being puny, then you will feel outclassed.

If you think you're outclassed, you are. This is a great way to lose your mind.

Psych yourself up, not out.

2. Don't hang around negative people, or even people who offer you sympathy

Avoid sympathy. When things are going wrong, it is very tempting to find people who will listen to your story and who will sympathise with you. This is detrimental to your mental toughness. You don't need sympathy; you need a plan of action.

Sympathy never solved any problems. Sympathy gives you sanction, to quit. Don't seek out sympathetic listeners.

You need analytical listeners: People who will help you analyse the situation, and who will map out an adaptive response.

Avoid the sympathetic response. Search instead for an adaptive response.

3. Avoid drink, drugs and comfort eating

Some people use bad situations as a trigger to get drunk, or to take drugs or to binge eat.

They call it coping with stress. But it is actually, a signal that you are NOT coping with stress.

There is never a situation that can be handled well when you are drunk. You don't think better when drunk, you don't speak better when drunk, you don't act better when drunk, and you don't even feel better when drunk.

And when you wake up the next day, all the problems are unresolved, you feel worse, you look worse, you have less money and your brain is dehydrated. So never think that Dutch courage is the solution. Alcohol is not a solution. Alcohol is part of the problem.

Mental toughness relies on more analysis and action, not more alcohol and evasion.

Seven point plan for more mental toughness

  1. Avoid drink, drugs and comfort eating.
  2. Don't hang around negative people, or people who offer you sympathy.
  3. Psych yourself up, not out.
  4. Exercise, eat, rest and tomorrow, come back stronger with another plan.
  5. If you cannot rest, then distract yourself for a while.
  6. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal.
  7. Rewrite the plan and come back stronger.

Questionnaire: Do You Psych Yourself Up or Out?

Do you tend to psych yourself up or out?

Take our questionnaire Do You Psych Yourself Up or Out? to discover if you tend to maximise or minimise your changes, by the way you talk to yourself.

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About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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