Published on September 20, 2016

Developing Mental Toughness

By Austin O’Brien, Genesis Sport Psychology Coach

Develop Mental Toughness through Genesis Sport PsychologyMental toughness appears to be a highly desirable characteristic in both athletics and life. However, definitions of mental toughness tend to vary from one person to another, making it difficult to understand what it actually is. Is it a part of someone’s personality? Or is it a skill that can be developed in each of us? Well, it's both.

The purpose of this blog post is to discover a solid definition of mental toughness and describe its components in order to help us become more mentally tough.

So What Is Mental Toughness?

I believe mental toughness is a construct that is composed of both personality traits (e.g., hardiness) and psychological skills (e.g., confidence) that contribute to our ability to deal with adversity. We experience some form of adversity every day through work, school, athletics, and/or personal life. Mentally tough individuals are able to fight through it, grow from the experience, and potentially even perform at a higher level because of the adversity.

Elite Athletes and Mental Toughness

Jones, Hanton, and Connaughton interviewed elite athletes and defined mental toughness as, “The possession of a natural or developed psychological edge that allows athletes to better cope with demands, as well as consistently be more determined, focused, confident, and in control under stressful situations,” (Jones et al., 2002).

Additionally, they identified 12 attributes that mentally tough individuals possess:

  1. They believe they CAN and WILL achieve their goals
  2. They return from setbacks (e.g., injury or poor performance) with greater determination
  3. They believe they possess abilities that make them better than their opponents
  4. They have an insatiable desire to succeed
  5. They can focus regardless of distractions
  6. They can regain control
  7. They can push through physical and psychological stress
  8. They can cope with anxiety
  9. They are not affected by others’ performance
  10. They thrive under pressure
  11. They can focus through personal problems
  12. They can switch focus on and off when necessary

Notice the underlined words or phrases. These are all components of mental toughness that can be improved through sport participation and psychological skills training. It comes down to developing your ability to manage stress, regain focus, remain motivated, and be confident that you have the tools to be successful.

The Choice

Sometimes, mental toughness is winning the small battlesMental toughness does not entail winning every single competition, or even being the best athlete on your team and/or league. It’s really just a series of choices where you decide to take control and push through adversity.

I wake up to my alarm at 5:30 a.m. The first decision of my day is whether or not I am going to get out of bed and go for a run. Many times, I choose the “mentally tough” route, and lace up my shoes for another 10-12 miles. But there are still some days when I go back to sleep.

I find that those are the days when I'm not focused on my running goals, and am stressed about other life or work events. Whether I’m mentally tough or not is irrelevant; the point is that it becomes easier to make the “mentally tough” choice every time I do it.

I believe mental toughness is a series of choices influenced by personality traits and psychological skills. You own the choice to be mentally tough in anything that you do, and that gives you a great deal of control. Developing confidence, focus, motivation, and stress management skills are vital steps in becoming mentally tough.

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