Updated: May 27, 2020
Quick question, if I were to ask you, "Do you know how mentally strong you are?" or, "Do you know how to identify and improve your mental strength?", what would you say?
Don't worry, you are not alone! There is no shortage of people around the world that can't answer those questions, think mental toughness is just for athletes, or think the whole topic is "soft" and for psychologists. So, what is mental toughness and how can you calculate, assess, and improve your mental toughness so it becomes as asset instead of a liability?
Put simply, Mental toughness is a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sport, education and the workplace. It's a set of attributes that allow a person to become a better athlete or leader and able to not only cope with difficult training and competitive situations but emerge without losing confidence. Mental toughness is frequently used colloquially to refer to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.
"Peter Clough et al. (2002) proposed a model of mental toughness, conceptualizing it more like a personality trait. Their model has four components: confidence; challenge; control and commitment. In initially conceptualizing mental toughness and developing the MTQ48 questionnaire measurement tool, the approach taken by Clough et al. (2002) was to combine existing psychological theory and applied sport psychology in an attempt to bridge the gap between research and practice." (Clough, P. J., K. Earle, and D. Sewell. (2002). Mental Toughness. The Concept and its Management. In: Cockerill, I. (Ed.), Solutions in Sport Psychology. London: Thomson. pp. 32–45.)
Why did I share this technical definition (one of many) in my article? To show you that the topic of mental toughness, as a broad category, has been, and continues to be, a highly researched and sought-after topic. Moving it from its "soft skills" status to one of distinction and impact on individuals, teams, companies, and anybody looking to better understand themselves, their motivations, and their ability to succeed.
As a career firefighter and Guinness World Records Holder, I've spent the past 15 years developing a better understanding of mental toughness and its ability to help me achieve what I otherwise thought was impossible. Its helped me cope with the challenging rigors of 5 Alarm fires, overdoses, family loss, as well as, push through and succeed at the most challenging individual competition in the world. My research and experience led me to an easily digestible equation to get you started with identifying, and building your own mental toughness. The equation is simple:
Experience + Engagement (Passion) - Doubt = Mental Toughness
When you combine all of your experiences (good and bad) with your passion for living in the moment and being engaged in every aspect of your life and remove any/all doubt, you end up with a solid starting point for understanding your mental toughness.
In the coming weeks and months, I will spend time walking you through each part of this equation and provide you with tips, tricks, and hacks to help you along your mental toughness journey. For today, spend some time reflecting on your past experiences. How did they make you feel? What could/should you have done differently? We can't move onto the second part of the equation until you understand how you've gotten to where you are today. After all, hindsight is 20/20.