Post By: Juliano "Nano" | Wednesday, April 8, 2020


What is Mental Toughness?

Mental toughness is a popular phrase amongst coaches and performance specialists. Of course, it's an appealing term–we all want to be “mentally tough.” But what does that mean? What makes a person mentally tough?

To understand this topic better, this article will define mental toughness and related terms, and suggest practical ways that we can develop desirable qualities.

Resilience refers to the capacity to recover from difficulties. It encompasses both mental and emotional processes and behaviors that contribute to one's ability to bounce back from adversity. One measure of resilience can be how quickly a person can return to “normal” or baseline levels after an impactful event. Qualities of psychological resilience include protective mechanisms that help to counteract the potential negative effects of stressors. Resilience has a lot to do with the approach an individual takes to respond to a specific situation.

Mental toughness is a more enduring quality, a personality trait, which determines how individuals cope with stress, pressure, and challenge, irrespective of circumstances. A person who is mentally tough can show resilience in a wide range of situations. Mentally tough individuals also utilize mental and emotional skills to face hardship. They often see these moments as opportunities or challenges that will make them stronger. Resilience is associated with minimizing the impact of negative events, while mental toughness takes a more optimistic approach in using setbacks to learn, grow, and develop beyond a specific event.

Grit is another term in the same family as mental toughness and a key to understanding elite performers. Grit is defined as “courage and resolve” and “strength of character.” Similar to mental toughness, grit contains elements of optimism and approaching challenges with a positive outlook. Angela Duckworth famously refers to grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.” In this sense, grit differs from mental toughness so that a gritty person shows persistence in the face of obstacles while striving for excellence in a specific field. In other words, a person who is mentally tough has the quality of consistently enduring difficult periods, and a person with grit may intentionally seek out those challenges in the pursuit of greater goals. One phrase that encapsulates the idea of grit is “talent needs trauma.” Talent alone doesn't determine success, but experiencing traumas, small and large, may be beneficial for developing traits that contribute to long-term success. Gritty individuals may even develop a predisposition toward exposure to challenge and risk, seeking out opportunities to fail and learn, and develop hardiness (ability to deal with repeated setbacks).

Resilience, mental toughness, and grit are important concepts to consider in the development of top performers. These qualities can be developed through the adoption of a growth mindset and developing mental skills. If you're not quite sure what those things are yet, take a look at the other blog posts, do some additional web research, and don't hesitate to contact a performance specialist.