What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness is a combination of resilience, the curiosity and drive to grow yourself and the confidence in your own abilities and interactions with people.

Mental Toughness is closely related to qualities such as perseverance, resilience and grit, however, it is a broader concept. Many know resilience as being the ability to recover from setbacks. By its definition, resilience is reactive. Mental Toughness adds proactive attributes to resilience in seeking a challenge, change and finding opportunity with self-confidence. 

The difference between the two is sometimes described as; ‘resilience makes you survive, Mental Toughness makes you thrive’

Mental Toughness is not about acting tough, macho or uncaring. It is about showing strength,  toughness and confidence in seeking the opportunity to prevail, even when the odds are against you.

Why is it important?

Mental Toughness is important because Mentally Tough individuals are mentally and physically healthier and perform better. Mentally Tough individuals perform consistently under pressure and deal better with stress and challenges.

Research shows that mentally tough children perform up to 25% better in exams. They sleep better, show better attendance, are more engaged in the classroom and have higher aspirations. They transition better from junior to secondary education, perceive less bullying and are less likely to adopt anti-social behaviour. 

Mental Toughness: the Origins

The concept of Mental Toughness has been used in elite sport psychology for over 30 years to increase athlete performance. It was first defined in 1982 by performance psychologist Dr Jim Loehr as ‘the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent regardless of competitive circumstances’.

Loehr suggested that Mental Toughness was an essential quality which existed in the minds of winners and believed that it could be learned. Loehr worked with hundreds of elite athletes, many of whom became World Champions under his tutelage. However, mental toughness remained a sport-focused concept.

This changed after continuous research and publications from Professor Peter Clough, who holds the chair in applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.  He defines Mental Toughness as ‘a personality trait which determines in large part, how people respond to challenge, stress and pressure, irrespective of their circumstances.’

Through his research, which builds further on concepts like resilience and hardiness, Clough found that there are four attributes to Mental Toughness. These are called the 4 Cs. In 2002, Clough published the world’s first valid and reliable survey to measure Mental Toughness, the MTQ48. This is a 48 questions psychometric survey that measures Mental Toughness across the four Cs on an individual or group level. 

Clough’s work brought Mental Toughness from a concept for elite sporters to something applicable to every individual or any industry.

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The 4 Cs of Mental Toughness

The cornerstones of mental toughness are the 4 Cs of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence. The 4 Cs are as follows:

Control

Control means having a sense of self-worth and describes the extent to which a person feels in control of their life and their circumstances. Also, importantly it describes the extent to which they can control the display of their emotions.

A Mentally Tough person with high control will usually “get on with it” irrespective of how they feel and work through emotionally charged situations without seemingly being distracted or derailed. 

Commitment

Commitment is about goal orientation and ‘stickability’. It describes the extent to which someone is prepared to set goals and make measurable promises that, once made, they will work hard to deliver on.

A mentally tough person with high commitment can usually be relied upon to set goals and targets and do what they need to achieve them.

Challenge

Challenge describes the extent to which the individual will push back their boundaries, embrace change and accept risk. It’s also about how they see all outcomes – good and bad.

Someone whose challenge score is high will typically enjoy new places, new people, innovation and creativity and become quickly bored by routine.

Confidence 

Confidence completes the picture and describes the self-belief individuals have in their own abilities and their interpersonal confidence to influence others and deal with conflict and challenge.

When faced with a challenge, mentally tough people scoring high in confidence will possess the self-belief to deal with the situation and the inner strength to stand their ground when needed. Their confidence enables them to represent their view boldly and be comfortable in handling objections.

How to Assess Mental Toughness

The world’s most used Mental Toughness assessment is the MTQ. The measure comprises the four key components of Mental Toughness, known as the 4 C’s Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence, and the results indicate a range of Mental Toughness from 1-10 for each of the 4Cs and overall. Individuals who take the MTQ receive a personal development report.

How to Develop Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness is a plastic personality trait which means it can be developed. Developing Mental Toughness generally happens by teaching you to handle stress more effectively by making fundamental changes to the way you think about problems and teaching you the tactics and strategies that mentally tough people use.

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