A useful and commonly used way of defining mental toughness is:
"It is a personality trait which determines, in some part, how individuals perform when exposed to stressors, pressure and challenge .... irrespective of the situation." Clough & Strycharczyk (2011)
This can be seen as a logical development of an early and in some ways original definition:
"The ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your capabilities regardless of competitive circumstances." Loehr (1982)
Mental Toughness has also been simply described as:
"The ability to “perform under pressure” Tim Henman (in Coaching Excellence, 1996)
Mental Toughness refers to an individual’s resilience and an inner drive to succeed - particularly when the environment is challenging. It explains why it is possible to place two individuals into the same working environment and to see that one finds it difficult to cope with pressure and one thrives. It can often be the difference between "flourishing" and "languishing"
The mentally tough individual tends to be:
- Sociable and comfortable dealing with all types of people
- Able to remain calm and relaxed in most circumstances - they are competitive or goal orientated in many situations and have lower anxiety levels than other
- With a high sense of self-belief and an unshakeable faith that they control their own destiny, these individuals can remain relatively unaffected by competition or adversity. They can be enthusiastic about change and change even when the challenge is daunting.
An individual with a low level of mental toughness is described as mentally sensitive (not as mentally weak).
The key issues around Mental Toughness that individuals and organisations seek to understand, in their life, work and play, are:
- What causes one person to succumb and another of equal ability and experience to thrive in essentially the same circumstances?
- Can we identify people’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas?
- Can we improve the mental toughness of individuals to enable them to handle stressors, pressures and challenge more effectively and more positively?
- How can we support individuals better with their specific needs?
A significant body of research since 2002 shows that the mental toughness of an individual is a significant factor in:
- Wellbeing - mentally tough individuals enjoy greater wellbeing and appear to be “comfortable in their own skins”
- Behaviour – mentally tough individuals consistently demonstrate more positive behaviours – they tend to see opportunity where the mentally sensitive see threats
- Attainment – mentally tough individuals typically achieve more than mentally sensitive individuals. They are minded “to be the best that they can be”
In turn these enable a wide range of useful, valuable and tangible outcomes for individuals in almost everything they do. It includes achieving more but also embraces completing things, managing change and transition effectively, employability, contentment, building better relationships with people, influencing others and openness to learning.
Mentally tough individuals will typically work harder and more effectively than most and appear to derive satisfaction in doing this.
The Core Components of Mental Toughness
Research, initially at the University of Hull and now at Manchester Metropolitan University, under the direction of Professor Peter Clough identified 4 key components of Mental Toughness:
These 4 core components provide the basis for the MTQ48 - a reliable and valid tool to assess mental toughness.