What is Mental Toughness?

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:


  • Control
  • Commitment
  • Challenge
  • Confidence


These 4 core components provide the basis for the MTQ48 - a reliable and valid tool to assess mental toughness.


Core component 1 - Control


Individuals who score high on this scale feel that they are in control of their work and of the environment in which they work. They are capable of exerting more influence on their working environment and are more confident about working in complex or multi-tasked situations. This means for example that, at one end of the scale individuals are able to handle lots of things at the same time. At the other end they may only be comfortable handling one thing at a time. Ongoing development of the MTQ48 - has enabled the identification of 2 subscales to this scale:

Control (Emotion) - Individuals scoring highly on this scale are better able to control their emotions and will manage what they show to others . They are able to keep anxieties in check and, in these circumstances, are less likely to reveal their emotional state to other people.

Control (Life) - Individuals scoring higher on this scale are more likely to believe that they have a significant degree of control over their lives. They feel that their plans will not be thwarted and that they can make a difference.

Core component 2 - Commitment


Sometimes described as "stickability", this describes the ability for an individual to carry out tasks successfully despite any problems or obstacles that arise whilst achieving the goal. Consequently an individual who scores at the high end of the scale will be able to handle and achieve things to tough unyielding deadlines. Whereas an individual at the other end will need to be free from those kind of demands to achieve their goals.

Experience of usage of the MTQ48 indicates that there may be two components to this scale:

Goal or target orientation: Individuals scoring high appear to translate what they need to do into SMART-ish goals and targets which enable them to prioritise, plan and monitor several tasks at the same time.

Delivery (Completion): Individuals scoring high appear to be prepared to do what it takes to deliver what has been promised (to themselves and to others) including working hard where needed.

Core component 3 - Challenge

Challenge (Sometimes Called Change Orientation)

Describes the extent to which individuals see change, setbacks and challenges as opportunities. Individuals who see them as opportunities will actively seek them out and will identify problems as ways for self-development. At the other end challenges are perceived as problems and threats. So, for example, at one end of the scale we find those who thrive in continually changing environments. At the other end we find those who prefer to minimise their exposure to change and the problems that come with that - and will strongly prefer to work in stable environments.

Experience of usage of the MTQ48 indicates that there may be two components to this scale:

Preparedness to stretch oneself and push back boundaries. This includes being prepared to take risks and seek out new experiences and challenges. In some cases, it will include creating those opportunities.

Openness to learningBeing prepared to see all outcomes as learning opportunities – whatever the outcome, good or bad. Includes being minded to repeat an experience even it was originally a failure to apply what has been learned.

Core component 4 - Confidence


Individuals who are high in confidence have the self-belief to successfully complete tasks, which may be considered too difficult by individuals with similar abilities but with lower confidence. Less confident individuals are also likely to be less persistent and may make more errors.

For example, individuals at one end of the scale will be able to take setbacks (externally and self generated) in their stride. They keep their heads when things go wrong and it may even strengthen their resolve to do something. At the other end individuals will be unsettled by setbacks and will feel undermined by these. Their heads are said to "drop".

Ongoing development of MTQ48 has enabled the identification of 2 subscales to this scale:

Confidence (Abilities) - Individuals scoring highly on this scale are more likely to believe that they are a truly worthwhile person. They are less dependent on external validation and tend to be more optimistic about life in general.

Confidence (Interpersonal) - Individuals scoring highly on this scale tend to be more assertive. They are less likely to be intimidated in social settings and are more likely to push themselves forward in groups. They are also better able to cope with difficult or awkward people.

The following links provide more information on Mental Toughness and the MTQ48 Assessment:

Mental Toughness and the MTQ48

The MTQ48 Mapped to Behaviours

The MTQ48 Sample Assessment Report

The MTQ48 Sample Development Report

The MTQ48 Sample Coaching Report

The MTQ48 Sample Group Analysis Report

The MTQ48 Sample Distance Travelled Report


© AQR International - The MTQ48 and the information above are provided by AQR International. Ascent Coaching and Training is an accredited user and provider of the MTQ48 Assessment.