Mental toughness is essential for navigating the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives; stress at work, relationship difficulties or physical ailments. In truth you never know when you’ll need to be resilient, and often you won’t realise you have this ability until you must use it.
Resilience and mental toughness are not skills that come naturally to everyone, though; we’ve all witnessed, or perhaps experienced, something that it felt almost impossible to recover from (bereavement, redundancy, serious illness), and it may have had a permanent effect on how we view the world. Sometimes an experience like this makes us stronger; sometimes it makes it harder to carry on with even the everyday tasks. The difference between the two outcomes is mental toughness, and while it can be these momentous occasions that build our ability to bounce back, arguably it’s a bit of a risk to wait until this point. Being mentally tough isn’t just be about recovering after a big event. It’s also about managing your wellbeing, energy and approach when dealing with the smaller things too and developing the skills to help you feel prepared and ready to tackle the big stuff when it comes.
But what does mental toughness involve? Below, we look at some key areas where you can proactively work on developing your mental toughness and resilience, whatever you might be faced with.
Choose your attitude
The way you approach an issue is one of the only things you can control (though it may not feel like that sometimes). Other events and circumstances may influence your thinking and actions, but they don’t control them, so consider how you think about different situations and the narrative you tell yourself during the day. Are you speaking encouragingly to yourself, or tearing yourself down? It can be hard to tell at first, but once you recognise the way you talk to yourself you can then begin to change the story.
A tip to help build this into your life is to explicitly state to yourself what attitude you intend to adopt on any given day and carry that with you as you go about the daily tasks.
Using this ‘bigger picture’ approach can be more accessible than trying to control every single thought that passes through your mind. Instead, you pick one thing to focus on, and evaluate your actions and thoughts against that.
Deciding on an attitude of gratitude, for example, can help reframe a disagreement with your boss into a positive; you might be grateful you had the chance to speak your mind, or even that you have a job and a boss to disagree with at all.
Gratitude is a common example, but others might include ‘bravery’, ‘integrity’, positivity’. Chose something that resonates with you – and, crucially, don’t beat yourself up if, occasionally, you do something that doesn’t align with your chosen attitude – make note of it and think about what happened or how you could behave differently next time you’re in a similar situation.
Control the controllables
Not everything is within our control; in fact, when you really begin to evaluate it, you realise very little can be controlled. Once you’re able to recognise this it will drastically help you reduce your anxiety about the things you can’t control and focus your energy on the things you can. For many of us we waste so much time and mental effort trying to control other people, situations and even the future, all of which are out of our hands.
When you accept this and refocus on what you can affect, it becomes much easier to relax about the things you can’t. You can’t, for example, control how a colleague will react if you make a mistake at work, but you can control how you respond to their reaction. You can also control how you’ll work to make sure a similar mistake doesn’t occur in the future.
Take some time to closely examine what you can and can’t control, and start working on the things you can, the rest will happen anyway.
Rehearse challenging situations
Sometimes the anxiety (or excitement) we feel about something is so distracting it can be hard to think of anything else; an upcoming presentation to an important client, for example. When you’re facing something anxiety provoking, it can sometimes help to play it out in your head, exploring all the possibilities, and most importantly, practice how you will respond to them if they should occur.
Feeling prepared is crucial to our confidence, and when you can’t prepare in practice, prepare in your mind. But be careful not to tip into obsession; practice until you feel comfortable and confident and then leave it alone.
Other Elements of Mental Toughness
Mental toughness is something everyone needs; we all face adversity in our lives, and sometimes it’s the everyday situations that are the most formidable. Having tools on hand to battle these feelings of anxiety or overwhelm is essential. Choosing your attitude, focusing on what you can control, and mentally preparing are all extremely powerful approaches. But there’s so much else that can be done. Simple things such as taking care of your health – eating and sleeping well and getting exercise are vital. If you’re not physically strong, it’s much harder to be mentally strong.
It’s also important not to try and face challenge on your own. People need people to survive and thrive, so don’t face adversity alone, seek help and support. Part of being mentally tough is being able to ask for help.
You’ll never really know how mentally tough you are until put to the test, but being prepared and proactive makes it a whole lot easier to face adversity when it does strike. Knowing you can handle anything that comes your way is a powerful feeling, and it is within everyone’s reach.
If you’d like to discover more about building your mental toughness, view the full Developing Mental Toughness course outline, and check out the next available public programme date or contact us to find out more and book.