Mental strength has become as much part of the successful training formula for sportsmen and women as balanced nutrition and intensive physical conditioning. Sports coaches know that without the grit and determination to win, even the most finely tuned athlete can fail to achieve their potential.
But it’s clear that harnessing the drive, tenacity, and stamina that motivates athletes to tap into their capacity to win also has positive benefits in the corporate world, too, offering business professionals the tools to help turn career aspirations into achievable goals.
Happily, the kind of mental toughness that has the power to be transformational isn’t an accident of birth or the reward for a hefty financial outlay. And it’s not about side-stepping catastrophe, either, but rather about seeing challenges as learning experiences. In short, cultivating mental strength simply requires a change in outlook.
Looking tough isn’t the same as being mentally tough
Appearances can be deceptive. People who display aggressive and bullying behaviour may fit our idea of what being tough looks like but outward displays of strength don’t always correlate with mental strength – in fact, the reverse is often true.
People with mental toughness are much more likely to demonstrate ‘grace under pressure’, retaining their composure when facing a challenge and having the clarity to make good decisions in the most difficult circumstances. Having the resilience to bounce back and the tenacity to stick with your plan shows just how tough you are – not ranting and raving at those around you.
Changing your response
Nobody really knows how they’ll handle a crisis till they’re in the middle of one. It helps to reflect on previously pressured situations and to consider how you responded to criticism, poor results or a stand-off with a colleague. Be honest about your responses – do you tend to duck responsibility, blame others or retreat to your comfort zone? Once you understand your natural response to pressure, you can introduce strategies that are more productive.
Mental strength often manifests itself in a calm and reasoned response – and once we know what it looks like, we can begin to develop it by adapting our own approach to crisis.
Keep going (even when the going gets tough)
It’s easy to be enthusiastic when everything is going your way but much harder to stay on track when obstacles get in the way. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, it’s important to ‘meet with triumph and disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same’ – in other words to take successes and challenges in your stride.
Obstacles can almost always be overcome and you’ll not only learn from the process along the way but will know you’re capable of pushing through. On the other hand, if you give up when things get tough, you’re in danger of establishing a pattern that that will make it easier to quit next time you hit a bump in the road.
Learn from your mistakes
Theodore Roosevelt famously said ‘The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.’ It’s our reaction to experiencing failure that helps us develop the mental strength to try again. The most successful entrepreneurs don’t fear failure and they don’t care what other people might think about their failings. Instead, they see failure as an essential part of the process that will ultimately lead them to their goals.
Cultivate patience and calm
Understand that most successes will be as the result of hard work and preparation. Instant gratification isn’t a realistic vision and patience is a crucial attribute.
Unchecked emotions will undo your attempts to adopt mental toughness, so recognise when you’re feeling angry, defeated or despondent but don’t let these feelings get the upper hand. Negative emotions can impact clarity of thought and erode your resolve but, in the same way, allowing yourself to become overconfident or impulsive based on a good mood won’t help you to stick with your plan, either.
Be brave and trust your instincts
Procrastination is not only the thief of time, it often paralyses your response, sabotaging progress. If you know a tough decision has to be made for the best of reasons – whether it’s firing an employee or calling time on a failing project – it’s usually best to get started straight away. Decisions generally don’t get easier the longer you delay them and the time you spend agonising over your decision sucks time and energy from your schedule.
Trust your instincts – without being impulsive. Examine your options as dispassionately as you can and then go with the decision that feels right.
Take responsibility and think positively
Be accountable for your actions. Don’t swerve your responsibilities. Much better to own a problem and resolve it successfully than try to sweep it under the carpet. Colleagues and clients will appreciate your honesty and that matters more than a bruised ego in the long run.
Be relentlessly optimistic if you can. Replacing negative and damaging thoughts with positive, productive ones is a critical component of mental strength but focusing on solutions rather than problems will lead you towards one and away from the other.