What is Mental Toughness?
Mental toughness is a popular phrase amongst coaches and performance specialists. Of course, it’s an appealing term–we all want to be “mentally tough.” But what does that mean? What makes a person mentally tough?
This article will define several related terms, and suggest practical ways that we can develop psychological qualities of resilience, mental toughness, and grit.
Resilience refers to the capacity to recover from difficulties. It encompasses both mental and emotional processes and behaviors that contribute to one’s ability to bounce back from adversity. One measure of resilience can be how quickly a person can bounce back from adversity, or return to “normal” baseline levels after an impactful event. It can also represent repeated recoveries from various setbacks. Psychological resilience includes adaptive responses to counteract the negative effects of stressors. Resilience has a lot to do with the approach individuals take to respond to a specific situation.
Mental toughness is a more enduring quality, a personality trait, which determines how individuals cope with stress, pressure, and challenge, irrespective of circumstances. A person who is mentally tough can show resilience in a wide range of situations. Mentally tough individuals also utilize mental and emotional skills to cope with hardship. They often see difficult moments as opportunities or challenges that will make them stronger. Resilience is associated with minimizing the impact of negative events, while mental toughness takes a more optimistic approach in using setbacks to learn, grow, and develop beyond a specific event.
Grit is another term in the same family and key to understanding elite performers. Grit is defined as “courage and resolve” and “strength of character.” Similar to mental toughness, grit contains elements of optimism and approaching challenges with a positive outlook. Author and psychology researcher Angela Duckworth famously refers to grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.” In this sense, grit differs from mental toughness in the way that a gritty person shows persistence in the face of obstacles while striving for excellence in a specific field. In other words, a person who is mentally tough has the quality of consistently enduring difficult periods, and a person with grit may intentionally seek out those challenges in the pursuit of greater goals.
Collins and McNamara (2012) coined an important phrase “talent needs trauma.” What their research found is that talent alone does not determine success, but experiencing traumas, small and large, may be beneficial for developing traits that contribute to long-term success. Gritty individuals may even develop a predisposition toward exposure to challenge and risk, seeking out opportunities to fail and learn, and develop hardiness (ability to deal with repeated setbacks).
Resilience, mental toughness, and grit are important concepts to consider with top performers. These qualities can be developed through the adoption of a growth mindset and developing mental skills. In order to learn more, you can take a look at our other blog posts or contact an Animo performance specialist to inquire about private and group sessions.
Below are some multimedia pairings on related topics.