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Developing Mental Toughness

We are living and leading in a season that is very taxing—those who come out on the other side will be the leaders and teams that are able to develop a mental toughness. Mental toughness is “the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from succeeding, or excelling at a task or toward an objective or a performance outcome that you set out to achieve."

Mental toughness is NOT about enduring uncomfortable times. It’s about controlling your attention and your mind in the present moment. True mental toughness is the ability to quickly focus on the next necessary thing, regardless of your emotions, the circumstances around you, or the distractions that fly toward you.

Alan Stein Jr. says, “Mental toughness is the ability to face adversity, failure, and negative events without loss of effort, attitude, and enthusiasm. Everyone works hard when they feel good. Everyone is enthusiastic when things go well. A person who is mentally tough does not let circumstances dictate who they are at that moment. You control mental toughness!”

All true. Lolly Daskal, CEO of Lead Within, says that the people who are the toughest are not the ones who show strength just in front of us, but they are the ones who win the battles no one sees them fight. She also shared that any of us can develop mental toughness by getting hold of our habits of mind and attitude. Check out her directives:

1. Emotional stability. Leadership often requires that you make good decisions under pressure. It's important that you maintain your capacity to stay objective and deliver the same level of performance regardless of what you're feeling.

2. Perspective. Mental strength lets you carry on when the world seems to have turned against you. Learn to keep your troubles in proper perspective without losing sight of what you need to accomplish.

3. Readiness for change. If change is truly the only constant, then flexibility and adaptability are among the most important traits you can develop.

4. Detachment. You can get through setbacks and come out even stronger if you can remember that's it's not about you. Don't take things personally or waste time wondering why me? Instead, focus on what you can control.

5. Strength under stress. Maintain resilience in the face of negative pressures by developing your capacity to deal with stressful situations.

6. Preparation for challenges. Life and business are filled with everyday demands, the occasional crisis, and unexpected twists. Make sure you have the resources to withstand the professional and personal crises that you'll sooner or later be facing.

7. Focus. Keep your attention on the long-term outcomes to stay steady in the face of real or potential obstacles.

8. The right attitude toward setbacks. Complications, unintended side effects, and complete failures are all part of the landscape. Mitigate the damage, learn the lessons that will help you in the future, and move on.

9. Self-validation. Don't worry about pleasing others: That's a hit-or-miss proposition for anyone but the worst sort of waffler. Instead, make a concentrated effort to do what is right and to know what you stand for.

10. Patience. Don't expect results immediately or rush things to fruition before their time. Anything worthwhile takes hard work and endurance; view everything as a work in progress.

11. Control. Avoid giving away your power to others. You are in control of your actions and emotions; your strength is in your ability to manage the way you respond to what is happening to them.

12. Acceptance. Don't complain about the things over which you have no control. Recognize that the one thing you can always control is your own response and attitude and use those attributes effectively.

13. Endurance in the face of failure. View failure as an opportunity to grow and improve, not a reason to give up. Be willing to keep trying until you get it right.

14. Unwavering positivity. Stay positive even—especially—when you encounter negative people. Elevate them; never bring yourself down. Don't allow naysayers to ruin the spirit of what you're accomplishing.

15. Contentment. Don't waste time being envious of anyone else's car, house, spouse, job, or family. Instead be grateful for what you have. Focus on what you've achieved and what you're going to achieve instead of looking over your shoulder and being envious of what someone else has.

16. Tenacity. It comes down to just three words: Never give up.

17. A strong inner compass. When your sense of direction is deeply internalized, you never have to worry about becoming lost. Stay true to your course.

18. Uncompromising standards. Tough times or business difficulties aren't good reasons to lower the bar. Keep your standards high.

Aren’t those great handles to get started on the journey to becoming a mentally strong person? It takes practice and paying attention, tuning in to your bad habits, and making a point of learning new habits to replace them.

In every area of life—from your education to your work to your health—it is your amount of grit, mental toughness, and perseverance that predicts your level of success more than any other factor we can find. Talent is overrated. Mental toughness is what leads to grit, consistency, and delivering the goods.

Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They work toward clear goals every day; they don’t let complications stop them. They make a habit of building up the people around them—not just once, but over and over and over again. They deliver on a more consistent basis than most because they don’t work just when they feel motivated—they work a schedule. They do the most important things first and don’t shirk their responsibilities. Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most.

If you are choosing to make this significant change to mental toughness, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, recommends these three strategies in the real world.

1. Define what mental toughness means for you. Be clear about what you’re going after. Mental toughness is an abstract quality, but in the real world it’s tied to concrete actions. You can’t wave a wand and magically become mentally tough. You prove it to yourself by doing something real in real life.

2. Mental toughness is built through small physical wins. So often we think that mental toughness is about how we respond to extreme situations. How did you perform in the championship game? Can you keep your life together while grieving the death of a family member? Did you bounce back after your business went bankrupt? All of those tough situations test our courage, perseverance, and mental toughness, but even more critical are the everyday circumstances. Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop. If you haven’t pushed yourself in thousands of small ways, you’ll fold when things get really difficult. Mental toughness is built through small wins. It’s the individual choices that we make on a daily basis.

3. Mental toughness is about your habits, not your motivation. Motivation is fickle. Willpower is here one day and gone another. Mental toughness isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.

Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent—just more consistent. Mental toughness comes down to your habits.

You can be mentally tough.

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