Mental Toughness is now a widely accepted personality trait which explains individual differences in the ability to deal with stressful circumstances and the tendency to maintain performance in challenging situations (Clough and Strycharczyk 2012). Mental Toughness is a multi-dimensional concept incorporating components of Challenge, Confidence, Control and Commitment – the 4Cs.
There is now a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the moderating role of Mental Toughness in the stressor-strain relationship – so when people are exposed to challenging circumstances, performance levels are less likely to be maintained for an individual with lower Mental Toughness.
Fatigue is in fact intuitively opposed to Mental Toughness, but like Mental Toughness, fatigue is also a very important part of the stress process. Where Mental Toughness is known to moderate the stressor-strain relationship, fatigue is a significant part of the strain itself.
People who are mentally tough may be less likely to suffer the consequences of fatigue or even to experience fatigue at all.
Fatigue is the subjective state of tiredness that follows a period of dealing with a stressor, eg heavy mental workload or physical demands. So along with anxiety, fatigue is a core bi-product of the human stress response. It is of note that many individuals suffering from anxiety and depression experience significant fatigue and lethargy as well as lack of concentration and issues with short term memory.
Most people regularly experience some degree of tiredness following a hard day at work, a particularly difficult work out or a long run, a bad night’s sleep, illness or when they have had to deal with a particularly difficult emotional challenge.
When an individual becomes fatigued they can either choose to listen to their bodies and submit to their feelings of tiredness and rest, or they can choose to “soldier on” and continue with the task at hand. The choice here has a lot to do with motivation. How much do you need (or want) to keep going and what will be the cost if you do not continue with the task. If we feel the task “can wait”, we can stop, take a break and as a result, the feelings of fatigue can dissipate. However, if we continue, we can face a number of consequences. Under these circumstances, tiredness can not only continue, but build. There are also changes in the way we think and we can increasingly adopt low-effort strategies and ways of working that rely less on higher level thinking. As a consequence memory can be affected and we can make quicker and often less well thought out decisions.
If there is a shift towards low-effort strategies of thinking and behaviour that characterise a fatigued individual then consider the impact of fatigue in working environments and the risk to occupational health and safety. Consider the impact of risky behaviour, poor decisions and increased risk of work place accidents.
An understanding of the warning signs of fatigue is extremely important, especially in recognising there is a shift to low effort thinking. An awareness of this may be sufficient to minimise the impact that our fatigue has on our attitudes and behaviour. An ability to take Control (one of the 4Cs of Mental Toughness) and manage this process well could offset these changes. If you are aware that fatigue is likely to increase the likelihood of you taking short cuts, you can use this information in deciding whether to take a break or consciously increase the care you take over important tasks during this time.
It is also important to evaluate what is making us tired and this can be different for individuals. If this is emotional fatigue, having a greater ability to manage our emotions and experience Life and Emotional Control can be a significant advantage. If you can recognise your work or life demands to minimise fatigue this may be considered a good way to stop fatigue developing.
We can also work toward how we respond to being fatigued and to develop appropriate coping strategies so that we can minimise the negative impacts. Consider identifying what makes you fatigued, how you normally react and the strategies you could put in place to manage. Those with higher Mental Toughness in the area of Challenge may be able to work through the opportunity to develop goals to manage this more effectively.
People who are low in Mental Toughness are potentially more sensitive to life’s demands and stressful circumstances could lead to a greater stress response and as a result they may be more prone to the negative consequences of fatigue. Conversely people who are high in Mental Toughness are less likely to experience stress when facing difficult situations and may be less likely to develop fatigue. However high Mental Toughness particularly in the area of Commitment may also mean these individuals may be less likely to listen to the warning signs as they may choose to persist with their goals despite considerable adversity.
It is therefore extremely important to consider the value of fatigue warning signs for protecting us in the longer term and when considering working toward our greatest potential. Mental Toughness can play a role in both mitigating and managing the effects of fatigue.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited mental toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop potential and improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at www.bakjacconsulting.com or firstname.lastname@example.org