Mental Toughness – More than Just Resilience.

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Everywhere I go these days, I here individuals and workplaces speak about opportunities to increase their resilience. People everywhere want to be able to “bounce back” from the stressors in their lives and deal with adversity much more effectively. There are Counsellors, Psychologists, HR Practitioners, Positive Psychology Practitioners all preaching to us about our resilience and creating resilient individuals and a resilient workforce. But is resilience alone really enough?

Is it enough to simply recover after adversity strikes us? Is it enough to “survive” what happens to us? Or should we be aiming for greater heights than this. How can we actually THRIVE in this constantly changing environment we now find ourselves in? The current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape we live and work in means that we not only have to respond when adversity strikes us, we have to live within a landscape where challenges are all around us. We need to be confident to be able to manage these challenges and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. For this we need more than resilience, we need Mental Toughness.

“What is Mental Toughness?” I hear you ask. Mental Toughness incorporates the concepts of resilience but adds in two very important additions. These additions are our confidence and our ability to not only manage and thrive in challenging circumstances, but to see challenge as an opportunity. Some challenges get dropped on us; for these we need resilience. But some challenges (and their potential rewards) are waiting for us; for these we need confidence.

The rock stars of Mental Toughness, Professor Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk define it as;

 “the personality trait, which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenges stressors and pressure… irrespective of circumstances”.

A Mentally Tough individual is focused on outcomes and how they can achieve them. They are focused on their goals and are better at making things happen without being distracted by their own or other peoples’ emotions. Within the Mental Toughness framework are the 4Cs of Control, Commitment, Confidence and Challenge.

Control - is your self-esteem, your purpose in life and your sense of control over your own life and your emotions.

Commitment - is your reliability and focus, in other words your “stickability”

The Control and Commitment scales together represent the Resilience part of the Mental Toughness definition, namely the ability to bounce back from setbacks and opportunities. When you face a setback or failure, your momentum slows or can even stop altogether and you naturally question yourself and your identity. You subsequently have the opportunity to then either reaffirm and reassess who you are and potentially develop momentum to enable you to bounce back. You do this by setting and achieving a series of goals and targets, often small and simple at first, to rebuild and get back on track.

Challenge is your drive and adaptability. You see challenges, change, adversity and variety as opportunities rather than threats. You have the capacity to be adaptable and agile.

Confidence is your self-belief and influence and describes the extent to which you believe you have the ability to perform productively and proficiently and the ability to influence others. Being high on confidence means that you have the self-belief to complete tasks others may consider beyond their reach.  Your internal voice’s positive commentary allows for success and the ability to thrive.

The Challenge and Confidence scales together represent the Confidence part of the Mental Toughness definition, namely your ability to spot and seize an opportunity. This means our Mental Toughness allows us to see more opportunities during change and we are willing to embrace and explore these opportunities as well as be willing to take risks. If you are confident in your abilities and you easily engage with others, you are also much more likely to convert the potential opportunity of these situations into successful outcomes.

We can now measure Mental Toughness using a tool called the MTQ48. It’s a valid and reliable psychometric tool which only takes 10 minutes on line and provides a rich source of information to not only raise your self-awareness about your own Mental Toughness but also provides many suggestions to develop your Mental Toughness.

There is a large number of ways to increase our Mental Toughness every day. Consider just a few examples:

  • Start with a successful routine – Get yourself in the right mindset from the very start. Try and get up at the same time every day. Stretch before you even get out of bed. Have a morning ritual that involves physical exercise. Have a plan of action for your day that includes some goal setting for what you want to achieve.
  • Focus – concentration, visualisation and planning are great opportunities to enhance your success. Focus on achieving 3 core objectives for the day. Visualise what it is you actually want to achieve – actually “see” the outcome in your mind and focus on what it looks like to have achieved your goal and purpose. Make it happen! Consider what could be getting in your way of success and derive an action plan to “work the problem”.
  • Reframe negative thinking – we often can get caught up in negative self-talk which can undermine our positive steps to move forward. Consider this simple trick. Recognise your negative self-statement. Pick out the negative word in the sentence and consider the words opposite meaning. Then reframe it into a question to ask yourself. Do you say things to yourself like, “This is too hard!” But you can reframe this too… “How can I make it easier?”
  • Manage your emotions – we can often get derailed by our own emotions or the emotions of others. If you let these emotions “get you down” you can start to lose your focus and thinking clearly becomes much more difficult. When we manage emotions we don’t allow them to cloud our judgement. Start by recognising the emotion. “When you name it, you can tame it”.

Don’t worry about things you can’t control – There’s an old Chinese proverb that’s says: “If you have a problem and you can’t control it, then you don’t have a problem. If you have a problem and you can control it, then you also don’t have a problem.” Think about a simple exercise. Draw two circles, one within the other. In the outer circle, write down all the things which you have no control over regarding the problem. Now in the inner circle, write down all the things you can control about the issue. Now consider… Where are you spending most of your time thinking and worrying? Where could you more productively spend your time?


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 their Mental Toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or