Let’s Not Overcomplicate Mental Toughness

mental toughness

My husband and I were watching Hard Knocks the other night when the Texans’ coach prepped his players for dealing with the media [I tried to find the clip online, but I could only find about 748 clips of J.J. Watt being a beast]. The coach gave the new players some safe phrases to use when members of the media ask them difficult questions, like: “I’m just here to help the team.”

As players become more experienced with the media, particularly quarterbacks, they often bring up the concept of “mental toughness.” I would argue that mental toughness isn’t just for athletes or the military – all of us could benefit from a little more toughness in our day-to-day lives.

I was surprised to discover that Wikipedia actually has a very detailed post about mental toughness. Skim through the page and you’ll come away with words like “resiliency,” “hardiness,” and “stress management.” Sounds a lot like grit, no? In fact, as I wrote earlier this year, the Webster Dictionary actually defines grit as “mental toughness.”

Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening. – Greta Garbo

Going back to the NFL, quarterbacks often talk about mental toughness when they describe shaking off a mistake, like an interception or a missed opportunity, to start a new series fresh. In their world, weakness is wallowing in a mistake and toughness is learning what happened, shaking off the negativity, and then heading back out onto the field with confidence. Mentally tough athletes put in the hard work, keep their eyes on their goal, and they move past their mistakes much more quickly than the average person.

Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast; but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.– Tom Brady (insert Deflate-Gate joke of your choice here)

Other writers/researchers try to complicate mental toughness, or grit, by making it a multifaceted concept. If you Google “mental toughness,” you’ll find headlines like “Six Elements of Mental Toughness,” which is a nice post, but I would argue it overcomplicates the issue. Mental toughness doesn’t need six elements, it just needs one – keep going.

Tough times never last, but tough people do.– Robert H. Schuller


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