There's no shortage of articles out there explaining how to become mentally tougher. I've written some of them myself. But many of these tips, while sensible enough on the surface, also often appear tough to execute.

Monitor your emotions? Set healthy boundaries? Retain your personal power? OK, great but how do you actually accomplish those things if they don't come naturally to you? 

If you've ever had this reaction to articles on increasing your mental toughness, than a recent interview with Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who pioneered the scientific study of grit, is for you.

In the lengthy discussion with Five Books she offers way more detail on how to actually make these changes in your life, not in the form of the name of a good therapist but instead via recommendations for must-read books on the subject. It's the perfect resource for anyone who has ever wished there was a bit more substance to the usual 'how to be grittier' advice.

1. The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel ​

You've probably heard of the famous "marshmallow test" -- kids who can resist eating one marshmallow to get two a few minutes later have better outcomes later in life -- but this book by the psychologist who developed it is the definitive work on the subject.

This book "packed his whole life's work between two covers. It integrates all his studies, all his wisdom," says Duckworth.

2. A Curious Mind by Brian Glazer

This autobiography by Hollywood super producer Brian Glazer follows him from his underprivileged youth through to becoming the driving force behind blockbusters like Apollo 13.

"I read A Curious Mind in one sitting," raves Duckworth. "The list of things Brian Grazer did is long and it's all because of his curious mind. He calls curiosity 'a superpower.'" Science agrees. "Curiosity makes you smarter: when you are curious about something, you learn and remember it better than if it bores you," Duckworth notes. (Einstein knew the same thing 100 years ago).

3. Mindset by Carol Dweck

Dweck is another giant in the field of the psychology of mental toughness, but her work is often misunderstood or reduced to an empty slogan. That's why Duckworth suggests those interested in boosting their gir take the time to read her book in full.

"Understanding the research that Carol Dweck has done and unpacking is invaluable. Why do some have fixed mindsets? Where do they come from? What goes on in kids' heads when they fail? How do mindsets determine what we do? Plus, Carol Dweck is not only a great psychologist, she is an outstanding writer. It's a beautifully written book," Duckworth says, adding: "I've never met a CEO who didn't have Mindset on their bookshelf."  

Duckworth calls this one "a terrific summary of more or less everything that's known on the topic of popularity." Why would you want to read that if you're interested in boosting your mental toughness? "Popularity is an inescapable part of life," she explains. Prinstein's "work (and this book) shows that there are ways to go about the popularity game that are bad for you and for others."

5. Path to Purpose by William Damon

Damon "studies both those who have a sense of purpose and those who don't. His research focuses on where purpose comes from and how to share it," says Duckworth. "It's a beautifully written book, and pretty short. When you read it, you feel like you are sitting across from someone who is not only a great scientist, but a wise soul. Path to Purpose radiates his warmth, his empathy and his wisdom on how to lead a good life."  

Published on: May 9, 2019
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