Mental toughness is the ability to perform at a high level when the stakes are at their highest. It takes focus and determination to see your way through any circumstance or situation.
Whether you're undertaking an arduous task or bouncing back from an epic failure, mental toughness means you don't allow the situation to overwhelm or overthrow you.
It means you know how to manage your thoughts and behavior to keep them aimed on the results you want.
Those who are unstoppable through difficult circumstances are likely to have invested time and effort building their mental strength through good habits of mind.
Here are 10 habits we would all do well to emulate.
1. Control what you can before it controls you.
We cannot control many things, but we're always in control of our thinking. Negative thoughts and worry leave less energy for creative solutions. Negativity won't prevent trouble--in fact, it makes it harder to persevere through tough times. The first principle of mental toughness is to banish negativity.
2. Replace negative thoughts with productive thoughts.
Now that you've eliminated negativity, the next step is to replace the negative thoughts with positive productive thoughts. Make a habit of awareness: Listen carefully to the things you're telling yourself. If you hear something negative, stop in that moment and find a positive counterthought. If negativity is deeply ingrained, you may have to do this many, many times before positivity takes hold, but if you keep at it, eventually it will become your automatic response.
3. When the going gets tough, stay put.
The ability to stay in a tough spot takes an enormous amount of tenacity and determination. It's always tempting to ignore the difficulty or find a way around it--but those measures are temporary. Mentally tough people know how to be comfortable in discomfort. Successful people fail, all the time, because success involves risk. And when they do fail, they face the situation and push through.
4. Stay committed but be flexible.
When you develop your ability to change your action plan as things evolve, that agility will help you in tough times. A significant part of mental toughness is knowing when to be flexible and when to hold on. When you are flexible with action plans, you can explore alternative actions without sacrificing your goals or core values.
5. Push yourself past your potential.
Successful people know that what got them here is not enough to get them where they want to go. They need the ability to push themselves past their potential. To develop that ability, you have to spend frequent time in your discomfort zone. You have to analyze every failure and every success with this question in mind: "What do I need to learn?" Make every experience a lesson in doing better.
6. Build your capacity for patience.
Waiting can be frustrating for people with a goal, but mental toughness includes patience--with events, with others, and even with yourself. By all means, keep things moving as much as you can, but when you're tempted by impatience, redirect yourself into positivity.
7. Become aware enough to get outside of your mind and observe yourself.
Mental toughness requires a deep understanding of what makes you tick, of who you are and why you do what you do. If you develop a high degree of self-awareness, you can observe yourself in way that gives you a central focal point of self. From there, you begin building on your strengths and shoring up your weaknesses.
8. Think of yourself as a work in progress.
Mental strength is a process, not a destination. If you can accept your imperfections as you work to correct them, keeping an open heart and open mind with whatever comes your way, you're on the right track. There is always room to grow and develop, and some challenges will be more difficult than others, but looking at those things from the perspective of the overall process helps you stay focused.
9. Visualize what you want to achieve.
Mentally tough people don't just fantasize; they spend time visualizing what they want and do everything in their power to make it happen. That includes seeing yourself managing obstacles and working through challenges. If you want to achieve it, you first have to be able to see it.
10. It's not about winning or losing but learning and growing.
The mentally toughest may not always be the winners. But win or lose, they have cultivated the habit of always learning and growing, expanding their skills and finding ways to make themselves more knowledgeable and prepared. To build your toughness, pursue growth--study, read books, take classes, talk to people who have been challenged and have made it.
Mentally tough people are the determined ones, the ones you put your money on to succeed. Start today to build the habits that will put you among them.