Mental toughness is a desired trait for students and employees. I have seen my share of students who have had to be as mentally tough as any CEO or Navy SEAL because of the stress they have had to face in life. However, I usually witness “normal” stress for a teenager: homework, speaking in front of peers, parents that “just don’t understand,” problems with friends, and of course the stress of talking to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.
My research suggests that mental toughness consists of four key components:
- How much we feel in control of our emotions and / or lives;
- How we respond to the challenges of change;
- How committed we are to reaching goals; and,
- Our confidence in our abilities.
A question many people have is whether mental toughness is innate or learned? Perhaps it is the teacher in me, but I believe it can be learned. The Navy SEALS push people to extreme limits to weed out the weak. As a freshman teacher, I am not going to do that. My goal is to make the student feel uncomfortable enough to take a risk. The risk can be to say something in front of peers, to find new words to express a thought, or to read a more challenging book than Green Eggs and Ham.
As a freshman teacher, I try to help the student gain the confidence to feel in control so he or she commits to conquer the challenges I place before him or her. In the business world, a manager does not always have the time to build confidence like that wonderful elementary school teacher who freely gave out hugs and candy. Nevertheless, positive feedback always helps a person gain confidence.
Confident workers gain mental toughness. They know they have the ability to turn negative situations into positive situations. They also know they can deal with the stress that accompanies a negative situation. Moreover, the ability to handle the stress enables them to be able to identify critical moments when action is needed. In addition, this action is often a risk; however, the confident, mentally tough employee is ready to act at the right time.
This positive approach from the leadership team is like the football coach who plays to win rather than finding a strategy to avoid losing. They are willing to leave their comfort zone; praise their team for what they do well, look for areas of improvement that can give them the slightest edge over their rivals, and lead them to victory.