With this background material in place, I can now start to introduce some ideas about how you can increase your levels of mental toughness.
The formulation of mental toughness as comprising of four elements – commitment, challenge, control and confidence – is a useful one for developmental purposes, because it allows us to target particular elements as we look to build mental toughness.
But before we look at the specifics of improving the different aspects of mental toughness, I think it is important to say a few words about the approach we need to take more generally.
And if I were to summarise the general approach, I’d say that building mental toughness comes from increased mindfulness together with increased intentionality in the way that we approach challenges in life.
I’ll explain these ideas further below, but I think this is something that entrepreneurs and business owners especially need to pay attention to, because for many it involves a change of approach.
So much of the advice that entrepreneurs receive revolves around action taking, problem solving and pushing on against the odds (at sometimes, at all costs). And this is certainly good advice – except when it’s not.
And it’s not good advice when that kind of driven approach to business building is anxiety-fuelled.
Of course, you cannot succeed in business without pushing out of your comfort zone, dealing with crises and facing down the anxieties that inevitably arise. But if you actions are driven by fear – fear of failure, perhaps, or fear of the competition getting ahead, then the outcomes are usually neither optimal nor sustainable.
When your anxieties are leading the way, your view of the world becomes narrow, your decisions are poor and your well-being suffers.
The good news is that working to improve mental toughness involves taking back control of your mental processes. And this is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is deliberate, non-judgemental awareness of the present moment.
It means keeping your focus on the here and now and not allowing your thoughts and emotions to be hijacked by events in a way that creates anxiety.
And when you are more mindful, you can direct your thoughts and attention in directions that are more productive and adaptive.
So, for example, if you are faced with a crisis, and you focus on how bad you feel about it or how disastrously things could turn out, you’ve relinquished control of the situation to those unhelpful thoughts and emotions.
Instead, if you stay mindful, focused on the present, you can intentionally direct your attention to where it is most needed, e.g. in working out how you can practically solve the problems that have arisen.
There are various other important techniques that we need to apply when building mental toughness, such as goal setting, building a positive mindset and increasing self-awareness.
But one of the most important things you need to do as you look to build mental toughness is to increase your ability to gain control of your thinking, by tapping into your thoughts processes as they occur. As a result, you can be intentional in choosing your response in any given situation.