What is mental toughness? A mental toughness resource

mental toughness: landscape

So, what is mental toughness and why does it matter?

The reason it matter is, in my experience, is that in business, as in most aspects of life, it’s your mental game that has the most impact on how far you can go.

​If you’re trying to lead in business and you struggle to manage the complexities, uncertainties, stresses and pressures that you confront on a daily basis, both you and your teams are likely to suffer irreparable damage.

​That is why mental toughness is one of the most important performance-related concepts that managers and leaders need to grasp if they want to develop the psychological tools needed to build sustainable organisations and lasting careers.

There are various definitions of mental toughness and a range of different models for what it is.

​I like the way that mental toughness is described by Professor Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk (see Books below).

​They define mental toughness as:

“the quality which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenge, stressors and pressure … irrespective of prevailing circumstances.”

Mental toughness for leaders and managers

Looking at this definition, it’s easy to see how critical mental toughness is to the success of leaders and managers. As Peter Clough says:​

We developed a model for mental toughness and found that people who display characteristics of mental toughness prosper within the world of work. Data shows that they are generally successful, achieving results and high ranking positions within organisations. They tend to be driven, competitive and ambitious – but not aggressive or domineering. A mentally tough person is someone who is comfortable in their own skin, they take what comes in their stride and enjoy the challenge. Mental toughness is a core skill to have at hand when dealing with challenge and change in the working environment.

What is mental toughness exactly?

It’s one thing to know that mental toughness is important. But it’s another to know how you can develop it.

The best place to start is by trying to answer the question “what is mental toughness”, so that we can get a clear definition of what the concept of mental toughness is comprised of.

what is mental toughness diagram

Image: AQR International

Research by Clough and his academic colleagues, suggests mental toughness consists of four components:

  • ​​Commitment – This is the ability to remain active and focused on the task at hand despite difficulties that may arise. This involves setting goals and acting to achieve them.
  • Control – feeling able to influence how you feel about what is going on, and how events unfold. This is about being able to manage events and your own emotions.
  • Challenge – This involves seeing stress as a normal part of life and an opportunity to learn, develop and grow. It also involves the capacity to accept risk and push yourself out of your comfort zone to succeed.
  • Confidence – This is the belief that you can successfully complete what you set out to do. It involves belief in your abilities and in your capacity to relate to other in a facilitative way.

The advantage of this model, as I see it, is that it means mental toughness can be measured at a quite granular level.

As a result, when you are looking to increase your levels of mental toughness, you can identify the specific elements that you should focus on to get the best return on effort. When I coach clients on this it means I can help them in a targeted way.

A different view of mental toughness

Other researchers, for example Daniel Gucciardi, conceptualise mental toughness in a different way.

Gucciardi defines mental toughness as:

“a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subject performance (e.g. progress towards goals) or objective performance (e.g. sales, or academic results), despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities”.

Gucciardi’s research suggests that mental toughness is best thought of as a one dimensional, rather that four dimensional construct.

But Gucciardi’s research also suggest that mental toughness expresses itself in the individual as more of a state that a trait. This suggests that mental toughness can vary across circumstances and time.

Developing mental toughness

Despite the different ways of characterising mental toughness, there is little doubt that it is a capacity that plays a substantial part in enabling people to resist stress and achieve high levels of performance.

​This is why mental toughness is so important for leaders, as they battle against the odds to sustain and develop businesses and teams.

The good news is that despite the different ways of describing mental toughness amongst the experts, there is considerable agreement upon the fact that, with the right guidance, mental toughness can be developed.

Mental toughness resources

The AQR International Blog – Home of the 4Cs mental toughness model developed by Clough and Strycharczyk.

James Clear – The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Your Health, Work, and Life.

​Eric Barker – How To Increase Mental Toughness: 4 Secrets Of Navy SEALs And Olympians

Patrick Cohn – Mental Toughness Training for Athletes

Adam Morris – A review of Mental Toughness in Sport

Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan – Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure

Graham Jones – How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better

​Shawn Achor – Make Stress Work for You

Mental Toughness Books

Developing mental toughness: coaching strategies to improve performance, resilience and wellbeing. Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk. Kogan Page Publishers, 2015.

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists. Jim Loehr. Plume, 1995.

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Free Press 2005.

Hardiness: Turning Stressful Circumstances into Resilient Growth. Salvatore Maddi. Springer, 2013

​Mental Toughness in Sport: Developments in Theory and Research. Daniel Gucciardi (Editor), Sandy Gordon (Editor). Routledge, 2015


Developing mental toughness: coaching strategies to improve performance, resilience and wellbeing. Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk. Kogan Page Publishers, 2015.

Gucciardi, D. F, Hanton, S., Gordon, S., Mallett, C. J., & Temby, P. (2015). The concept of mental toughness: tests of dimensionality, nomological network, and traitness. Journal of Personality, 83(1), 26-44.

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