How Do You Define Mental Toughness?

When you describe someone as resilient, or mentally tough, what are the resonating characteristics that led to your assessment?

Many of us have misconceptions about what it means to be mentally tough. In an article, Amy Morin, describes the “7 Biggest Myths About Mentally Strong People”. In this blog we discuss some of those myths and relate them to our own research on resiliency.

  1. “Mentally Strong People Were Born Strong”. While both mental and physical strength have some genetic foundation, both are also the result of effort and practice. We can still develop these muscles throughout our lives. According to Steven M. Southwick, Professor of Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Resilience at Yale Medical School, “Emerging scientific research has begun to show that neurobiological systems associated with resilience can be strengthened to respond more adaptively to stress.” Learn more about Resiliency.
  2. “Mentally strong people are cold and unemotional.” When we see people not crack in situations that we know we would crumble in, we think, “they just must not be very emotional.” In reality, they have the ability to work through challenges and find the opportunities even in the grimmest of situations. They have the ability to control their emotions because of their awareness of how their emotions could affect others. The emotions are there during and after times of challenge, they are just being controlled.  Learn more about the relationship between behavior and emotional intelligence.
  3. “Mentally strong people are bossy and aggressive.” According to Amy Morin, “Mentally strong people don’t worry about pleasing everyone–but they also don’t try to control others in a bossy or aggressive manner. Instead, they accept personal responsibility for their behavior and they don’t waste energy trying to manipulate others with harsh tactics.”
  4. “Mentally strong people have never endured real hardship.” This is entirely untrue, in fact, many of the most resilient of people faced deep hardships at a very young age. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” he explains how presumed disadvantages, some even horrendous (e.g., parental loss at a young age), can offer strength and embolden people to achieve tremendous success. Learn more here.
  5. “Mentally strong people don’t ask for help.” 3 of the 9 elements of the Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency Model are; Social Support, Courageous Communication, and Problem Solving. Because they have enhanced problem-solving skills, people high in resiliency are not afraid to ask for help and realize when they need other people or resources. Courageous communicators freely and effectively share their ideas with others, ask questions others might be afraid to ask, and confront problems directly. Having social support includes having close confidants and people with whom one can discuss problems. Learn more here.
  6. “Mentally strong people don’t have mental health problems.” Amy Morin writes, “Even though mental health and mental strength are two separate things, people often say things like ‘I can’t be mentally strong because I have depression.’ But that’s just not true. Some of the strongest people in the world have battled mental health problems. Just like people with asthma can choose to build physical strength, people with depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems can develop mental strength.”

So how do you define mental toughness? Has your definition changed? Leave a comment and let us know!

Click here to read the full article “7 Biggest Myths About Mentally Strong People”.

Click here to learn more about Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency.