What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness is a personality trait which determines, in large part, how people respond to challenge, stress and pressure, irrespective of their circumstances. Mentally Tough individuals performance consistently under pressure and deal better with stress and challenges.

Mental Toughness is closely related to qualities such as perseverance, resilience and grit, however it is a broader concept. Many know resilience as being the ability to recover from setbacks. By its definition, resilience is reactive. Mental Toughness adds proactive attributes to resilience in seeking challenge, change and finding opportunity with self-confidence. The difference between the two is sometimes described as; ‘resilience makes you survive, Mental Toughness makes you thrive’

Mental Toughness is not about wining, being macho, uncaring or self-centered. It is about having self-awareness and being confident in your own skin. There is toughness and inner strength to not give up and being positive that you can prevail, even if the odds are against you.

Mental Toughness is important because Mentally Tough individuals simply are mentally and physically healthier and perform better. Research shows that they sleep better, recover faster from injury, feel less bullied, take on change more easily, make better decisions under pressure, keep a positive mindset and perform up to 25% better.

Mental Toughness: The Origins

Jim Loehr, a leading sports psychologist, produced the first popular use of the term “Mental Toughness”. He defined it in as: “The ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your capabilities, regardless of competitive circumstances.”

He suggested that Mental Toughness was an essential quality which existed in the minds of winners. He believed that it could be learned. Loehr worked with hundreds of elite athletes, many of whom became World Champions under his tutelage. Very quickly, his ideas were picked up by the sports community all over the world. By the year 2000, we see regular reference to the notion of mental toughness on the back (sports) pages of newspapers, but very little reference on the business pages.

This changed after continuous research and publications from Peter Clough, who holds the chair in applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.  He defines Mental Toughness as ‘a personality trait which determines in large part, how people respond to challenge, stress and pressure, irrespective of their circumstances.’

Through his research, which build further on concepts like resilience and hardiness, Clough found that there are four attributes to Mental Toughness. These are called the 4 C’s. In 2002, Clough published the world’s first valid and reliable survey to measure Mental Toughness, the MTQ48. This is an online, 48 questions psychometric survey that measures Mental Toughness across the four C’s on individual or group level. This brought Mental Toughness from a concept for elite sporters to something applicable to every individual or any industry.

The 4 C’s of Mental Toughness

The cornerstones of the MTQ48 measure are the 4 C’s of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence. Each of these scales reflects a component of the Mental Toughness personality trait and any given score will suggest the likely behaviours of the individual. Understanding these behaviours will be important for the individual in their performance and wellbeing and for the organisation when building or hiring a resilient team. The 4 C’s are as follows:

Control – Control means having a sense of self-worth and describes the extent to which a person feels in control of their life and their circumstances. Also, importantly it describes the extent to which they can control the display of their emotions.

Watch this one minute video where Steve Jobs explains what it means to take control of your life.

A Mentally Tough person with high control will usually just “get on with it” irrespective of how they feel and work through emotionally charged situations without seemingly being distracted or derailed. 

Commitment – Commitment is about goal orientation and ‘stickability’ and describes the extent to which someone is prepared to set goals and make measurable promises that, once made, they will work hard to deliver on.

A mentally tough person with high commitment can usually be relied upon to set goals and targets and do what they need to do to achieve them.

Tennis great Rafael Nadal’s commitment to a tennis match starts 90 minutes before the match with an ice cold shower. Watch this one minute video to see his focus and commitment for every point.

Control and Commitment taken together are what most people mean when they think of resilience and they are indeed a solid response to adversity. But resilience is largely a passive quality and is only one part of mental toughness.

Challenge – Challenge describes the extent to which the individual will push back their boundaries, embrace change and accept risk. It’s also about how they see all outcomes – good and bad.

Watch this one minute video where Michael Jordan explains how he challenges himself mentally to play the perfect game.

Someone whose challenge score is high will typically enjoy new places, new people, innovation and creativity and become quickly bored by routine.

Confidence – Confidence completes the picture and describes the self-belief an individual has in their own abilities and the interpersonal confidence they possess to influence others and deal with conflict and challenge. When faced with a challenge, mentally tough people scoring high in confidence will possess the self belief to deal with the situation and the inner strength to stand their ground when needed. Their confidence enables them to represent their view boldly and be comfortable in handling objections.

Challenge and Confidence taken together are what most people mean when they think of confidence to take risks and influence. This definition suggests that Mental Toughness is a combination of resilience and confidence. Whilst research shows that the 4 C’s are independent, they are all connected by the concept of Mental Toughness.

How to assess Mental Toughness

The world’s best Mental Toughness assessment is the MTQ48. The measure comprises the four key components of the personality trait of Mental Toughness, known as the 4 C’s Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence, and the results indicate a range of Mental Toughness from 1-10 for each of the 4C’s and overall. Individuals who take the MTQ48 receive a 12-page personal development report.  The MTQ48 is IP-protected and costs AU$90. The MTQ 48 is also scalable on group or organizational level.

We also provide a free assessment around 15 characteristics which are proven to increase your Mental Toughness. This 30 questions measure will give you insights around these 15 characteristics so can start your thought process on where to make changes.  The assessment is developed by our founder in support of his 40 page self-help guide; Building Mental Toughness: practical help to become yourself at your best.  The assessment in combination with the self-help guide will provide you the means to self-coach and change certain habits for the better.

How to develop  Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness is a plastic personality trait which means it can be developed. Developing Mental Toughness generally happens by teaching you to handle stress more effectively through making fundamental changes to the way you think about problems and by teaching you the tactics and strategies that mentally tough people use.

Many practical Mental Toughness techniques are described in the self-help guide Building Mental Toughness: practical help to become yourself at your best. For some the report and self-help guide are sufficient to start taking action. Some require a coaching conversation to deeply understand the outcomes before they can commit to a way forward.

Either approach can work, although a coaching intervention needs to be tailored as you will likely have a unique profile with different strengths and development needs. After reflection and ideally a conversation with an experienced mental toughness practitioner to assess your development needs, you have to commit to purposeful practice using the appropriate tools or techniques.

If you are in need of a Mental Toughness coach, you can contact us at

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