What is mental toughness?

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness is a combination of resilience, the curiosity and drive to grow yourself, interpersonal confidence and confidence in your own abilities. 

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 winning, 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.


Why is it important?

Mental Toughness is important because Mentally Tough individuals simply are mentally and physically healthier and perform better. Mentally Tough individuals performance consistently under pressure and deal better with stress and challenges.

Research shows that mentally tough children perform up to 25% better in exams. They sleep better, show better attendance, are more engaged in the classroom and have higher aspirations. They transition better from junior to secondary education, perceive less bullying and are less likely to adopt anti-social behaviour. 

Mental Toughness: the Origins

Mental Toughness originates from elite sport, where it has been used with success for over 30 years. 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.”

Loehr suggested that Mental Toughness was an essential quality which existed in the minds of winners and believed that it could be learned. Loehr worked with hundreds of elite athletes, many of whom became World Champions under his tutelage. However, mental toughness remained a sport focused concept.

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 Cs. 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 Cs 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 Cs of Mental Toughness

The cornerstones of mental toughness are the 4 Cs of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence. The 4 Cs are as follows:


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. 

Control tips for kids – teach your children about self-esteem, help them become comfortable in their own skin and manage their emotions. Ask your child what went well at school today. Find three positives and explore why they were good experiences. Discuss setbacks, like missing out on being chosen to be in a play, or losing a game or not being able to do something. Remind them that setbacks are a normal part of life and they will have the opportunity to try again. Talk about the events they don’t like during their day and discuss how they reacted to those. Empower them by explaining how they can choose to react to these events. them how to set and achieve goals. 


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.

Commitment tips for kids – teach them how to set and achieve goals. Work with your children to set them small goals, for example brushing their teeth, making lunch or packing their school bag. Praise your child’s efforts rather than just their outcomes. Remind them that is OK to not get it right the first time, every skill requires practice and time.


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.

Challenge tips for kids – stretch your children and help them see challenges as an opportunity to learn. Tell them it’s OK to fail and let them know that you failed many times. Remind them that with every failure, they’ve learned something. Encourage your child to ‘have a go’ at something new.them how to set and achieve goals. 


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.

Confidence tips for kids – help your kids develop their self-belief and become confident in their interactions. Tell them it is ok to be scared or have fears in the classroom. Accepting these feelings is the first step and overcoming them. Remind them the power of YET! If they say they can’t do something. Tell them ‘you can’t do it YET!’ Remind your kids that everyone has their own mind and thoughts. It is good to make up your own mind and it OK to disagree every now and then.

How to assess Mental Toughness

The world’s most used Mental Toughness assessment is the MTQ. 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 4Cs and overall. Individuals who take the MTQ receive a personal development report.  The MTQ is IP-protected and different types of the measurement are available for adults, children or whole school classes.

I developed a free assessment around 15 characteristics which are proven to increase your Mental Toughness. My 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 in combination with my self-help guide; Building Mental Toughness: practical help to become yourself at your best.  Both are available for free on this website and they 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 might require a coaching conversation to deeply understand the outcomes before they can commit to a way forward.

Either way, don’t wait and start understanding your mental toughness today!

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