Mental toughness – What is it? Do you need it? Have you got it?

| February 19, 2015

In an often challenging and stressful study and work environment, it’s useful to have a level of mental toughness. Clive Leach explains how we can be helped to better manage ourselves and perform at our best.

Life is not always easy – but it isn’t supposed to be! How we deal with the good, the bad and the downright scary can be largely determined by our levels of mental toughness. And the good news is… we can both measure and build it!

Mental toughness is defined as:

‘The capacity for an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges and perform to the best of their ability, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves”  (Clough & Earle).

Whilst not all situations require mental toughness and a balance of ‘mental sensitivity’ is also important, research in schools and workplaces is increasingly showing that the presence of mental toughness predicts:

  • Resilience – Ability to deal effectively with and recover from set backs and adversity
  • Hardiness – Proactively seek and embrace challenge, adversity and opportunity
  • Performance – Volume and quality dictating up to 25% of variation in positive outcomes
  • Positive Behaviour – ‘Can do’ attitude, perspective, engagement and altruism
  • Aspirations  – Life and career goal setting, striving and achievement
  • Employability – Competitive edge and emotional intelligence
  • Well-being – Improved physical and mental health
  • Flourishing – ‘At our Best’ feeling good and functioning well

So… are you mentally tough?

The Mental Toughness Questionnaire (MTQ48) is a validated assessment tool that measures four elements relating to how we manage ourselves and perform:

  1. Challenge – The extent to which we see challenges and problems as opportunities and how reactive or proactive we are in seeking them
  2. Control – The extent to which we feel in control of our lives and our emotional response to the circumstances we face
  3. Commitment – The extent to which we are likely to persist or stick to a task or goal and manage distractions and competing demands effectively
  4. Confidence – The extent to which we have self-belief and optimism in our ability to successfully achieve goals. This is combined with how much we seek or rely on external approval and our relationship management

Remember it’s not always necessary to be ‘mentally tough’, and overplayed mental toughness can undermine you too. But in the challenging and stressful world in which we study and work understanding more through assessment and coaching is vital. We can be helped to better manage ourselves, support others and sustain our capacity both individually and collectively to perform at our best.

If you are interested to learn more about how to access the MTQ48 to assess your own level of mental toughness or that of your team or family, please get in touch by visiting

Ref: Innovations in improving performance. AQR Ltd 2010