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Mental Toughness: Strengthening our psychological muscle

Mental Toughness: Strengthening our psychological muscle

The fact is that mental toughness isn’t something you’re born with; it’s like a muscle that develops and strengthens as every day we show some kind of resilience.

By Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 1:06 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:10 PM

There are numerous successful people throughout the world, shaping communities as each day they wake up with a sense of purpose and inspired vision. Some attribute their triumph to talent, others to chance, others to hard work and education while there are those who believe these external factors are important however what really sets people apart is ‘GRIT’ (made up of passion, resilience and determination) or ‘Mental Toughness’.

As Dr. Duckworth, from the university of Pennsylvania explains, ‘our hypothesis that grit is essential to high achievement evolved during interviews with professionals in investment banking, painting, journalism, academia, medicine, and law. Asked what quality distinguishes star performers in their respective fields, these individuals cited grit or a close synonym as often as talent. In fact, many were awed by the achievements of peers who did not at first seem as gifted as others but whose sustained commitment to their ambitions was exceptional. Likewise, many noted with surprise that prodigiously gifted peers did not end up in the upper echelons of their field.’

The fact is that mental toughness isn’t something you’re born with; it’s like a muscle that develops and strengthens as every day we show some kind of resilience, without even acknowledging that we’re constantly sharpening our thinking, making decisions to better guide us towards our aspirations, resolving conflict and recovering from discontent. This is good news primarily because it’s a skill that can be developed and strengthened, not only limited to the genetically fortunate few.

The changes we encounter throughout life affect us differently. It’s natural to feel stronger towards some and perhaps more fragile towards others. Understanding your power in those sturdier circumstances will be the anchor that helps you in situations that feel more unbearable. Trust and perseverance in who you are and perhaps more importantly, who you want to be are essential psychological tools as you demonstrate mental toughness and work around the boulders we’re bombarded with.

So what stands in the way of us strengthening our psychological muscle?

>        Little to no self-awareness

>        Inability to plan and set goals

>        Repeating dysfunctional patterns

>        False sense of entitlement

>        Unrealistic expectations

>        Expecting immediate results

>        Taking short cuts 

>        Limiting beliefs about what we can and can’t achieve

>        Life blue prints that are no longer relevant or outdated that control our ability to be flexible and adaptable to change

>        Fixed attitudes and opinions

>        Resistant to develop or grow

>        Easily give up

>        Victimisation

Researchers have been able to identify central characteristics the mentally tough demonstrate and I would like to share the 12 most important ones with you. Look through the list and rank yourself from 1-10 on each. Think about your highest as well as your lowest score so that you can try and come up with practical strategies to improve some of your lower scores.

1.        They possess the ‘seven C’s’ — control, credible, confident, committed, courage, communicate and consistent

2.        They have a growth mindset and take responsibility for their actions 

3.        Disappointment doesn’t dampen their spirit

4.        They recognise red flag and change direction when needed

5.        They know what they know and learn what they don’t

6.        They have a natural ability to spot mentors and seek out guidance from those with more knowledge and experience

7.        They never get trapped by the past or anxious about the future

8.        They show gratitude and aren’t stingy with kindness

9.        They enable others to succeed as well

10.      They make decisions based on facts, not feelings

11.      They challenge the existing ways of doing things to innovate or improve 

12.      They take risks and aren’t afraid of failing

Dr Benjamin beautifully sums all this up as he explains the importance of having a purpose, which is one of the most important foundations of mental toughness. ‘The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals, the tragedy lies in not having any goals to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It’s not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideals, but it is a disaster to have no ideals to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach.”


Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem is the Learning & Development specialist and the owner of Life Clubs UAE. Forward suggestions for future articles to OutOfMindContact@gmail.com

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