Toughness is traditionally considered a masculine trait. When we talk about somebody being tough, we think firstly of the physical and then focus on the mental. Toughness, as a concept, includes physical and psychological endurance, but we’re mostly aware of what makes us physically tough, while mental toughness has more of a mystique around it. We’re going to shed some light on the concept of mental toughness and see what we can do to improve it.

Defining Mental Toughness for Yourself

The mental side of toughness comes into play daily. We all have situations where we’re mentally tougher than others and other situations where we genuinely feel overwhelmed. Due to this, mental toughness may mean different things to different people, which is precisely why it’s so difficult to define. To use an example, a person with social anxiety needs to have the mental toughness to sustain social contact in crowded situations. A lazy person needs to have the mental toughness to maintain focus on work instead of always getting sidetracked by instant gratification. Before you start working on your mental toughness, figure out where you face the most resistance from, well, yourself. This requires some honest and critical assessment and for many, that is challenging. Toughness is the ability to control your primal instincts, which will always consider the easiest option, the one that’s optimal, and instead rely on the conscious part of yourself to focus on long-term plans, which will lead you to a better and more fulfilled life.

Mental Toughness Is Gained One Step at a Time

There’s no easy way to gain mental toughness without facing the things that bother you and working gradually on surpassing them. There are no shortcuts that help permanently. On the other end of the spectrum is the assumption and, in a lot of cases, the assertion that mental toughness is something you are born with. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s something that you can work on at any point in your life. Psychologists suggest focusing on three separate things to build mental toughness:


Your intention is always fuelled by goals. The biggest thing you can do to help yourself is to attempt to see where you want to go, from where you currently are. If you have a goal that you want to reach, your intention to get there will be solidified and more prominent. You need to make a distinction between intention and wishful thinking – the main difference being how much you understand the goal and how serious you are about reaching it.
There is always a gap between intention and action.. Paulo Coelho


Now, a lot of people will get through the first phase just fine, but when facing the effort they need to put in to reach the goal, in a lot of cases, they shy away from the challenge. In most cases, the reason is that they envision it as a constant and massive effort that they feel they can’t handle. They focus on the end goal as opposed to all of the small wins that have to be achieved to culminate in it. Every day they aren’t at that end goal they see it as a failure. The truth is you’ll be taking it a step at a time, and the effort will come in bursts, and when you realise you can take care of the first step, the second one doesn’t seem to be as difficult.


You know that some fears and anxieties will never go away, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to deal with them. In most cases, we’re more afraid of the feeling of failure, than from the actual consequences. Nobody is perfect, and nobody can change in an instant – have the courage to attempt, fail, deal with it, and try again backed up by new experiences. Perseverance and persistence are your greatest allies. You can do your own research and improve in these aspects of mental toughness, or you can seek out professional help if you keep struggling.

What Is Willpower?

Willpower is defined as one’s ability to assert control over his/her own behaviour during times of discomfort, effort, and other situations that require us to get out of our comfort zone. Whenever we attempt to deal with something that’s bothering us, we come to that point where we start bargaining with ourselves. We start dishing out reasons as to why it’s pointless to even attempt a change despite having pretty good reasoning behind why we should break the habits we have. Basically, it’s the ability to keep yourself on the path even when the negative aspect of your mind starts convincing you that it’s dangerous to put yourself out there. Willpower is another thing we can work on and the more gratification we get from our efforts to change, the stronger our willpower becomes, as we are more and more aware that we are indeed capable of making a change.

Habits Are Crucial to Mental Toughness

In music, they have this expression: “Repetition legitimises”. When you play two random tones on any instrument, they’ll be just that – random, but if you repeat them consistently over a prolonged period they create a context of their own, and we start hearing them as music. The same goes for mental toughness – it is much easier to achieve if you repeat the habit, which helps you toughen up. Now, naturally, you do this on your own terms. Don’t force things and start with little changes to your behaviour. Being constantly under stress is not good, but knowing that stress is coming and bracing for it, is what will make a difference for you.

What Benefits Can You Get From Developing This Trait?

Well, for one, your comfort zone is going to expand, and new things won’t worry you as much. You’ll be able to handle stress better, develop more skills, expand your social network, be more successful in your career, handle your work/life balance better – there are a lot of potential benefits. Mental toughness benefits are hard to figure out as most of them are based on personal struggles. The biggest and most straightforward answer we can give is that you’ll be able to handle your own fears and weaknesses better.


Mental toughness is not a myth, and it’s something you can work on as realistically as you work on your muscles (and we suggest you do both). We’re creatures capable of growth at almost every stage of our life, and the first step to building mental toughness is to believe that you can do it – because you can.