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Surviving to Thriving – Mental Toughness (Steve Harris)
Chapter 3. MENTAL TOUGHNESS DEFINED
People are born with natural abilities. I recall being told no matter how hard you practise and strive for excellence, you can never achieve the same levels of mental or physical prowess of prominent leaders, elite athletes, and high achievers. My research shows this claim is false.
I agree that some people have a greater inclination for sports or certain leadership positions. You are unlikely to become an international lock forward in rugby unless you are tall and preferably taller than two metres. However, everyone can acquire skills that enable them to improve their performance and excel within the realms of their boundaries. Essentially, you can learn to be the best version of you.
In today’s world, mental as well as bodily attributes allow you to get ahead. Gone are the days of providing for oneself or one’s family via physical resources alone. Although, it is important to note that whilst there are laborious jobs out there, few of these involve cave dwellers duties such as hunting or gathering. Essentially, we need to be mentally tough and resilient to today’s fast-paced and stress-inducing world.
The ideal approach to developing mental toughness is a holistic methodology. By concentrating on one part, like controlled aggression, you are unlikely to gain a sustainable competitive advantage.
The key is to learn to tell yourself to do something, and then do it. How often have you heard of people on their deathbed saying, “I wish I’d done this or that, while I could?” They had the idea and possibly the desire, but simply did not follow through. Somewhere along the way, they decided their intentions were untimely or too difficult to achieve. A mental ceiling acted as an effective obstacle. There is a difference between saying that you will do something and doing it. Ultimately, for accomplishment and the development of a competitive advantage, there must be alignment between saying and doing.
Nature and nurture
Some are born with or develop substantial physical or technical abilities that help them become successful. These abilities are enhanced when supported with mental toughness. Mental toughness itself can be predisposed. The less a person is gifted with this predisposition, the greater their need will be to develop it.
The adage, “Talent alone will not prevail,” applies. Talent combined with mental toughness is a powerful combination. Mental toughness is a resource that can, and indeed must, be developed. With increased mental toughness, those with little talent can become the best that they can be and will prevail over those with some talent and no mental strength. Of course, developing mental toughness and developing your innate talent is the most powerful combination of all.
Mental toughness is not the elixir to all accomplishments. Therefore, how much of achievement can be attributed to mental toughness? Professor Ross Tucker talked about the relative contributions of the mental and the physical to success. He concluded that there is no agreement on how much each grants you. He said, “Some said it between ‘50% mental and 50% physical’ and ‘100% mental and 100% physical’, but it depends on the context and in his example, he was referring to sport. Canoeing is different to athletics; long jump differs from high jump – both of which vary from the marathon. Downhill skiing no doubt requires substantial parts of each. Mental or physiological, it’s difficult to pin down” (Tucker, 2013).
Take performance in golf. Playing the outer game requires knowledge of the sport and its mechanical skills. To improve the outer game, you need to increase your game expertise and develop mechanical skills through learning and experience. Your inner game exists beyond the knowledge and logistics of the game. Understanding and developing this intrinsic resource has a huge influence on performance. The great golfers understand that the outer game can only take them so far; to get further they need to improve their inner game because it is ultimately this understanding that will enable them to improve performance over time.
Finally, about talent, I listened to a Ted talk by Marianne Adams where the gist of her talk was “Talent doesn’t mean anything if you are a jerk.” It does not need any explaining!