5 Keys to Mental Toughness

Learn how to handle stressful situations with confidence and skill
February 15, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2014

Some people associate the concept of mental toughness with aggression, violence, or anger. Mental toughness is the ability to stand firm in the positive and proactive thoughts that you have created for yourself and remain determined to follow through into creating positive feelings and actions.

It is a commitment to doing what is right because you know it will make your life better. The truest and toughest battles most people will ever fight are the battles that start and finish in their minds. 

The best method for improving mental toughness and maintaining it is to apply these basic yet simple principles. If you practice these simple suggestions and boost your motivation to discipline your mind because you truly want to see positive change in your life, then you will be able to handle stressful situations with confidence and skill. 

1. Don’t blow things out of proportion. Try to keep things in perspective; don’t magnify them into being worse than they are or have to be. 

When things go bad repeatedly over a period of time, we may start to stereotype every bad thing that happens as “Murphy’s law.” Everything bad or unfortunate that can happen will happen. Do you know why? You are continually using the same negative magnifying glass to look at them. 

Some individuals take minute situations and blow them into catastrophes. Always ask yourself this simple question, “What difference will this make a year from now?” 

2. Try to avoid all-or-nothing thinking. When you think in terms of extremes, you set ourselves up for failure. Basically, you will always need to be perfect to avoid failure. 

For example, you want to do well, but when something doesn’t turn out the way you expected, you view the outcome as bad. As a result, you extrapolate the performance into who you are—making yourself a “bad” person because your performance was bad. 

In order not to “be bad” you try too hard to be good, leading yourself to make further mistakes because of the added pressure you’ve placed on yourself. Perfectionism makes it hard to be perfect!

3. You can’t please everyone all of the time. If you try to keep everyone happy, thinking everyone will like you, then you are in for a major shock. When you try to be a people-pleaser, you submit to others and become passive, deviating from your main goal—being assertive, which helps you accomplish your goals. 

As soon as you become passive, you are more inclined to dislike certain people and situations because you have compromised yourself and no longer feel comfortable.

Catering to the needs and whims of others will get you quickly on your way to becoming a procrastinator—not only to their demands, but also for what you would like to achieve. 

I heard a statistic that asserts that 10 percent of the people you meet will never like or accept you no matter who you are, what you do for them, and so on. So focus on the other 90 percent, but be sure to never have your rights or needs taken away or compromised.

4. Don’t bog yourself down with “uncertainty questions” such as, “Why me?” “When will things change?” “Will any good breaks ever come my way?” Oftentimes, when things go bad, you seek answers of an absolute nature. Let’s face it, not all questions have answers you can understand. 

When you question yourself, you sometimes analyze things to death, causing stress. Did you know that when you ask questions of a negative nature, you tend to focus on negative experiences and create corresponding visual experiences? If you believe in the law of attraction and affirmations, this theory will hold true when you are asking yourself a question. 

If you are placing your focus on something negative, since “like attracts like,” you will be bringing more negativity your way. 

Did you know some experts claim that your memory file cabinets get compromised when you dwell on negative experiences? It takes twice as much energy to dwell on the negative than on the positive. Perhaps that is why you are so tired. 

5. Take one day at a time. Enjoy the present moment and be in the moment. There are always enough worries in today, so why spend energy on thoughts of tomorrow?

Too many people want instant change. In fact, we are all changing instantly, because our bodies (cells) and the situations around us are always changing and evolving. People want to see tangible results instantly. But that is not how it works. 

The exercise in mental toughness is to develop moment-to-moment awareness. Focus on your thoughts. Hit the delete button whenever a negative one comes on the screen and replace it with a positive one immediately. How does one do this? Keep your thoughts focused on the present. It will take practice, but you will succeed at it with time, but not months or years. 

Disclaimer: This is in no way designed to diagnose, classify, or treat mental health problems or addictions. You should always consult with a licensed or trained professional when seeking an actual diagnosis or assessment. 

Dr. Peter Sacco has been working with individuals in private practice and support groups since 1995. He specializes in anger-management classes, overcoming addictions, individual coaching, and counseling. He teaches courses in addiction studies, police studies, criminal psychology, and education at universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. Petersacco.com

*Image of a woman under stress via Shutterstock