Serena Simmons Consultant Psychologist

Change. Motivate. Adapt. Improve. Perform

Mental toughness isn’t just for athletes…

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If you don’t partake in any particular sports, or likewise if you don’t spend your free time watching copious amounts of sport on television, you may not be familiar with the term ‘Mental Toughness’.


Image taken from Pscicologia del Italia

Mental Toughness is the phrase given to describe the mental characteristics that can be employed to build resilience.  It is a term particularly used in the sporting arena as many athletes work on building this kind of ‘toughness’ as a means to performing better in their given area.

Being mentally tough in this case can mean:

Learning techniques to block out pain and focus on performance

Staying focussed on your goals

To focus on your own game instead of your opponents.

To compartmentalise your personal life to stop it infiltrating during your game.

To block out physical pain.

To focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses

To source the desire to keep to going and not give in…the list goes on!

These are just a few examples of what building this kind of mental toughness can do for you in your game.  But as you can probably see from the list, being able to do these things, and build this kind of ‘toughness’ would be a useful attribute to have in other areas of your life too.

I’ve taught various workshops to sports teams, with a focus on this topic and love to get teams to take part in activities that allow them to put some of these things into practice.  I know from experience that building these kinds of mental strengths can really enhance your game and also help individual athletes to feel happier about their overall performance

So, what I’ve decided to do for today’s blog is to share a few things that you can do to start to build your mental toughness.  These things can help you in any area of your life, sporting, work or otherwise…so here we go!

–  Know what your goals are –

I often discuss the importance of having goals and working towards them, and when you are building mental toughness this is no different.

In this instance you should have an idea of what you would like to achieve, whether it be to win the last 4 matches, get into the 1st league, complete the ultra-marathon, or, get that promotion, achieve the £15,00 pay rise, win the award, start your own business…you get the idea.

In this instance you should then work on focussing on your goal by setting up small steps/smaller goals in order to achieve it.

Mental toughness is built via the means to keep focussing on these mini-goals and attempting to achieve them regardless of distractions (whatever these may be to you, e.g. other people, comparison, going wrong or off course!).  The mentally tough person will re-frame these mini-goals in light of what they have learnt along the way and adapt and improve, thinking of better ways to get to their goal via learning along the journey.

The stay on the path to their goal, no matter what.

– Play to your own level of excellence- 

So, although you will have your goals and the desire to achieve them, you cannot always control the outcome.

The mentally though person will take time to work/focus on the things they can control and not on the things they can’t.  For example, again taking sport…a person may focus on their fitness, preparedness, team-cohesion and level of training. These things they can control.

The things they can’t control, may be things like their team mates behaviour, the opposition and how they react, the weather.  In our businesses and work we see the same patterns, so we cannot control our colleagues, or the decisions made at management level or maybe the desk we are even given….we can however choose how we respond to these things and choose to stay focused on the things that we can have an impact on.

Via focusing on these things that we can effect, we regain a sense of control and allow ourselves to continue to move forward.

– Make mistakes –

Again, I’ve talked about this before, but making mistakes is key to your success…did you know that?

I’ve yet to meet a successful person who has not made what would be perceived as a mistake.  Mistakes are actually opportunities to learn and the mentally tough person becomes very good at quickly, in the moment, dismissing a mistake as a means to continue moving forward, knowing that with time to reflect that they will learn something from this and that will mean better future performance.

Mistakes are a sure sign, to the mentally tough person, that you are moving forward…it means you are pushing your boundaries and growing out of your previous comfort zone.

– Thought-word-action –

This one is more of a tip to help you focus on your mental processes and hence behaviour.  In this case it may help you to start aligning your thoughts with your other actions.

So, if you first ‘think’ of what is is you want to achieve (going back to your goal), you can then take on the notion of saying you are/have achieved this thing out loud…literally!

You may say for example ‘I am a marathon runner’ or ‘I am a business owner’ or ‘ I am an author’.  So your words, reflect your thoughts.  You then work to align these words with your actions, so basically put this into motion via the actions you take…eg. running or writing every day.

(You may literally say this out loud to yourself. I would also suggest that you choose who you say this to out loud, as not everyone may be supportive).

– Visualisation –

Building mental toughness is aided by positive visualisation of your goals specifically, but also visualisation of how you may deal with particular situations.

For example, if you have experienced some set-backs or ‘mistakes’ you may which to focus on visualising positive ways to deal with these situations.  Doing this often, can mean that when and if you encounter these things in the future or things of a similar nature, you are better equipped to handle them.

Again, I’ve done this with sports where not only do I recommend that teams have their individual visualisation processes, but that we do this as a team activity, focussing on the whole game.  It can really help when it comes to actually performing.

*some people like to employ a vision board to help with this too.  The modern day equivalent would be Pinterest!…you can also keep your boards private if you so wish*

– Fake it until you make it…or modelling- 

Who do you admire that is already doing what you want to do?

Faking it until you make it, literally means to harness the qualities of that person/s, and model their behaviour as a way of embodying the qualities that you feel give you the edge you are after in order to achieve your goals.

For example you may have an athlete in mind that you which you could emulate or a you have seen a business owner whose business you admire and you like how they do things.

Modelling, not copying (!) may help you in developing good habits and help with the mental ability to go forward in your endeavour.

Additional tips…

Here are just a couple of additional things to add to help you while you consider taking these things on…

– Watch out for over-confidence! –

 Choosing realistic goals, and taking small manageable steps towards achieving what you want is really important.  After all, if you choose something really out of reach or even impossible as you can’t control the situation (e.g. winning the lottery!), then you will feel like you are never getting anywhere, and indeed won’t.

Also, over-confidence can trip you up and if you keep taking steps backwards instead of forward, it can feel harder to get to where you want to be.

Always reflect- 

Always take the time to reflect on your processes and re-evaluate what works and doesn’t work.  Remember, you are making up the rules here so you can change them when you realise what might work better or even what might be more enjoyable as part of your process.


So, I hope you have found these tips useful to helping you build your mental toughness.

I’d love to hear if you employ any other things that help you in your own life…maybe you can also share what you achieved, or even more exciting, maybe you feel happy to share your Pinterest boards with us here so we can enjoy a sneaky peak into your vision.

Til next week!


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