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What is mental toughness, and how do you build it?

Last updated

12 December 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Business is hard. And with running a business comes the necessity to make hard decisions. Business owners and leaders often face challenging situations that call for mental toughness and grace under pressure. But what does it mean to be mentally tough? More importantly, how can you understand the science behind mental toughness and learn to develop it continuously?

Today's strongest and most successful leaders, whether in business, in research, or in life, recognize that mental toughness requires constant improvement.

Let’s look in detail at what mental toughness is and consider how you can explore building your own.

What is mental toughness?

Mental toughness is defined as a character or personality trait that measures a person's ability to perform at peak levels under stress. It's about persevering, moving forward, and making decisions through a lens of resilience and definitiveness.

Mentally tough people don't give in to analysis paralysis or allow emotional responses to cloud their judgment. They act and react swiftly, confidently, and from a position of strength.

The 4 Cs of mental toughness

When analyzing what it means to be mentally tough, consider the four Cs or pillars of mental strength and resilience. Recognize each of these traits within yourself to help you identify areas of improvement and development.


Someone who exhibits mental toughness will always be in control. Even when scenarios are uncontrollable, a mentally tough person will carefully calculate the pros, cons, benefits, and consequences.

They'll make decisions or take action based on those controllable assessments. They may allow themselves to emotionally respond to situations, but they'll never overreact.


Mental toughness means being able to make decisions and stick to them. There is a level of commitment to the decision-making and action-taking process that is unwavering.

A strong leader can change direction. But every calculated step is taken with purpose and commitment to see it through to completion.


Mentally tough leaders aren't afraid to face a challenge. These resilient people don't fear change; they embrace it. And they don't dwell in comfort zones.

They recognize challenges as potential opportunities for learning and growth, allowing them to make critical decisions, regardless of the difficulty of the challenge.


Mental toughness isn't about being right. It's about being confident in your process. You won't be able to predict every outcome. But you can lean into your methodical decision-making and action-taking processes.

With each forward step, a mentally tough person continues to build confidence over time. It's this confidence that fuels continued resilience.

The importance of being mentally strong

The personalities of leaders have a direct correlation with how brands, companies, and organizations behave. Being mentally tough, which naturally leads to calculated and confident decision-making, can inspire strong company perceptions.

Some studies suggest that mental toughness is a considerably huge factor in measuring the success of leaders and organizations. These advantages can also apply to professional and personal growth.

  • Performance: Those who are mentally tough tend to perform 25% better than those who are not

  • Positive behaviors: Mentally tough people tend to be more positive and inspire others to be so

  • Teachable: Mental toughness can make you more open to learning, change, and personal growth

  • Adaptable: Those who are mentally tough tend to remain calm and operate with lower stress levels during challenges or unpredictable situations

  • Ambitious: Mentally tough people exude confidence and are ambitious about growing and achieving new goals

  • Improved wellbeing: Mental toughness can make you more content, leading to better stress management and self-care

How your mental strength affects your overall health

Mental toughness and your ability to develop it over time affects every aspect of your life, including your health. Your motivation and productivity improve when you're more relaxed and comfortable making decisions.

The more motivated and productive you are, the more content you are. Positive mindsets lead to positive mental health, which has been scientifically proven to reduce health risks.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, mentally tough people who are more confident and content can reduce their chances of:

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Cancer

  • Dementia

What makes someone mentally tough?

Mentally tough people often possess a high level of self-awareness, which plays a crucial role in their ability to think logically, even in emotionally charged environments.

This self-awareness enables them to recognize and understand their emotional responses, and, more importantly, to manage and control them effectively. Instead of reacting impulsively or being overwhelmed by emotions, they maintain a clear, rational perspective.

Mentally tough people:

  • Are never wishy-washy or inconsistent

  • Always seek additional input, but don't base decisions on "likeability"

  • Are eager to tackle challenges head-on without procrastinating

  • Are always rational thinkers, never giving in to emotional responses

  • Always practice empathy and compassion

  • Are self-sufficient, self-reliant, and self-aware

  • Demonstrate robustness and composure in high-pressure situations

What does mental strength look like in practice?

Here's an example of mental strength in action to help you visualize the concept.

A basketball player steps up to the free-throw line in a nail-biting, last-second attempt to win the game. They have to contend with the pressure of the game, the remaining time on the clock, and the notion they might let down their team if they miss this one shot. The crowd is loud, waving visual distractions in the player’s line of sight, hoping to rattle them. But they’re mentally tough, drowning out the distractions and averting their focus to years of practice making free throws and muscle memory. The player takes a deep breath, aligns their feet, and relaxes their muscles. They release the ball, as they’ve done a hundred times before, and it drops through the net.

In this example, the athlete doesn't dwell on "what ifs" and doesn't succumb to the pressures of the moment. Instead, they mentally rely on their training, form, and process to execute the shot and task at hand. It's the player’s mental toughness that allows them to control their thoughts and actions in this challenging moment.

Strategies for supporting mental strength

Building your mental toughness requires a few ongoing strategies, including knowing when you’re at your peak strength and ready to tackle tough tasks.

Follow these suggested methods for identifying and developing a strong mind that can carry you through any challenging situation.

Acknowledging your feelings

You can't control your feelings or emotional responses if you don't first acknowledge them. Recognize your feelings and decide if they're warranted, helpful, or clouding your judgment. Before making any decision, you'll need to identify if your emotions are impacting your judgment.

Practicing self-compassion

Be kind to yourself about your thinking, feelings, and processes. Building mental toughness takes time, and confidence mounts one strong decision at a time.

Assessing your challenges

Don't ignore challenges or uncomfortable situations. Embrace and assess them head-on, calculating outcomes and basing decisions accordingly. Always assess obstacles with the careful calculation of facts and potential outcomes.

Taking small steps toward what you tend to avoid

Learn your weaknesses and those scenarios you tend to avoid. Recognize your comfort zones, then take small steps toward operating outside them.

Mindfulness improvements

Watch your inner dialogue and make sure you're only "saying" truthful things to yourself. Make efforts to improve your mindset and be mindful of the present. Be aware of how you think about problems so you can make changes mentally to be more comfortable facing them.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Commit to making healthier lifestyle choices in other areas. This will support your efforts to be mentally healthy and strong, like eating healthily and feeling energized with regular exercise. A strong, healthy mind is easier to maintain when you have a strong, healthy body. Equally important is understanding the need to rest and recharge, mentally and physically.

In summary

As you look to improve your ability to lead a team, guide your company, or succeed in life, strive to master your mental toughness. Use these insights and strategies to guide your efforts. And recognize all the benefits, in business and life, a strong mental fortitude can bring.


What daily practices can help build mental toughness?

Practice these behaviors daily and build momentum to improve your mental toughness:

  • Express gratitude

  • Challenge negative thoughts

  • Practice tolerating discomfort

  • Follow daily goals

  • Reflect on your progress

How can you tell if someone is mentally tough?

Someone who is mentally tough will be a proactive self-starter who is highly adaptable and empathetic. These people are calm, cool, and collected under pressure.

Can mental toughness be taught?

Science suggests that mental toughness can be an inherited trait, but it's also a learnable skill. The core characteristics of mental toughness, including resilience, self-efficacy, and perseverance, can be taught and groomed over time.

How long does it take to develop mental toughness?

Building mental toughness is a long game. There is no finish line. It's a trait that requires ongoing development and maintenance. Each of us is unique, with unique perspectives and experiences contributing to or detracting from mental toughness. But taking the first steps is simple: focus on one conscious method and decision at a time.

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