Mental Toughness, the Ability to Overcome

Mental toughness is far more important than intelligence or talent. It's that inner strength that makes you get back up again and again. It gives you encouragement, power, and motivation so you don't give up and keep striving for something better.
Mental Toughness, the Ability to Overcome
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Mental toughness is more than just an attitude. Nobody comes into the world with an innate ability to overcome any adversity. Nor is anyone born with the determination to achieve any goal or purpose. In fact, these are trained psychological dimensions. You acquire them with experience and perseverance.

Self-control and self-confidence are just some of the elements that make up mental toughness. Psychology suggests that everyone can develop this necessary and valuable skill and that it doesn’t only concern the ability to achieve success.

In fact, mental toughness is the essence of self-improvement and well-being. For this reason, it’s linked to self-esteem, which promotes your sense of self-realization. It means perceiving that you’re capable of achieving your goals and feeling worthy, valuable, and capable of shaping your life and the reality you desire.

A flower growing through a crack.

What’s mental toughness?

When things get tough, it can be tough to make decisions. To know what path to take and, more importantly, where to get the motivation to deal with your problems. The truth is that we live in a society that emphasizes intelligence, talent, creativity, extroversion, and leadership. Where does mental toughness fit in?

As a matter of fact, the strength contained in mental toughness is possibly the most important competence you can possess. However, as it isn’t always taught in school, you might not know how to develop it. In fact, if you have it, it’s probably because it was passed onto you by your parents. That’s because figures like these in your life tend to inspire and guide you to employ the resources that make up mental toughness.

Sisu, strength in adversity

Sisu is a Finnish concept that’s deeply rooted in their culture. The term is made up of a fascinating combination of ideas and dimensions like resilience, stoicism, courage, determination, and mental toughness. However, one curious thing is that, although this term has been integrated into Finnish life since time immemorial and they all know what it means, few of them can actually explain it in words.

This concept was first presented to the scientific community at the third World Congress on Positive Psychology in Los Angeles in 2013. They understood sisu to be a kind of psychological energy with the potential to help humans achieve a goal, overcome adversity, and keep persevering.

There are also those who claim that, in some cases, this mixture of psychological virtues could be a personality trait. However, it’s also widely agreed that anyone can learn to develop mental toughness.

A figure hugging a heart.

Self-esteem, the motor that drives mental toughness

Most studies regarding mental toughness come from the world of sports. Dr. Patricia Pritchard of the University of Virginia states that mental toughness requires capabilities like willpower, commitment, self-control, and trust.

However, she also emphasizes the element of self-esteem. It’s evident that, without this psychological muscle, nothing would be possible. If you don’t appreciate and value yourself enough to feel worthy of your dreams, wants, and desires, you’ll be unable to take the first step towards them.

A person with mental toughness refuses to feel defeated. In fact, no matter how exhausted they might feel and how many blows life dishes out to them, they refuse to give up on their dreams. Furthermore, they continue to love themselves. For this reason, you must remember that, without self-esteem, there’s no spark and you can’t start the engine of mental toughness.

How can you increase your psychological strength?

Nobody makes great strides in life without undertaking commitments or risks. Maybe you’ve set yourself a rather lofty goal for the near future. This might be getting a good job, passing an exam, or making a much-needed change in your life.

However, you won’t manage it if you don’t first ask yourself if you’re ready to take that leap. Do you feel okay about it? Are you motivated? Do you have the right psychological resources? You need to answer these questions first. To do this, there’s nothing better than training the elements that make up mental toughness. These are:

  • Self-care. Firstly, mental toughness requires you to feel good about yourself. Therefore, you must take care of yourself, boost your self-esteem, extinguish your fears and insecurities, and clarify your goals and internal needs.
  • Attitude. A mentally tough person trains their attitude. Their strong, resolute, and optimistic disposition allows them to face every day with confidence.
  • Habits based on strength. Try to foster small routines that help to promote your mental toughness. For example, set small goals for yourself. Be persistent and don’t give up. Also, learn problem-solving techniques. Adopt a flexible, creative, and intuitive mindset in order to appreciate all your opportunities.

Finally, don’t lose sight of this wonderful psychological cornerstone. It’ll help you to chart happier destinations that you can then adjust to your own dreams and needs.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.