After the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl, star Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked what makes his team so special. His answer was short and succinct, “Mental toughness.”
Not exceptional physical strength, not training, not even superior talent.
In the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, Graham Jones, Sheldon Hanton and Declan Connaughton interviewed elite athletes, as well as elite-level coaches and sports psychologists, to arrive at the following definition of mental toughness: It's “having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure.”
There are many characteristics that contribute to mental toughness. It all starts with training and preparation. If you aren’t prepared to do your job, you have no chance. The will to succeed is preceded by the will to prepare.
Consistency goes hand-in-hand with preparation. Getting started is hard enough, but consistently carrying out your plan is more difficult. Even the best business plans will fail without a dedication to consistency.
Other important traits are concentration and focus. It’s a topic I hear about frequently in business. The most common complaints? Too many irons in the fire. Too many projects spinning at one time. Too many interruptions. Too many phone calls. Too many emails. Too many things to do. Too little time. To deal with this, you must stay focused as best you can, and don’t let things happen to you -– not when you can make things happen.
Poise under pressure is another important attribute. It’s easy to show poise when everything is going well. It’s a lot tougher to maintain your poise when things are not going well. But the minute you lose your composure, the chances of defeat increase. Focus on what you can do or control. Forget the past.
Next, everyone must have goals. What is it you want to achieve? Truly dedicated individuals won’t let anything interfere with the attainment of their goals. That’s why so few people become champions in their fields.
Determination almost goes without saying. If you don’t have a deep-down burning desire to achieve something, you won’t accomplish it. Sometimes, desire is more important than talent. Determination can turn the ordinary into extraordinary.
This old quote says it best: “Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to.”
To be mentally tough, you've got to love competition. It’s healthy. It keeps you sharp, makes you better and improves quality. You should not only welcome stiff competition, you should actively seek it. You’ll never realize your full potential in business or sports unless you are challenged. The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it’s competition.
Adversity is very important as well. There are many things that can go wrong in life, so you must be mentally prepared for whatever happens. At some point, you will need to perform at your best when you’re feeling your worst.
Similarly, people who are mentally tough are resilient. The strong survive not because they are determined to conduct business as usual, but because they find ways to rise above the issue at hand. You can’t live life with an eraser. You can’t anticipate every possible problem, no matter how hard you try. But you can resolve to face challenges as they arise. Keep your mind wide open for solutions, listen to those around and under you, reprogram your brain for success and dig in. Don’t let hard times turn into end times. Let them lead to your best times.
You’ve heard the old saying: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Believe it. That’s what separates the winners from the losers.
By the time you read this, the Super Bowl will be over. But I guarantee, the winner will be the team that understands the importance of mental toughness.
Mackay’s Moral: When life tests your mettle, nothing succeeds like an iron will.