Six Skills to Build Mental Toughness

Posted in : HR Updates on 19 June 2013
Paul Fieldhouse
Hyperion Growth

Paul Fieldhouse writes:

Whether you’re an Olympic athlete, a business leader, or someone facing a life-defining moment, performing well under pressure requires a similar set of mental and emotional skills that separate high performance from under performance and provide an opportunity to gain a significant competitive advantage.

Or, as Stuart Lancaster, Head Coach of England Rugby explained, “I recognised that it’s really the skills described by emotional intelligence that I’ve been using that make the real difference in performance.”

This article will look at the first three skills of at least seven that provide an inside view of how the mind of a champion works. These are the skills you need to forge a high-performing mind and develop rock solid mental toughness in the face of life’s opportunities and challenges.

  • Pure Self-Confidence – The Courage to Succeed
  • Self-Reliance – Taking Responsibility for Success
  • Achievement Drive – Generating the Energy for Success


1. Pure Self-Confidence – The Courage to Succeed

What’s the single most important skill that separates an athlete’s ability to deliver an exceptional performance when it matters? Self-confidence. Pure self-confidence is a belief in your ability to rise above the pressures of the external environment and the artificial limits the environment threatens to place on you.

Self-confidence comes from within and is fundamentally a relationship that you develop with yourself. Making the decision to like and believe in yourself and your ability is the surest way to generate the emotional energy necessary for sustained success.

It’s interesting that many people think self-confidence is available through repeating affirmations, or available through purchasing audiotapes. But, it’s a mistake to believe that you can purchase it, or manufacture it or simply adopt a pose. The truth is you can’t fake self-confidence; you have to earn it.


Coaching Strategy – Sharpen the Picture

Whatever your track record to date, the first strategy in building your self-confidence is to commit to something bigger than simply winning and losing. Self-confidence is the reactor core of performance and is fuelled by the gratification you receive internally rather than from simply immediate success or the capricious and unpredictable feedback from other people. What sustains motivation for ultimate success is not winning alone, or financial gain, or even external recognition, but rather the pure love of the experience and belief in its value.

From a psychological point of view, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympic movement, was right when he stressed, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

It takes enormous courage to take part and take on the challenge of chasing a dream. There are huge forces that threaten to break your will and shatter your confidence. If you only focus on the externals, the noise of the crowd cheering or jeering will drown out your own inner voice.

Athletes have long used the technique of visualisation to imagine the perfect sporting performance. It’s an entirely mental exercise, and its power lies in one startling physiological fact that the brain cannot distinguish between real activity and an imagined one.

Visualise yourself as the extraordinarily competent person you imagine yourself being. The thoughts and images that you repeatedly focus on have a remarkable way of becoming your reality.

Sharpen the picture of the kind of leader you aspire to be and focus on it daily.


2. Self-Reliance – Taking Responsibility for Success

A second and related skill in building the mind of a champion involves Self-Reliance. This is the emotional power to be self-directed and take full responsibility for your personal performance. It involves the decision to back your personal judgments and significant decisions. We all recognise that we can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we respond to them.

When you step-up to the starting blocks, or stand in front of a large audience to deliver a presentation, or take on a tough challenge, your biochemical and emotional state is aroused. This is normal, but for many these negative emotions like fear and anxiety become debilitating and hinder performance. This flight-or-fight response is a function of a mind-body interaction. Under stress your brain processes information very quickly and often gets overloaded. Along with this reaction, most of your thoughts are often negative.


Coaching Strategy – Identify Your 4 Minute Mile and Take Control

Elite athletes apply two emotional skills to combat external pressure and build their self-reliance, and both have powerful utility in building the mind of a champion. The first involves rising to the challenge of interpreting the past, present, and future differently.

I’ve often told the story of Roger Bannister. Over fifty years ago people believed that no human being could ever break the ‘4 minute mile’ barrier. But in the eighteen months after Bannister broke it, forty-five other athletes repeated that success. Why? Because people now knew that it was possible.

It was this new belief that enabled people to do the impossible. What’s your ‘4 minute mile’? What negative beliefs do you cling to as to what’s possible and impossible? It’s time to reinterpret the limiting beliefs of the past that have held you back and take control of the future possibilities.

The second skill involves taking full control of fear. Fear is often experienced in four different ways:

  • Insecurity – ask yourself: What am I most afraid of losing? (self-respect, love, money, health, power etc.)
  • Anxiety – ask yourself: What am I most afraid of changing (self-image, lifestyle, income bracket, friends, social status, habits, etc.)
  • Fear of Failure – ask yourself: In what ways am I most afraid of failing?
  • Fear of Rejection – ask yourself: How am I afraid that I may be rejected en route to this goal? Whose rejection do I fear most?

Overcome the anxiety that sabotages your Self-Reliance by recognising what you need to gain greater control of to accomplish your goals. At the same time, identify the the things you need to let go of.


3. Achievement Drive – Generating the Energy for Success

Champion performers possess a third skill, Achievement Drive. This is really about your level of passion and how you focus and sustain your energy to maintain performance when it counts.

Achievement Drive is the skill behind the force that keeps you moving towards your best work and reaching for higher ground. It’s also the essential stimulus that enables you to keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to take on new challenges. This is the ideal performance state that athletes refer to as being “in the zone” or what those of us in the psychology trade refer to as “flow.”

We all experience this when we’re deeply engaged in an activity we enjoy doing.


Coaching Strategy – Do What You Love, or Love the People You Do it With

There are two components to Achievement Drive as an emotional skill. The first involves having a passion for what you do — that is, loving your work and eagerly looking forward to starting each day and taking on the challenges of moving forward.

Your work is going to fill a large part of you life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Or, if that’s too much to ask, at least love the people you do it with.

The second component involves setting personally meaningful goals. Ultimately, to sustain high motivation you have to have a wide variety of interests and make sure your personal and professional goals provide the focus for your abilities.

In contrast, many people struggle with maintaining motivation levels because their clarity of purpose and love for their activities is clouded by having only immediate, superficial goals rather than goals aligned to a bigger vision.

All of us struggle to juggle family, job, finances, personal interests, and just the demands of daily life. The secret is to merge the two and balance a commitment to a high motivation and purpose, with a commitment to achieve practical goals.

Taken together, these first three skills are the raw materials of emotional intelligence that make up the mind of a champion. Just think of sporting champions like Usain Bolt or inspiring leaders like Richard Branson or Anita Roddick and you’ll immediately recognise these skills personified. And the great news is that we now have the technology to measure and build them systematically.

What’s the single most important skill that separates an athlete’s ability to deliver an exceptional performance when it matters? Self-confidence. Pure self-confidence is a belief in your ability to rise above the pressures of the external environment and the artificial limits the environment threatens to place on you.

Self-confidence comes from within and is fundamentally a relationship that you develop with yourself. Making the decision to like and believe in yourself and your ability is the surest way to generate the emotional energy necessary for sustained success.

It’s interesting that many people think self-confidence is available through repeating affirmations, or available through purchasing audiotapes. But, it’s a mistake to believe that you can purchase it, or manufacture it or simply adopt a pose. The truth is you can’t fake self-confidence; you have to earn it.


Coaching Strategy – Sharpen the Picture

Whatever your track record to date, the first strategy in building your self-confidence is to commit to something bigger than simply winning and losing. Self-confidence is the reactor core of performance and is fuelled by the gratification you receive internally rather than from simply immediate success or the capricious and unpredictable feedback from other people. What sustains motivation for ultimate success is not winning alone, or financial gain, or even external recognition, but rather the pure love of the experience and belief in its value.

From a psychological point of view, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympic movement, was right when he stressed, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

It takes enormous courage to take part and take on the challenge of chasing a dream. There are huge forces that threaten to break your will and shatter your confidence. If you only focus on the externals, the noise of the crowd cheering or jeering will drown out your own inner voice.

Athletes have long used the technique of visualisation to imagine the perfect sporting performance. It’s an entirely mental exercise, and its power lies in one startling physiological fact that the brain cannot distinguish between real activity and an imagined one.

Visualise yourself as the extraordinarily competent person you imagine yourself being. The thoughts and images that you repeatedly focus on have a remarkable way of becoming your reality.

Sharpen the picture of the kind of leader you aspire to be and focus on it daily.

2. Self-Reliance – Taking Responsibility for Success

A second and related skill in building the mind of a champion involves Self-Reliance. This is the emotional power to be self-directed and take full responsibility for your personal performance. It involves the decision to back your personal judgments and significant decisions. We all recognise that we can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we respond to them.

When you step-up to the starting blocks, or stand in front of a large audience to deliver a presentation, or take on a tough challenge, your biochemical and emotional state is aroused. This is normal, but for many these negative emotions like fear and anxiety become debilitating and hinder performance. This flight-or-fight response is a function of a mind-body interaction. Under stress your brain processes information very quickly and often gets overloaded. Along with this reaction, most of your thoughts are often negative.


Coaching Strategy – Identify Your 4 Minute Mile and Take Control

Elite athletes apply two emotional skills to combat external pressure and build their self-reliance, and both have powerful utility in building the mind of a champion. The first involves rising to the challenge of interpreting the past, present, and future differently.

I’ve often told the story of Roger Bannister. Over fifty years ago people believed that no human being could ever break the ‘4 minute mile’ barrier. But in the eighteen months after Bannister broke it, forty-five other athletes repeated that success. Why? Because people now knew that it was possible.

It was this new belief that enabled people to do the impossible. What’s your ‘4 minute mile’? What negative beliefs do you cling to as to what’s possible and impossible? It’s time to reinterpret the limiting beliefs of the past that have held you back and take control of the future possibilities.

The second skill involves taking full control of fear. Fear is often experienced in four different ways:

  • Insecurity – ask yourself: What am I most afraid of losing? (self-respect, love, money, health, power etc.)
  • Anxiety – ask yourself: What am I most afraid of changing (self-image, lifestyle, income bracket, friends, social status, habits, etc.)
  • Fear of Failure – ask yourself: In what ways am I most afraid of failing?
  • Fear of Rejection – ask yourself: How am I afraid that I may be rejected en route to this goal? Whose rejection do I fear most?

Overcome the anxiety that sabotages your Self-Reliance by recognising what you need to gain greater control of to accomplish your goals. At the same time, identify the the things you need to let go of.

3. Achievement Drive – Generating the Energy for Success really about your level of passion and how you focus and sustain your energy to maintain performance when it counts.

Achievement Drive is the skill behind the force that keeps you moving towards your best work and reaching for higher ground. It’s also the essential stimulus that enables you to keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to take on new challenges. This is the ideal performance state that athletes refer to as being “in the zone” or what those of us in the psychology trade refer to as “flow.”

We all experience this when we’re deeply engaged in an activity we enjoy doing.


Coaching Strategy – Do What You Love, or Love the People You Do it With

There are two components to Achievement Drive as an emotional skill. The first involves having a passion for what you do — that is, loving your work and eagerly looking forward to starting each day and taking on the challenges of moving forward.

Your work is going to fill a large part of you life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Or, if that’s too much to ask, at least love the people you do it with.

The second component involves setting personally meaningful goals. Ultimately, to sustain high motivation you have to have a wide variety of interests and make sure your personal and professional goals provide the focus for your abilities.

In contrast, many people struggle with maintaining motivation levels because their clarity of purpose and love for their activities is clouded by having only immediate, superficial goals rather than goals aligned to a bigger vision.

All of us struggle to juggle family, job, finances, personal interests, and just the demands of daily life. The secret is to merge the two and balance a commitment to a high motivation and purpose, with a commitment to achieve practical goals.

Taken together, these first three skills are the raw materials of emotional intelligence that make up the mind of a champion. Just think of sporting champions like Usain Bolt or inspiring leaders like Richard Branson or Anita Roddick and you’ll immediately recognise these skills personified. And the great news is that we now have the technology to measure and build them systematically.

This article is correct at 04/11/2015
Disclaimer:

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Paul Fieldhouse
Hyperion Growth

The main content of this article was provided by Paul Fieldhouse. Contact telephone number is 07545 251095 or email paul@hyperiongrowth.com

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