What differentiates normal people from high-achievers or top performers in most fields? What is the one thing elite performers have that others don’t?
These are some questions that are worth answering in order to get where top performers are, regardless of one’s field of work. People look at two things when they think about performance and sports. Sport is the area where raw skills are evident, distilled from day-to-day problems and implications. Therefore, the psychology of performance and sports go hand in hand when you try to reach your best performance.
The one thing that people refer to when thinking about top performers in sport is mental toughness. They mention it for football, for tennis, for athletics and even for car racing. But what is mental toughness?
Its actual definition was difficult to find as many tried to do so, but mostly failed to define mental toughness appropriately and easily to understand by the few and the many.
Mental Toughness is a term that is used to describe mental individual resilience and confidence that helps those performing in sports, education, business or the workplace.
In 2002, an investigation conducted by Graham Jones in 2002, attributed characteristics such as determination, focus, confidence and keeping control under pressure to the term known as mental toughness.
Same study referred to all the multitudes of others who have tried to find that one definition to encompass mental toughness. The definitions went from high levels of optimism, confidence, self-belief, and self-esteem to achieving consistency to desire, determination, commitment, willpower, control, motivation, and courage.
The fact that the term lacked a proper definition brought upon lack of engaging performance in sports, workforce and business. By not knowing what it is, the performers and their trainers or coaches found it hard to bring about an evolution of their performance in whatever they were doing or trying to achieve.
The initial study of Graham Jones was done with focus groups then with personal, individual interviews where the discussion about mental toughness was brought to a personal level, to see what the elite sport performers thought about this term, how would she or he define for themselves mental toughness. Because here it is important to see the personal take of the one having the said characteristic and the way they would describe it.
The initial definition obtained from the focus groups was passed around to individual replies from the participants, to see how much if at all they agreed with it.
The definition the Graham Jones study found was that: ”Mental toughness is 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.”
As for the personal, individual opinion the participants of the study had regarding the study’s finding of the mental toughness definition, there were 12 attributes that distilled to the top as the most common and best to tend to in order to increase one’s own mental toughness. And they were as follows:
- ” Rank number 1: Having an unshakable self belief in your ability to achieve your competition goals.
- Rank number 2: Bouncing back from performance set-backs as a result of increased determination to succeed.
- Rank number 3: Having an unshakable self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents.
- Rank number 4=: Having an insatiable desire and internalized motives to succeed.
- Rank number 4=: Remaining fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions.
- Rank number 6: Regaining psychological control following unexpected, uncontrollable events.
- Rank number 7: Pushing back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress in training and competition.
- Rank number 8: Accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can cope with it.
- Rank number 9=: Not being adversely affected by others’ good and bad performances.
- Rank number 9=: Thriving on the pressure of competition.
- Rank number 11: Remaining fully-focused in the face of personal life distractions.
- Rank number 12: Switching a sport focus on and off as required.”
What the study also revealed was that self-belief and motivation were the main points to looked upon as the main drivers of mental toughness. We are what we think we are, especially if we believe that we can achieve anything we want. That with a solid motivation, are the golden keys of mental toughness.
With them, one can achieve anything, despite ”competition-related pressure, anxiety, physical and emotional pain” and other issues.
And that is what really differentiates top performers from the rest of those around them, be it for short term or long-term goals and achievements.
For you, as someone trying to achieve the best they can, it is important not only to look at the most important details of mental toughness and those that seem to have it, but also to form your own opinion. You should form your own opinion only after also observing yourself and how you react in the face adversity, of goal obtaining and seeking high achievement in whatever field you are.
Then put together the, let’s say, official definition, the attributes and what else you can read upon it, and see what the best course of action for you is.
Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness? An investigation of elite sport performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14, 205-218.