I posted something on LinkedIn this week about an upcoming mental toughness masterclass that I'm running to which someone commented 'In a world where workers are exploited more than ever, "mental toughness" sure seems like another way to blame victims by not putting responsibility on corporations'. Ouch. I responded by saying that we all use our mental toughness all the time and developing it is a human thing not a corporate thing but it really got me thinking about the way people view the term mental toughness.
It's really clear to me that this is not a term that sits comfortably for some people. It can be seen as a macho, male dominated concept which is a turn off for some and yet a real draw for others. For instance a large engineering company gets more people signing up for a mental toughness workshop than they would for a resilience workshop even though the content might be the same (the two concepts are not the same but I'll come to that shortly) whereas other companies will ask me to headline it as resilience or stress management because that works better for their culture. I'm OK with that, at the end of the day what I want is to get a set of really pragmatic tools that make a difference out to people so they can use them to change their lives.
Whatever it gets badged as mental toughness is the terminology used for the field in which I work. It's not resilience. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in his book Antifragile ‘Antifragility is beyond robustness or resilience. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same, the antifragile gets better.’ So when we think of mental toughness we are thinking not just of coping with a difficult situation but learning and growing from it. Those with greater mental toughness don't just pick themselves up when life knocks them over, they seek out challenges knowing that they might get knocked over but trusting themselves to be able to get back up. They learn and grow from failure rather than running from it. They set themselves goals and work hard to achieve them. Consider the mental toughness model above - it brings together both the ideas of resilience and therefore our ability to cope but also that of seeing and seizing opportunity. Are you just sitting tight and waiting for the pandemic to be over? That's resilience. Are you making the best of the situation, pivoting your business or finding a new way forward? That's mental toughness.
Watch this space for a series of blogs exploring the model in greater detail over the next few weeks.