The Eight Factors of Mental Toughness

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The 8 Factors of Mental Toughness you need to know

Our introduction to mental toughness looked at how the Four C’s – challenge, confidence, commitment and control – can start to measure a person’s toughness or sensitivity to stressors like high pressure situations or challenges at work or in their private life.

The reason Clough, arranged these classifications is to come up with an effective way to measure mental toughness. The point of measuring mental toughness is to provide an objective measure and tactics to manage and improve one’s capability to handle life’s inevitable challenges.

They also defined eight sub-categories of the four C’s that influence how we respond to stressors. The eight factors in the stressor-strain relationship that we need to be aware of are:

  1. Learning orientation
  2. Risk orientation
  3. Confidence in one’s ability
  4. Interpersonal confidence
  5. Achievement orientation
  6. Goal orientation
  7. Emotional control
  8. Life control

What’s the benefit of being mentally tough?

 Clough, Earle and Sewell stated ‘mentally tough individuals tend to be sociable and outgoing, as they are able to remain calm and relaxed. They are competitive in many situations and have lower anxiety levels than others. With a high sense of self-belief and an unshakeable faith that they control their own destiny, these individuals can remain relatively unaffected by competition or adversity.’  

As a result, mentally tough individuals tend to lead in their industry. They maintain focus on their goals, so they’re highly successful in reaching their work or personal goals. They are calm and in control of their emotions, so they tend to have positive relationships with family, friends and colleagues. They essentially seem to make ‘winning at modern life’ look easy.

Here, we can observe the eight factors of mental toughness to alter our default approach to life’s challenges and manage stressors better. Once you know your score, you can not only decide on the best type of career for you, but improve your mental toughness and boost your resilience to life challenges.

Contact us, to discuss how we can support you, to enhance your mental toughness.

Factor 1 of Mental Toughness: Learning Orientation

The mentally tough typically have a high learning orientation. That is, they approach any situation with the motivating question like, What can I learn?  They know that even setbacks are opportunities for learning.

A large part of this is having an active exploratory mind and seeking to learn from others. Often referred to as a growth mindset, this is contrasted with a focus on performance orientation and the question: How can I demonstrate my competence? This is referred to as a fixed mindset.

Factor 2 of Mental Toughness: Risk orientation – I am driven to succeed

Risk orientation refers to an individual’s attitude towards change and new experiences.

Mentally sensitive individuals see this as uncomfortable and something to be avoided. On the other hand, mentally tough individuals see change as exciting, interesting and they can see the opportunity that new experiences presents for personal development.

Mentally tough individuals are therefore, driven to succeed and push themselves to grow. As such, they typically become leaders in their chosen field.

Factor 3 of Mental Toughness: Confidence in one’s ability

The mentally tough individual believes that they have the intellectual toolkit (whether it be knowledge, skills, education, and experience) to complete a particular task.

As a result, they tend to approach new tasks or actions with a pragmatism and self-belief that improves the likelihood of successfully completing the task.

Factor 4: Interpersonal confidence: I can influence others, I can stand my ground if needed

A mentally tough person may exhibit interpersonal confidence or assertiveness – that is, the ability to influence others or to stand their ground in the face of objections or an alternative point of view from others.

This is an important skill in the development of self, and engagement with work or personal communities. It also protects against harm or aggression from physical violence or mental anguish inflicted by others.

Factor 5: Achievement orientation: I’ll do what it takes to keep my promises and achieve my goals

A sub-category of ‘Commitment’, within the Four C’s, achievement orientation relates to an individual’s ability to keep a promise. This requires the individual to have a healthy level of tenaciousness that means they’re prepared to do what it takes to achieve goals.

As such, the mentally tough individual is reliable, consistent and known as someone that does deliver on their promises, rather than the mentally sensitive who can shirk commitment in fear of failure.

To achieve this, mentally tough individuals break projects down into manageable chunks; they deliver outcomes on time; have a strong sense of conscientiousness. Consequently, they find working to a goal exhilarating and keep growing and generating strong networks with those they commit to.

Factor 6: Goal orientation: I promise to do it – I like working to goals

This factor relates to an individual’s preference for goals and measures. Mentally tough individuals set high standards for themselves and others.

They liked being judged or assessed.

Mentally tough individuals accept responsibility.

They like ownership, acceptance and responsibility.

This is why mentally tough individuals tend to be unphased by competition or adversity.

Factor 7: Emotional control: I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others

This factor relates to the extent to which an individual feels they are in control of their life, including their emotions and sense of life purpose.

Mentally tough individuals feel comfortable in their own skin and have a good sense of who they are. This helps them to keep a cool head in pressured situations and focused in what others would find to be impossibly noisy or stressful situations. As a result, the mentally tough are considered to be good leaders and valuable workers in high pressure or stressful roles like working as a paramedic. They are also wonderfully calming to others in times of despair.

Factor 8 of Mental Toughness: Life control – I really believe I can do it

Life control relates to how an individual feels and reacts when adverse events occur.  A lot of this comes down to their sense of control or influence over what happens to them.

Not only are mentally tough individuals more likely to consider challenging situations or adverse events to be an opportunity for growth but they are less likely to reveal their emotional state to others — and be less distracted by the emotions of others.

This improves their ability to rationalise what are otherwise considered unfair situations, and to work pragmatically to either avoid the likelihood of it happening again or to recover from adversity.

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So, how do you measure mental toughness?

The MTQ-Plus questionnaire is the only valid and reliable means of measuring an individual’s mental toughness. This questionnaire takes approximately 15-20 minutes to complete and it measures the 4 components (Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence), consisting of the 8 Factors, of Mental Toughness. 

This can subsequently inform the specific interventions, that an individual client could undertake, to develop a more pro-active approach to enhancing their mental toughness.

So, what’s the ideal mental toughness score?

Regardless of what results you receive from the MTQ-Plus measure, an informed strategy can be designed to enhance those factors that are low, while better managing those factors that are found to be high.

There are tens of thousands of possible variables in an individuals results from this questionnaire. There is no ideal score for this questionnaire and individuals are encouraged to concentrate on addressing their own results and identified areas for intervention explored during the debrief.

Potential downsides of scoring high in the 8 Factors

For those people who believe they would hit the mental toughness measures out of the park, it is important to realise that there are downsides to possessing high levels of these 8 Factors. The below list highlights only one downside for each factor.

1 Learning orientation: May fail to see the significance of an unsuccessful outcome

2 Risk orientation: Can take on too much; bores easily – will often create too much change

3 Confidence in one’s ability: Can believe they are right – even when they are wrong; Arrogant

4 Interpersonal confidence: May appear to be poor at listening; can rely on the ‘gift of the gab’

5 Achievement orientation: Can be intolerant of those who aren’t as committed

6 Goal orientation: Can intimidate others with their goal orientation

7 Emotional control: Unflappability can confuse others

8 Life control: Can fail to see own weaknesses

Yes, you can develop your mental toughness

It is now conclusive that mental toughness levels can be changed. Strycharczyk & Clough (2015) offer an organizational case study that demonstrates that formal mental toughness training can work.

This process relies on firstly undertaking a reliable measure of a person’s character traits. Once this is clearly identified, then combining this with the appropriate tools, techniques, and approaches, under the direction of an accredited professional, can support an individual or team to positively develop the Eight Factors of Mental Toughness.

The first step to developing mental toughness

Get Mentally Fit’s, Principal Psychologist, Emily Johnson is an accredited facilitator of AQR’s MTQ-Plus questionnaire, which she administers and debriefs via our Measure Your Mental Fitness service. Having the ability to reliable measure an individual’s personality traits allows us at Get Mentally Fit to customise our programs and services for clients.

Contact us to enquire into undertaking the pro-active step of reliably measuring, and potentially enhancing, your current mental toughness.

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