The Mental Toughness Myth

Mental toughness.

It's one of the biggest buzz words in sport right now, especially in the combat sports

But what is it?

You might be surprised to find out that a lot of people can't even answer that. In fact,  in 2010, researcher Graham Jones did an entire study  just to come up with a definition  for the term  because he saw it as "one of the most used but least understood  terms in all of sport psychology". In order to come up with the definition, he had participants in the study come up with characteristics that they believed made elite performers elite. The following 12 characteristics are the ones they identified as most important:

  1. Having an unshakeable Self-Belief in your ability to achieve your competition goals

  2. Having an unshakeable Self-Belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your competition

  3. Having insatiable desires and internalized motives to succeed

  4. Bouncing back from performance set-backs as a result of increased determination to succeed

  5. Thriving off the pressure of competition

  6. Accepting competition anxiety and knowing that you can cope with that

  7. Not being adversely affected by others good and bad performances

  8. Remaining fully focused in the face of personal life distractions

  9. Switching sport focus on and off as required

  10. Remaining fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-based distractions

  11. Pushing back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain while maintaining technique and effort during competition

  12. Regaining psychological control following unexpected uncontrollable events (competition specific)

After getting the results the definition that Jones came up with was 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 the performer.

  • Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure”

It is a good definition, but look at that that list of the 12 characteristics, do you notice anything about it? Look again. Literally, every single possible positive trait that you can think of when it comes to performance psychology, or athletic success, is on the list.

If I just do a quick glance up at the list from where my cursor is, I see the words "focused", "confident", "driven", "controlled" and all of these words are awesome and absolutely necessary for competitive success but does training confidence make you mentally tougher? Or just more confident?  does training focus make you mentally tougher? How about "driven" or "controlled"?   Are you mentally tougher or have you just further developed these individual skills?

When you look at the character trait list and the definition that they came up with, I think what coaches, athletes, and people are talking about when they say they want to be Mentally tougher is nothing more than a byproduct or an outcome of intense physical and mental training that we put a whole bunch of awesome traits to, but it is not this ONE magical thing.

You, your fighters/grapplers/ athletes, me; anybody. We are not going to wake up one day and simply become mentally tougher.  this thing, this construct, this concept of "Mental toughness" is the result long term goal setting, being able to regulate your emotions under adverse conditions, and intense physical training sessions

that needs to be worked, developed, and trained over time and like a lot of things in life; much easier to say and much harder to do


People will say you need Mental toughness to get through situations like this, but what is Mental toughness and what isn't it?

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